The Meigs county couple said they will never forget the “whirlwind moment” after he proposed to her in August of 1968, leading up to their wedding day. It was a moment, they say, hard for some people to believe, but is totally true.
Alonzo Ulysses Hagans was born May 10, 1927, in Philadelphia. He grew up the oldest of two siblings and learned to play the saxophone so well, he played with renowned saxophonists John Coltrane and Jimmy Heath, and toured with several jazz bands, playing five different instruments, in the 1950s.
Arnetta was born April 11, 1947, in Maryland. She was the oldest of eight siblings and was raised to be a responsible, kind-hearted young lady. With an age difference of 20 years and a geographical distance of some 100 miles separating the two strangers, it seemed highly unlikely they would ever cross paths.
But Alonzo and Arnetta had two things in common: Both had become Jehovah’s Witnesses engaged in the full-time ministry and wanted to serve where the need was greater for evangelizers.
“We met briefly in Baltimore in 1966 where I lived,” Arnetta explained. “Alonzo came for an assembly with his pioneer partner, brother Bridges, who had been the presiding elder in our congregation. They had met in Wilmington, N.C. The brother had just brought him back to go to the assembly. I was about 19 years old then. I had known Bridges since I was 5 years old. He was like a father to me.”
Hagans, who was twice her age, gave little thought to Arnetta at the time. His two greatest loves were serving God and playing music. Her two greatest interests were serving God and getting married.
She said, “In 1967 I had a desire to serve where the need was greater and my mother told me to go back with brother Bridges and brother Hagans who were serving in a congregation in Wilmington.
“I rode 9 hours in the car with them and brother Hagans never said two words to me,” she recalled. “I asked at one point on the trip, ‘Does he ever talk?’ Bridges said, ‘Yes — he talks. But I don’t know if he feels good today.’”
When the three finally arrived in Wilmington, Arnetta was dropped off at the home of a spiritual sister who was expecting her. Bridges told Arnetta he would be by in the morning and pick her up to engage in the door-to-door ministry.
The following morning it was pouring down rain. Hagans was with Bridges to pick Arnetta up. Bridges suggested Alonzo and Arnetta work together while he attended to congregational matters. They shared Alonzo’s umbrella while walking together.
“He said nothing and I said nothing,” she said. “Finally, he looked down and asked me, ‘What is the difference between wisdom, knowledge and understanding?’
“I looked up at him and said, ‘Huh? I don’t know.’ He said, ‘Let me give you an illustration. A boy is on the railroad tracks and sees a train coming. That’s knowledge. He knows the train is coming. Understanding is knowing if he stays on that track what’s going to happen. Wisdom is having the sense to get off the track!’ I said, Wow! Tell me more!”
For four hours Arnetta listened as Alonzo talked about the Bible and other spiritual matters while working side-by-side. By the end of her first day with Alonzo, Arnetta said she already knew she was in love but kept it to herself.
“By the fourth hour he said, ‘I have to take you home. I have to go to work.’ Right then tears swelled up in my eyes and I had this funny pit in my stomach,” Arnetta confessed.
“I said, ‘Oh, do you have to go to work?? I want to work some more.’ I never had that funny feeling about anyone before! There were tears in my heart. I didn’t want to depart.”
For weeks the two would walk together in their ministry and to a weekly Bible study group, laughing and talking along the way. While they were always in public or accompanied by others, it was clear the two were fond of each other.
One Saturday night in August 1967, however, Alonzo made his intentions crystal clear when he visited her at a home where she was babysitting.
“I was shocked and surprised,” she admits. “He had a clarinet and he serenaded me — playing the song, ‘Danny Boy.’ I said, ‘Oh, wow! You play an instrument!”
The child’s parent, who was also listening to the romantic serenade, asked Alonzo afterwards if there was anything else.
“Looks like I’m going to need a double bed by December!” was his reply.
Everyone could see Arnetta was totally smitten with the man who was twice her age, a congregation elder and everything she wanted in a mate. But she was counseled not to rush into things. So both took their time in making sure their relationship had the makings of a blessed marriage.
It was Monday, Sept. 2, 1968, according to Arnetta, when Alonzo finally proposed. This is what she wanted. But Arnetta refused to rush her answer and savored the moment — for three days.
That Thursday while they were walking together in their ministry, she turned to Alonzo and said, “Do you remember that question you asked me the other night?” He said yes. “Well, the answer is ... yes!”
Alonzo was smiling from ear to ear! At that moment the couple insist they experienced a strange phenomenon which marked the occasion.
“It was a beautiful day,” Arnetta said. “There was no wind or anything. When I said, ‘the answer is ... yes!’ — a little whirlwind started spinning around the both of us! He held his hat with his coat flapping in the wind and so was my dress for a few seconds. I’ll never forget that.”
“It’s true!” said Alonzo, who is 84 and in failing health. “Some people may not believe it, but that is what happened.”
The couple married Dec. 23, 1968, to the delight of their friends.
“We had a big wedding, with two wedding receptions and two wedding cakes,” Arnetta said. “It’s been special from that day to this day.”
“The thing I like most about my wife is her spirituality,” Alonzo said. “We were poor. We stayed in shacks, rundown houses and in places that were cold. The things I wanted to do for her I could not do.
“That’s part of why it took so long for me to marry. I felt I wouldn’t be able to do the things I should be able to do for a wife. But she was able to undergo these things because of her love for God, for the ministry and for me.”
“My desire at age 18 was to marry a brother that had two main qualities,” Arnetta said. “One is that he deeply loved Jehovah and the other is that he would be able to financially take care of me. When I met brother Hagans, all I saw was that this was a spiritual man.
“Then after our marriage, as we got closer, I saw a sense of humor in him and his desire to take care of me. I’ll never forget one day when we were walking out the door to go in our ministry — this was 10 years into our marriage — all of a sudden he shouted, ‘Honey!’
“I said, ‘What?’ He said, ‘I really love you! I mean it! I really love you!’ A few days later he grabbed me and said, ‘I’m going to court you all over again!’ He started taking me out to diner and all kinds of things. The next thing we knew I was pregnant! And his back healed up real good!”
After getting word there was a need in East Tennessee for more evangelizers, the family packed and relocated to Athens in 1971, where they lived and preached before moving to Decatur in 2011.
Alonzo and Arnetta went on to have three children, Alanda, 31, Alonda, 28, and Alondo, 26, and two grandchildren; Mickey, 13, and Mya, 12.
Arnetta admitted Alonzo was her first and only love. Alonzo said his wife is still an “exciting woman” who makes him laugh and enjoy life.
“In order to have a happy marriage, you have to realize why you are here,” Alonzo said. “I ask people what is the reason why God put man and woman here on the earth? When He create something He has a purpose for it. Marriage has a purpose. I found the key was getting to know God. My relationship with Him has affected my marriage, my ministry, raising children — everything.”
Alonzo still plays the saxophone and dances with his wife in public. Although theirs was anything but a “whirlwind marriage,” the senior couple said their life together has had its breezy moments ever since that strange ‘whirlwind’ marked their life and service to God together.