They were both preachers’ kids. Both first born. Both stubbornly smart. And neither of them expected much after their first encounter: He was in his dress uniform; she was in rollers.
It was a Saturday in 1971, and Gary was on leave from the army to visit his sister, Becky – a freshman at Bethany Nazarene College. In typical rules-don’t-apply fashion, Gary thought it would be funny to sneak into the girls dorm just as they were waking up. He met several of his sister’s friends, including Vickie, who had just gotten out of bed – and just as quickly got him out of her mind. “It was not a strong first impression,” she cautions.
Many more Saturdays passed until they met again. In the time in between, Gary had gotten out of the army and enrolled at Trevecca Nazarene College. But, when he refused to fit into the mold they demanded, he was urged to leave.
Where to go next? He headed west to the Sooner State. In August of 1971, Gary joined his sister and all of her friends at BNC. Never mind that he started on probation. Or that the school had been warned of his trouble-making past. It would be a fresh start. A chance to make new friends. The first weekend, he lined up three dates with three different women. Vickie was number three.
“It’s a legend,” Gary likes to say of their first date. “We went to a little Nazarene church for revival and the evangelist asked everyone who was married to stand up.” Naturally, he complied. And Vickie, who was worried it would look like she was on a date with a married man, stood also.
They squirmed through the rest of the service until the very end – when the evangelist asked all the married couples to come down to the front. There, they held hands and repeated their marriage vows. In front of God, the pastor, and all the other legitimately married couples. “We both thought, God is going to strike us dead!” Gary laughs.
They dated on and off for the next three years. “There was that connection,” Vickie says. But her parents didn’t approve. Maybe it was his long hair. Or the jeans. Or the attitude. Most likely, it was because Gary’s reputation preceded him. Little did Gary know, but the president of Trevecca – the school he had been dismissed from – had a sweet little niece. Her name was Vickie.
Their final break-up was over the summer of ’73. “But, after not seeing each other for three months, we knew we still had feelings,” Vickie says. So they wrote a letter to her parents asking for their blessing. They promptly wrote back giving their full support. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The proposal was “a little awkward,” Vickie remembers. It was Valentine’s Day, 1974, and they were at a basketball game. “He handed me a card and then went to the bathroom.” No romantic dinner. No endearing confession of his love. Not even getting down on one knee. The maverick had lost his machismo – and wrote the question inside a card.
Fortunately, Gary made up for it when he gave Vickie the ring. He blindfolded her before driving to the parking lot of a little Nazarene church: the same one where they had their first date and fooled everyone into thinking they were married. The story had come full circle.
May 24th, 1975, they wed. Exactly one year later, they found out they were expecting. “The three hardest years of training to be a doctor are your first year of med school, your third year of med school, and your internship year… And we had a child each of those years,” Gary says. “They came quicker than our plan. As a couple, it put a bit of a strain,” Vickie adds.
The years stacked up, along with the responsibilities. Gary helped the world in need, while Vickie maintained the world at home. After the kids left the nest, they had to regroup. Looking back, Gary’s advice is, “Not to let other things get in the way of working on your relationship.” Vickie takes a deep breath, then adds, “Marriage is not perfect – and neither are the two people in it. Putting the other person first is going to go a long way… If both people are doing that, then, you’re gonna make it.”
In May of 2015, Gary and Vickie invited some of their closest friends to Hawaii. There, on their 40th anniversary, they repeated their marriage vows. It was their third time.