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Late-life wedding offers proof: Love knows no age

At 95, the bride and groom exchange vows as their very extended family applauds.

June 01, 2008|Catherine Saillant | Times Staff Writer

Saturday's nuptials at a Camarillo Baptist church had the usual trappings: flowers, an emotional ceremony and a lovely bride in antique silk. But this was no ordinary spring wedding.

More than 200 guests broke out in loud applause and even a few cheers as 95-year-old Bernice Jenkins started down the aisle escorted by her two balding sons to the strains of "Here Comes the Bride."

And no one clapped louder than Bernice's soon-to-be husband, Wallis "Rich" Richard, also 95, as he gazed with a wide grin when his bride approached the altar.

"Finally," he whispered as he clasped her hand.

With a combined 190 years of age between them, Bernice and Rich Jenkins are among California's oldest newlyweds. It's not known if they are the oldest because the state doesn't easily track late-in-life marriages.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, June 05, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Newlyweds: An article in Sunday's California section about two 95-year-olds who married in Camarillo identified the couple as Bernice and Rich Jenkins. Their married names are Bernice and Rich Richard.

But the significance of the event was not lost on their circle of family and friends, who seemed giddy -- even inspired -- witnessing the couple's union.

"I think we'd be staggered to be here with one 95-year-old," said the Rev. Paul Phillipps, addressing the congregation. "But two 95-year-olds is something I don't think we will ever see again."

Both lost their first spouses in the last decade after 60-plus years of marriage. They say their decision to exchange vows once more is a love story marked by the good fortune of finding a compatible partner late in life.

"He spoils me something awful," Jenkins said. "And he's got a cute sense of humor."

As if to prove her right, the nearly bald Richard tells Jenkins: "Honey, you deserve a husband with hair."

The bride and groom said they both had long, happy and fulfilling lives even before they set eyes on each other. Bernice was raised in Los Angeles and had two sons with her first husband, Larry Jenkins, an engineer.

Rich, a retired college economics professor, raised his two sons and daughter with his first wife, Marie, in Ohio and Pennsylvania. In retirement, both couples ended up at Leisure Village in Camarillo, a sprawling planned community.

They knew each other casually over the years from church and around town. After both were widowed, Rich, gentle and quiet, set his eye on Bernice, a petite social dynamo with astounding energy.

But Rich was a little over-eager.

"He proposed on their first date 18 months ago," said Marty Jenkins, one of Bernice's two sons. "It was a strategic mistake. It scared the bejesus out of mother."

Rich persisted, wooing Bernice over lunches and at church gatherings. Finally, just after Bernice's 95th birthday in February, she had a change of heart.

"I kept hearing love songs in my head and I had an epiphany: 'Lord, I have fallen in love with this man!' " Bernice said, slamming a hand on a table.

Before she said yes, she checked with her children, Marty Jenkins recalled.

"She said, 'I've had it all. Why should I do it again?' " her son said. "My response was, 'Well, what's wrong with having more?' "

Both families were fine with the arrangement, even helping to pick out the cake and write the program. There is no prenuptial agreement, but they intend to keep their finances separate and to live by turns at his home and hers.

Saturday's ceremony was a family affair, laced with love songs that Bernice and Rich at times crooned to each other. Twelve of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren, ranging in age from 4 to the mid-30s, served as flower children, each placing a single daisy in a vase before kissing the couple at the altar.

Rich's two sons served as groomsmen and his daughter, Joy Lawson, and her husband, Pastor Don Lawson, officiated. When Lawson pronounced them husband and wife, Rich reached for Bernice's face and planted a smooch with great vigor.

Then it was off to the reception line, which Bernice handled like a debutante. Both are in exceptionally good health for their age, though Bernice uses a hearing aid.

The location of their three-day honeymoon is a secret, Marty Jenkins said. Devout Baptists, they also were coy about any romantic plans they cooked up, he said.

Joy Lawson said she has learned not to press her father and new stepmother too hard.

"When people say, 'Why are they getting married?' I just say, 'Don't even go there.' "

--

catherine.saillant@latimes.com

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