by Anna Ferraro
It’s been 63 years since Ron and Carolyn said their, “I do’s” to each other in the First Methodist Church of Decatur on a sweltering August afternoon. Today, their love endures in a beautiful and strong way. Ron shares, “Throughout our marriage – we did all the vows – richer and poorer, sickness and health, and then there’s the for better or for worse.” Carolyn smiled sweetly – “It’s never been for worse. It only ever gets better.”
They met at Epworth Springs Methodist Church Camp, in a “grand right and left” square dance step. Both juniors in college, they each had a different partner they were going with at the time. But upon their chance meeting in that square dance, Carolyn said, “We knew that we were right for each other.” After the dance, Ron asked if she would like to take a walk. Strolling up the hillside in the moonlight, Ron shared with Carolyn about his faith in Christ, and how he felt called to the ministry. His calling and salvation had happened right on that hilltop at the foot of a cross there. Carolyn’s heart resonated. “I always wanted to be a preacher’s wife,” she said. They finished their walk and parted ways at the dorm. Carolyn said, “When I got into bed that night, the Lord told me that I was going to marry him.” Ron claims to have had no such revelation, quipping, “I didn’t have a choice in the matter.”
The summer progressed and Ron returned to his studies at Illinois Wesleyan University, and Carolyn to hers at Western Illinois University. Their weekend visits back and forth became more frequent, and 18 months later, during Christmas, 1953, they were engaged. The following August, they were happily married, on a date that Ron feigned to forget, in a stroke of husband-like humor. They began their life and ministry together in Evanston, IL, where Ron was attending seminary and working several part-time jobs. Meanwhile, Carolyn found her first teaching job, and worked hard to turn their little basement apartment into a home. Between visits from the mice, and sharing the bathroom upstairs with the YWCA residents, their early years were less than picturesque. But a common theme emerged. Even in those impoverished seminary days, “we were a duo!” said Ron. With that, Carolyn blushed and laughed in much the same way that she must have 60+ years prior.
Seminary was hard on families. Carolyn and the other wives coined a phrase about “getting their ‘PhT’s’ – Putting Hubbies Through.” But unlike some of the other wives who were miserable in their hard household and work scenarios, Carolyn took it all in stride and with joy. She reiterated, “I always wanted to be a pastor’s wife. … I agreed with the fact that he was called to the ministry, and I felt that I had the balance to help him. He loved to preach and counsel, and I loved to teach Sunday school, lead choir, coordinate Bible study groups, and play the piano.”
Their love for the Lord and for each other deepened, and was nurtured through personal disciplines. “We always had devotions in our home,” said Carolyn. “We prayed together a lot,” said Ron, “We very seldom went to bed mad. Sometimes we had to take care of something while we were lying in bed. We were both kind of definite people. But we were willing to adjust. She had certain areas where I knew she was the boss, and areas where she knew I was the boss. But overall, the thing that kept us together was the Lord, and having a good humor.”
Ron got his first call after seminary to come to Springgrove, IL, and was given 15 minutes to make his decision. Carolyn shares, “That shows how already, God was first in our lives. We knew how to put Him first and seek His counsel quickly.” They accepted the position, and were off to minister in their first, full-time congregation.
As the years progressed, their ministry together continued. Carolyn shares, “Every church we went to, they grew.” Ron continued, “The more I could minister, the more excited me. We were very fortunate to see God do a lot of wonderful things over the years.” They ministered to congregations in Hebron, Tremont, Alito, and Rushville, and built a family while they were at it – four daughters born in just five years.
The years progressed, and Ron concluded, “We learned how to navigate a lot of things together. … The reason we got along so well is that we were willing to disagree agreeably.” Carolyn learned to love sports and completely forgave Ron for almost being late for the wedding because he was watching a ball game. And Ron learned to listen excellently. Carolyn said, “If I call his name, he turns of the ball game on TV, and looks straight at me.”
In 1969, they moved to Jacksonville to minister at Grace United Methodist Church where they opened their doors to over 1,000 people on their first Easter Sunday. After eight years of ministry there, they left Grace UMC, and started the Church of the New Covenant (now, Life Church). Beginning with 12 members, they swelled to gatherings of over 200 people, saying, “We saw so much happen there. We grew so much in the Lord to know that He is available to do a lot more than we ever ask.”
They poured themselves out into raising their four daughters (Janet Colton-Webb, Karen Colton-Popet, Nancy Colton-Shive, and Linda Colton), putting each of them through college, and ministering in the Jacksonville area. Ron’s love for sports led him to officiate basketball, volleyball, and slow pitch softball for over thirty years, and go with Carolyn to hundreds of his grandkids’ sports games. He added, “You’ve go to know, though, “The best team around this town is the Chicago Cub’s.”
Carolyn’s love for music continued as she taught piano lessons for over 40 years, but she learned to leave her piano bench and join Ron on the golf court occasionally. Ron shares, “She often was upset with me if I didn’t get home right on time. So, I decided I would help her understand. We went golfing together one day, and I when we got to about the 15th hole, I said, ‘Well, we’ve got to go.’ She said, ‘We can’t go, I’m not done.’” They shared a good laugh together, and agreed that regardless of dinner hour, Ron could finish his games. “I was real serious when we first got married,” shared Carolyn, “Ron’s humor saved the many times.”
Even after retiring from his work as a minister, Ron and Carolyn continued to minister in many vocations, as Ron interim-preached, and served with Carolyn in the Jacksonville Pregnancy Resource Center (formerly the Crisis Pregnancy Center). He and Carolyn served on the original board, and Carolyn continues to mentor and volunteer at the center.
Today, Ron and Carolyn’s love endures. While they don’t square dance any more, or chase mice at night after coming home from seminary, they still laugh together, and seek to meet each other’s needs. Carolyn said tenderly, “The Lord knows how to put people together. I want things done yesterday. So I push Ron on, and he holds me back.” Ron summarized, “When a preacher says those six things in those vows, you’re going to get them all – for richer or poorer, sickness and health, and for better or for worse. But if your love is strong, and adjustable, you’ll be fine. … We’re two different people, but we’re like one now.”
They continue to live in Jacksonville, IL while enjoying watching their children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren grow up. Carolyn beautifully summarized their 63 years, saying, “We have learned to put I Cor. 13:4-7 into practice – we know that love is patient and kind, forgiving, and trusting. We feel so blessed that the Lord has given us so many years together. He brought us together (which was a miracle since we lived in different towns and went to different schools) and given us a wonderful marriage and family. God is good.”