The secret to a long and happy marriage? Faith.

Local couple reflects on being married for 70 years

Anya Semenoff

It started with a blind date in the final months of World War II.

Bruce Hammerle’s boot camp buddy, Wally, had a sister visiting Chicago, and Wally asked if Bruce could take care of her while he went out with his girlfriend. Little did Bruce know that 74 years later, he would still be doing so.

Alice and Bruce, now 91 and 92, respectively, celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary June 18 with a marriage blessing by Denver Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila.

Sitting in Broomfield at their kitchen table — the focal point for family gatherings — Alice and Bruce reflected on their decades together, starting with their proposal story, which took place a few years after Bruce finished serving in the U.S. Navy following the war.

“He asked my father, and of course, my mother liked him because he was a buddy of Wally’s,” Alice said. “We went to Belle Isle, which is an island in Detroit. He kind of asked me before, but this was official. You know, those things are so long ago you can hardly remember.”

Archbishop Samuel J. Aquila celebrated a blessing ceremony for the Hammerles’ 70th anniversary June 18. (Photo provided)

What they can easily remember are the things that have remained most important throughout the years: their shared Catholic faith, devotion to family, and the certainty that to have fun together is the key to a happy life.

“We’ve been blessed by having our faith,” Bruce said. “There’s no arguing about what we’re going to be doing as far as our faith goes, we’re in perfect harmony there. That has a lot to do with our continued marriage.”

Even during their courtship in the late 1940s, faith was central.

“We’d stop at church, we’d go to confession, and then we’d go dancing,” Alice said. “Our faith is the mainstay of our marriage. It was based on religion when we met, and we have continued. I guess it’s one habit we haven’t broken yet.”

They were married in Detroit in 1949 and stayed there for nearly 20 years before moving to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. But with four children grown, marrying, and having their own children, it eventually became clear that Bruce and Alice had to follow their family to Colorado.

“One day we were sitting out on the drive, and I said, ‘What are we doing here? We should be enjoying our grandchildren and children.’ So that’s what we did,” Bruce said.

Our faith is the mainstay of our marriage. I guess it’s one habit we haven’t broken yet.”

That was in 1986, and now Bruce and Alice frequently spend time with their 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren — from age 43 to six months — who live nearby.

Bruce and Alice are careful to not offer advice based on their years of marriage to those who aren’t seeking it.

“We try to give them a good example, which we’ve done all of our lives and they go from there. Everyone’s got their own opinions that the Good Lord gave them, and everybody has a choice,” Bruce said.

During the wedding of one of their grandsons, they first met Archbishop Aquila, who was present as a longtime friend of the bride’s family. When Glenn Miller’s song “String of Pearls” played during the reception, Bruce and Alice hit the dance floor.

“Dad and I got up to swing and when we finished, Archbishop (Aquila) said, ‘That was absolutely wonderful!’ And ever since that time, every time he sees Stacey or Cameron, he’ll ask, ‘How are Bruce and Alice, are they still dancing?’” Alice recalled.

Faith has a been a constant for Bruce and Alice since their wedding day in 1949. Now, 70 years later, they remain ever grateful. “It’s been fun. We’ve been very, very blessed with our health,” Alice said. “We’re not doing anything other than praying real hard every day and every night.” (Photos by Anya Semenoff)

They may have slowed down a bit since that moment, but they relish the joyful memories they’ve formed together. They toured around the country in a motorhome and got to ride in a hot air balloon at one point. “We got the chance to meet a lot of nice, wonderful people,” Bruce said. “What I liked about motorhomes is that everybody’s out to have a good time.”

They also fondly recall hosting the neighborhood hangout spot in their Michigan backyard during their marriage’s early years. “Our yard was like a park, everybody wanted to come in. We had a barbecue pit in the yard, we had swings, we had sandboxes. Our house was the core of the family,” Alice said.

But life hasn’t always been easy. The Hammerle’s struggled through difficult times, supporting loved ones with medical problems and addictions, but they always did so together. Those experiences and the blessing of sustained good health are factors that Bruce and Alice point to as critical to their 70 years of marriage.

“It’s been fun. We’ve been very, very blessed with our health,” Alice said. “We’re not doing anything other than praying real hard every day and every night.”

“Keep the faith, that’s number one,” Bruce agreed.

Alice added: “That’s about it, I think.”

COMING UP: Here’s what 65 years of marriage looks like

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While divorces are still very common and the average age of young people marrying is older every year (for men, it’s almost 30; for women it’s about 27), true love still exists.

But it doesn’t look the way the world imagines it to be: Heart-pounding, butterfly-stomach, head-over-heels, warm, fuzzy feelings. It’s much deeper.

For Bill and Fran Chism, 89 and 91, who celebrate 65 years of marriage this year, it looks more like faithfulness — especially in the difficulties of life.

Four years ago, Fran broke her hip and her health quickly declined. Soon, she was diagnosed with dementia.

“We thought we were going to lose her a couple times in the hospital,” Bill said. “She had an upper chest infection…her memory was slipping away, and then she got shingles last September, and that just wiped out her memory.”

Bill put her in a memory care facility so she could have help being cared for; but even then, he was still with her most of the day, getting her up for breakfast and putting her to bed at night.

Just a month ago, Bill took Fran home to care for her on his own — even getting a knee replacement a year ago at the age of 88 so that he would be able to take care of his wife.

“[He] thought he wouldn’t be able to take care of her the way he’d need to with the pain and the problems with the knee,” said Dede Chism, Bill’s daughter-in-law.

So, despite the doctor pushing back due to his age, Bill convinced him to do the knee replacement. It wasn’t long before he was taking walks around the park again and caring for Fran.

Now, though her memory suffers, Fran is able to do most things on her own, and Bill cares for her every day in their quiet home.

 

Early days

Bill and Fran met in Downtown Denver at a dance, and initially, Fran wouldn’t marry him because he wasn’t Catholic. After talking to a priest about the issue, he decided to become Catholic after his term with the navy was over. World War II was just ending; he would later serve in the Korean war as well.

After that, Fran agreed, and they married in 1952 at the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. They drove from Colorado to San Francisco, Calif., where Bill would ship out only 10 months after marrying Fran.

They were also expecting their first son.

“I was shipping out and she was due, that was tough,” Bill said. “I told the doctor…I hope she can have the baby before I leave…sometimes if you give them castor oil, it’ll induce. She didn’t need it. We just got back and she started having pains. Took her [to the hospital] and was told, ‘Oh you better go back home, she’ll be here all night.’

“I no sooner left than she went into labor and she had a hard time with our first son, he was nine pounds, and she’s kinda small. So I wasn’t there when he was born, but I got the word after he was born that it’s all over now; they told me it wouldn’t happen till morning,” Bill said.

Bill and Fran Chism celebrate 65 years of marriage together this year. Married in 1952, they have three sons, five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

The couple went on to have three boys, five grandchildren and now have 11 great-grandchildren. It wasn’t until having a couple kids that Bill was able to join the Catholic Church, in 1960.

“It took a while to get around to it, and I took instructions,” Bill said. “She knew how to pray, I didn’t, I still have a little difficulty with it.”

The couple practiced their faith together in the form of praying every night before bed with one another.

 

‘I do means I do’

So what’s kept their marriage strong through all the “ups and downs” of life: Wars, sicknesses, deaths in the family?

“Commitment,” Bill said. “When we got married, we made a commitment. That’s what’s holding us together. With me, when I make a commitment, I stick with it.

“Oh, we’ve had our ups and downs. Not fights, but misunderstandings or arguments. But it wouldn’t be life if you didn’t,” he added.

According to Bill’s son, Ken Chism, the couple believes they’re just ordinary, simple people, and they are. But the simple example of true love in a marriage that’s weathered many joys and struggles in the family is an example that’s sorely needed today, Ken said.

“He said I don’t know why you want to hear from me, we’re just simple people,” Ken said. “The fact of the matter is, the simplest truth is that you don’t have to know all of the theology. What you need to know is God has called you, and with that ‘I do,’ that God’s grace and his love is enough.”

“[Bill] said, ‘When I said I do, I do,’” he continued. “The problem is so many people find ‘I don’ts’ to put in that, instead of always ‘I do.’ You can’t have anything that you’re not willing to do, or your relationship will fail. And that’s both [spouses]. Both have to have that attitude. So for me to watch what’s happened the last five years especially…you don’t know what you’ve got to live with. And he’s lived out the ‘I do’ like no one I’ve ever seen. And it’s very, very special to be able to watch that.”

You can’t have anything that you’re not willing to do, or your relationship will fail. And that’s both [spouses]. Both have to have that attitude.

Dede said that though Bill and Fran have weathered every decade where marriage looked so different, God has remained the foundation, which never changes.

“A marriage grounded in faith and Christ is a marriage that will succeed, regardless of what comes your way, because God succeeds,” she said. “And I would say that that one thing is the center of our marriage. Wars, sicknesses…you can survive anything because with God, all things are possible.”

 

Couples celebrating 25, 50 or 50+ years of marriage this year are invited to the annual Anniversary Mass at Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in Northglenn. Bishop Jorge Rodriguez will be the celebrant, and cake and coffee reception will follow. For more information, contact Jennifer Sharn at 303-715-3252 or jennifer.sharn@archden.org.