The marriage ceremony usually ends with a kiss. According to the Bride’s Book of Etiquette, a kiss was a legal bond in ancient Rome to seal the marriage as marriage was seen as a contract. The first recorded marriage dates back over 2,500 years ago. A contract found in Egypt promised a man to a 14-year-old girl in exchange for six cows. Historians date marriage back 5,000 years, but have found no documentation. There was a kiss to seal the marriage over 50 years ago when Tom and Winnie Palm said their marriage vows at the First Covenant Church in Willmar. But six cows were not part of that deal. Times have changed, not only since ancient times but also in the last 50 years.
Tom and Winnie smile and laugh as they reminisce about their years of marriage, including the 50th anniversary party held last June at which they had their marriage blessed. Many friends have said the occasion was the “craziest” anniversary party they had attended. Winnie decided she wanted to wear her wedding dress for the party which she had made 50 years earlier. Yellowed from the age, Winnie had to make adjustments to the dress in order to wear it for the special day. “I’m bigger now than I was then but I’m still proud that I was able to wear my dress,” she declared. She also carried her original bouquet – a large white plastic orchid graced the cover of a white Bible with white ribbon streamers. To complete the picture, Tom rented a white tuxedo jacket just like he did 50 years prior. The party was held in the basement of First Covenant. When the honored couple was introduced, Tom and Winnie walked in. The bride told the guests, “I even fit into my dress – sort of.” The couple turned their backs to the gathering to display the word “Almost” which was fastened to the back of Winnie’s gown. Laughter filled the room! Mocking the TV show, “The Bachelor,” Tom bought two dozen red roses. During the party he gave women, who were close friends or relatives, a rose and asked each one, “Would you accept this rose?” Laughing about the comical scene, he said, “I should have bought more!” A wedding cake was made for the occasion and cake, coffee, and nuts were served, the same menu served at their wedding. Since Winnie enjoys quilting and is a member of the Country Quilters Club, the guests were asked to complete a quilt square with memories and best wishes for the honored couple. Winnie is proud of her unique quilt that hangs in their living room. Winifred Pearson, known to all as Winnie, was born and raised in Willmar. After high school graduation in 1956, she went to North Park University in Chicago, which at that time was a two-year Christian college founded by the Evangelical Covenant Church. After receiving her associate’s degree, she worked for Commerce Clearing House. “Moving to Chicago was a great culture shock for me,” she remembered. “Moving from a small town to a large city was a big adjustment in addition to trying to keep up with my studies. While living at home in Willmar, her church at that time frowned on dancing, drinking or even going to the movies. Winnie, the only child in her family, admitted she did sneak out to see a few movies. “But in Chicago, people who belonged to the Covenant Church were able to do to those things, so that was a big change for me,” she said. “It was a huge learning experience when I moved!” She met Tom during a blind date in April 1959 when a group of friends gathered at Starved Rock State Park in south Chicago. A friend of Winnie’s told her that Tom would be coming without a date and asked Winnie if she would be interested in being his date. She accepted the offer and never dated another man again. Actually she never had time to do so as their courtship was short. “My fourth grade teacher’s name was Miss Palm. I liked that name so much that when I met Tom, I decided I would marry him!” she laughed. It didn’t take Tom long to make his girlfriend’s wish come true as he gave her a ring in June, two months after they met. “It was in the middle of an intersection,” Winnie recalled. “Not too romantic but it worked!” They were married a year later, June 4, 1960, at the First Covenant Church in Willmar where Winnie was baptized and confirmed. That original church building is located on the corner of Litchfield and Seventh Street and now stands empty with a possibility of being razed. The current First Covenant, to which Winnie and Tom are members, is now located on Willmar Avenue. Since Winnie likes to sew, she made her wedding dress, a floor-length gown of white silk organza with embroidered Venetian lace around the v-neckline.  It took her ten months to complete the dress and chapel-length train. Her mother designed the orchid and Bible bouquet. “I wanted orchids in my bouquet but the florist said they would have to ship it from Chicago, so I settled on plastic instead. There were no silk flowers back then. But I’m glad I went with plastic as there aren’t many brides who still have their bouquet from 50 years ago.” The wedding party included three bridesmaids, three groomsmen, a junior bridesmaid, flower girl, and a ring bearer. Don Franklin, Winnie’s high school classmate, played the piano for the ceremony. He later obtained his doctorate in music and was a professor of music at the University of Pittsburgh. The soloists were Marlene Nelson and Ralph Olson. There was no wedding dance following the reception. The couple spent their wedding night in Benson in route to their honeymoon in the Black Hills. They returned to Chicago where they lived for 29 years and raised their three children. Daughter Sue and husband, Matt, and two children live in Chicago. Daughter, Carleen, her husband and two sons make their home in North Carolina. Son, Joe, lives near Rockford, Ill. The couple lived in an apartment during those many years as Tom worked as maintenance janitor for the apartment complex. Winnie was a stay-at-home mom for 11 years and then went to work in a grocery store. In 1989, the couple retired from their jobs and moved back to Winnie’s childhood home in Willmar. Now it was Tom’s turn to experience culture shock after living in apartments all his life in Chicago and never living in a house where there is more living space. As a result of the many years of apartment living, they now prefer to live in a house through their retirement years rather than moving to an independent living complex where many household chores are done for you. Winnie worked at Jennie-O for the next 11 years and Tom was a bus driver for the school district before they decided to take full retirement. Winnie continues to make quilts, sew, and swims five days a week at the YMCA. Tom enjoys both summer and winter fishing, and every day he meets “the guys” at McDonalds to catch up on the latest news and he also mows the grass for that business. The fast food restaurant is in the Palms’ back yard just on the other side of the tall fence. Due to the close proximity, Tom salvaged some small golden arches from below the windows when the restaurant was torn down and the new McDonald’s erected in its place. With those arches, he made a birdhouse that sits high above the back fence and in full view of the customers who are going through the drive-thru lane. It’s just one of many birdhouses he has made with several winning blue ribbons at the county fair. He didn’t receive a ribbon for the golden arch birdhouse, but more people see that one than any of the ribbon-winners he has made. Winnie has decorated their home both inside and out with palms. She even had palms painted on their garage door until Tom said, “If you put one more palm tree on the garage door, I’ll change my name.” The door has since been painted with no palm trees to be seen. Winnie has also shared her thoughts and beliefs about marriage life with teenage girls from Willmar during the taping of a documentary film last year about weddings entitled Willmar Weddings: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. It was a project that involved teen girls from different cultures and women who had been married for over 50 years. The project was a partnership between the Minnesota Regional Libraries and the Minnesota Historical Society. The taping and editing was done by the non-profit organization, TV By Girls, that works with young girls in building leadership skills, engaging in social justice and the issues of their communities. The girls create stories and messages that show compassion, creativity, and critical thinking skills including the discussion of marriage from over 50 years ago compared to the marriages of today. The 20-minute documentary was shown at the Willmar Public Library in September with the teens asking Winnie, Rose Nelson and Phyllis Williams about their wedding day, married life in general, and comparing it to what they want their wedding to be like in today’s world. Having been married for so long, Winnie emphasized to the young women that commitment and honesty is important in every marriage. “I told myself that I will do everything in my power to make this marriage work,” Winnie said during her taped interview. “We’ve had some problems as every marriage does, but we worked through them.” Winnie was also asked why she and Tom decided to have a 50th anniversary party to which she replied, “Being married this long is a huge milestone. Many couples don’t make it because of divorce, or because a spouse passes away. I’m proud and happy that we made it to 50 years and that we have been in relatively good health . . . I would be dishonest if I told you that I never wondered if I made the right choice by getting married. Many women do, but there are struggles during any marriage and you have to work together and get through them. You made a promise before God and you have to be committed.” At the end of the anniversary party, Winnie read to Tom the words from the song, “I Know I’ll Never Find Another You” that was a number one hit for The Seekers in 1965: There’s a new world somewhere They call The Promised Land And I’ll be there some day If you will hold my hand I still need you there beside me No matter what I do For I know I’ll never find another you There is always someone For each of us they say And you’ll be my someone Forever and a day I could search the whole world over Until my life is through But I know I’ll never find another you It’s a long, long journey So stay by my side When I walk through the storm You’ll be my guide If they gave me a fortune My pleasure would be small I could lose it all tomorrow And never mind at all But if I should lose your love, dear I don’t know what I’d do For I know I’ll never find another you But if I should lose your love, dear I don’t know what I’d do For I know I’ll never find another you.