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Orange County

Long-Lasting Love: A Chance to Redo the 'I Do'

Anniversary: 15 couples renew their vows after at least 50 years of marriage. The yellow ribbon goes to twosome who wed 71 years ago.

July 26, 2002|MARJORIE HERNANDEZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The first time Paul McKinzie saw Bonnie Collins, he was smitten.

Bonnie, then 8 years old, was playing a Hawaiian steel guitar solo at the Church of God in Santa Ana when 11-year-old Paul felt that funny feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was hooked. He was in love.

"I turned to my friend and I told him, 'That's the little Bonnie that I'm going to marry,' " McKinzie, 68, said with a smile as he patted his wife's shoulder Thursday during a special visit to the Orange County Fair. "How do you describe a feeling of completeness? I felt in my heart that God wanted me to marry this girl."

The McKinzies were married during a two-day wedding celebration a few years later in 1952, when she was 15 and he was 18.

Exactly 50 years later, the McKinzies joined 14 other couples to renew their vows and mark at least their golden wedding anniversary on the Heritage Stage at the fair.

The gentle sound of Hawaiian melodies played by the Oasis Senior Center musicians from Corona del Mar filled the air as family members and fairgoers gathered to watch the eager couples exchange their vows.

"Seeing them up there is so wonderful," said Linda Mandelbaum of her father Donald Lipman, 72, and mother Jerelaine, 70, standing onstage holding hands. "This is like a moment in time that I'll never forget--it's a moment of total innocence, commitment and complete love." Chaplain Edmund Werner from Orangewood Children's Home, decked out in a gray top hat and tuxedo, asked the seniors their secret for a lasting marriage.

"Love each other and don't go to bed mad," said Myrtle Almquist, 83, as she smiled at husband Forrest, 87. The Almquists have been celebrating their marriage at the fair for 15 years--ever since their 50th anniversary in 1987.

As many of the couples danced, Kathryn and Harry Rathbourn quietly enjoyed their cake at the side of the stage. Married 71 years, the Rathbourns received this year's yellow ribbon for the longest marriage.

While sipping apple cider, Kathryn recalled the day she met Harry at a dance hall they frequented as teenagers and the struggles they faced as Harry's naval unit was shipped off during World War II and the Korean War.

"It was very hard, but we communicated a lot and worked hard," Kathryn said.

Now, after more than a lifetime together, the Rathbourns still held hands and looked like newlyweds as they shared their cake.

"He's like Mikey--he eats everything," Kathryn teased. "We just get along and respect each other."

In a time where 20% of first marriages end in divorce within five years, the 15 couples had a lot to celebrate.

Looking like two teenagers in love, Paul and Bonnie McKinzie kissed and hugged as they danced to the tune "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."

"The only time I'm really happy is when I see her happy," Paul said. "God truly gave me an angel."

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