A friendship for the ages
by WILLIAM WRIGHT, Lifestyles Editor
Nov 13, 2011 | 1635 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
CLOSE FRIENDS FOR 50 YEARS posed together at the home of Travis and Wanda Porter of Cleveland. From left are Joe and Mava Taylor, David and JoAnn Beatty, Travis and Wanda Porter, Bill and Nellie Thompson and Jerry and Peggie Young. The five Cleveland couples have been best of friends for more than half a century.
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A lasting friendship in today’s world by two people has become increasingly rare. So for five couples, all married more than 50 years, to remain intimate friends over half a century would seem all but impossible.

And yet it is true, according to David and JoAnn Beatty, Travis and Wanda Porter, Bill and Nellie Thompson, Jerry and Peggie Young, and Joe and Mava Taylor. These five couples said not only is it possible, but it is factual, since they are the parties involved in one of the most incredible friendships to stand the test of time.

For more than a decade the Cleveland couples have met every Friday for dinner at local restaurants selected by a different couple in their group. To understand the joy of their association and the bond that makes their mutual friendship so unique, several of them shared their insights.

David explained, “We were all in Lee College (now Lee University) together between 1955 to 1960. Three of the five couples met at Lee while the other two, Travis and Wanda Porter and Bill and Nellie Thompson, met elsewhere, before everyone got together at Lee.

“My wife (Peggie) and David’s wife went to school together in Louisiana,” said Jerry, who is 76. “They came up to Lee together and met David and myself. These friendships goes back a long ways. When Bill and Nellie came to Lee we got acquainted with them as a couple already married,” David recalled.

“My wife, (JoAnn) and Peggy were girlfriends who roomed together at Lee. Then the three of us — Joe Taylor, Jerry Young and myself — started dating Mava, Peggie and JoAnn. Then we three couples got married.”

All five men went on to become Church of God ministers with their wives by their sides, always staying in touch over the years and reuniting whenever possible.

Bill and Nellie said, “Although we all went separate ways after Lee, we shared the commonality of life and ministry. We were bringing up families, serving in churches and administration, learning and growing as we went. There were times our places of ministry brought us in closer proximity to each other, and other times we were far apart but keeping in touch.

“Every two years, we would gather together at our church’s international convention and would enjoy tremendously our times of fellowship and worship. Also, we planned and took vacations and trips together. These all cemented our bond of friendship and love.”

David agreed, saying, “Back then some of us were in California, some were in Minnesota. I was in Oklahoma, Missouri, Indiana — we had been all over the country. But we maintained our camaraderie. Every two years we’d get together at our general assembly and have a good time!”

Travis said, “We had so much in common with our ministry, our family and our background at Lee college. That got us started. Then we would always get together at the general assemblies and stick together like a little bunch. We loved each other and we enjoyed our fellowship together.”

All five couples would arrange to meet in Pigeon Forge in the 1990s to enjoy their wholesome friendship.

“Basically we stayed from Monday to Friday at a Chalet in Pigeon Forge,” Mava said. “We played games, shopped, went to live shows, ate together and the guys would play pool. We had a lot to share in our pastoral lives.”

Once they all retired, each couple found themselves drawn back to Cleveland where their special bond first started.

“We came into this area, and of course, this was none of our homes,” Joe explained. “Many of our people had passed away. When we came to Cleveland in 2000, we were fortunate to have each other. Of course we’ve made a lot of new friends in Cleveland since then, but it was a great thing to be able to come together again.”

David, who was the first to move to Cleveland, said, “I moved here in 1998. Soon after that, the others bought lots and we started building new homes. Everything just fell into place. We never planned to retire together. It just evolved.”

Joe, said, “There just seems to be an understanding with each other over the years. We made it a point to be close friends and it’s never been a problem.

“We knew each one well enough to know if there were any conflicts to look over those as a part of life. We treat each other like family. We just count ourselves very fortunate to have this relationship all these many years.”

Jerry agreed, adding, “These are people we can laugh with, cry with and be ourselves with at the same time. It’s a unique situation to have been scattered all over the country and still be close friends.

“Our kids can’t quite understand our bond of friendship,” David confessed. “They’ve had friends but nobody maintained it like we did. The friendship itself is a wonderful thing, but we also have this commonality — this common ground to give us a foundation for our friendship.”

Building on that foundation, Travis explained, “We tease each other quite a bit. We laugh, have fun and take trips together. We talk about our families, our grandchildren — all five couples have grandchildren — some have great-grandchildren!

“We tell stories of our pastorate work and what went on in our churches and compare how things went on back then. We also talk about current things like politics and what we’re doing now. After we retired, everyone in the group went back to work.

“We’re not just sitting by the fireplace sipping coffee. David is a retired minister but he’s a full-time pastor at Pine Hill Church of God. I’m a senior adult pastor for North Cleveland Church of God. Jerry Young also works at North Cleveland Church of God. Bill Thompson works at Lee University. Joe Taylor drives a school bus. So we’ll talk about our work.

“Sometimes we’ll leave the restaurant and go to one person’s home for refreshments or dessert and sit around and fellowship. It is unusual that it happens this way and yet it is such a blessing that it has happened this way.”

“We don’t discuss faults. We just have a good time,” Joe said. “We want our relationships to continue to the end. We mention it often in our group that it’s so wonderful that we have our friendship.”

“I think if young people can get the idea of what a blessing it would be in their latter years to have true friends, it could help them. But that has to be developed early on,” Travis said. “You can’t wait until you’re in your 50s to start.”

Bill and Nellie agreed, adding, “Our special friendships have been great sources of comfort, joy, love and happiness. We have prayed, wept, and shared one another’s burdens. We have also laughed and enjoyed each other’s company.

“We have endured by overlooking our faults and failures and looking for and encouraging the best in one another. God’s Word tells us that friends love through all kinds of weather and circumstances. We have found that to be so true.

As historian Henry Adams said, “One friend in a lifetime is much, two are many and three are hardly possible. Friendship needs a certain parallelism of life, a community of thought, a rivalry of aim.”

At least one group of 10 people, 5 couples, can bear witness to the truthfulness of those words. With no deaths, no divorces, no disputes or distrust — five unique couples have turned friendship into an art form.

“As we grow older, we need the strong support system that friendship provides,” Nellie said. “We will cherish and guard our close relationships even more so. After all, we all know the same Friend.”