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Love Long-Lost Regained : 2 Lifetimes, 6 Children, Oodles of Grandchildren Later, They Tie Knot

September 25, 1986|DENISE HAMILTON | Times Staff Writer

Although she broke off their engagement 65 years ago to marry another man, Ada Sheets Simpson said she never forgot Vesper Perrigo.

Over the years, she often quizzed mutual friends without success to find out what had become of the young man who had courted her at small-town Michigan picnics and parties.

Perrigo never forgot her, either. And, after his wife of 61 years died in 1984, the retired Glendale postal worker set out to track down his long-lost love.

He found her living alone, in a mobile home in rural South Carolina. Her husband of 62 years had died a month before Perrigo's wife, leaving her bereft and shattered.

But these days neither of them is alone. On Aug. 21, her 85th birthday, she finally said "I do" to Perrigo.

Several days after the wedding, the Perrigos headed off to start a new life in his west Glendale home.

"We're just picking up where we left off," said Perrigo, a small, jovial man of 85 who laughs heartily and often, as if he can't believe his good luck.

Share Details of Lives

He and his new bride described their lives in an interview in his home of 41 years, a comfortable, lived-in white bungalow with arched entryways, a wide front porch and bougainvillea that blooms in riotous color in the front yard.

The couple seemed bemused and a little embarrassed by all the attention their marriage has received. Newspapers from the East Coast to the West have interviewed them. Good Morning America wanted to fly them to New York for a television appearance, but they declined. They were feted and cheered in their native Michigan.

"We're going to be lonesome when all this is over," the new Mrs. Perrigo joked to her husband.

The couple met in high school in St. Louis, Mich., a small town 30 miles west of Saginaw. At 16, she had a brief romance with another youth, Harold Simpson. After he joined the Navy, she began dating Perrigo. They soon became engaged. The year was either 1919 or 1920--they cannot recall for sure.

Simpson returned from the Navy in 1922 and came looking for his former girlfriend. As soon as she saw him, "I knew immediately that he was the one I wanted to marry," she recalled. She and Perrigo parted, and it would be 65 years before they saw each other again.

Today, the newlyweds marvel at the serendipity that has brought them together in their twilight years, but they don't regret their years apart. Both say they enjoyed long, happy years with their respective spouses. Between them they have six children, 22 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren.

"We did not marry the wrong people. We're just getting a second chance, something most people don't get," she said.

Added her new husband, "I'm glad she jilted me. Otherwise I never would have met my beloved Alice."

After his wife's death in November, 1984, Perrigo said, he would "sit and watch the TV and start to say something, and there would be no one there."

His middle-aged children worried about him, and daughter Marilyn Mott, a 58-year-old Sylmar housewife, recalled that Perrigo seemed to sit around just waiting to die.

Then, last spring, came an invitation to his 65th high school class reunion. He went, asked about his former flame and got her address from an old classmate.

In late April he wrote her a letter that was tentative and shy. Did she remember him? They had been engaged in 1921, he wrote. He described the picnics, the parties, double-dating with her brother and his girlfriend in his father's Ford roadster.

Responds Immediately

Perrigo needn't have worried. From her trailer home, his one-time fiancee responded immediately.

"I was greatly surprised," she recalled. "I said to my daughter, 'Just see who I got a letter from.' "

She enclosed a phone number, and the communication began in earnest. Perrigo sent her a photo of himself and his wife on their 50th wedding anniversary. She responded in kind.

They got reacquainted by letter and phone, often talking late into the night during the summer.

"Sometimes it was hard to stay up waiting for him to call," Ada Perrigo recalled.

It was also hard for the elderly couple to persuade their middle-aged children that they had not gone dotty with age.

"Both families got upset. We felt they didn't know each other after so many years apart," Mott said.

But, in the end, the children capitulated and shared in the wedding celebration.

Ada Perrigo said she can't recall exactly when they agreed to get married. At first, Vesper Perrigo sent her money to fly out for a visit. But she declined the invitation and returned the money.

"He said he had two bedrooms in the house. Well, the Bible says you should avoid the appearance of evil, and that had the appearance of evil," said the bride, a dignified lady who speaks in slow, measured tones.

Instead, she told him to state his intentions clearly. Was he proposing marriage, she asked him. If he were merely interested in a relationship, he had better look elsewhere, because she wasn't that way.

Vesper Perrigo proposed. She said yes. And, on Aug. 19, he boarded a plane to set eyes on the woman who had jilted but never forgotten him those 65 years ago.

And, after all that time?

"I thought he looked a lot older. He had changed a lot," she recalled.

And Perrigo?

"I just opened my arms and said, 'C'mon, Ada.' "

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