- February 18, 2015
Jim and Babe Reger planned to marry in July 1959 but instead got hitched two months earlier.
They had two relatives expecting babies at the time. Plus Jim Reger, now a retired engineer and Realtor, was about to leave for U.S. Air Force.
So the couple moved up their wedding date and became husband and wife May 23, 1956, two weeks before graduating from the University of Cincinnati, where they met.
“That was our excuse (for having the wedding sooner),” Babe Reger, says laughing.
But 56 years later, the couple would renew their vows at an even earlier date: May 23, 1865.
There was no time machine involved. The Greenbrook Walk couple donned period garb and renewed their vows before a crowd of strangers and Civil War re-enactors May 23, at the Manatee Village Historical Park, when it hosted the 150th Occupation of Manatee, a commemoration of one of the final events of the war.
Jim Reger, 79, a genealogy and history enthusiast, sits on the Manatee County Historical Commission Board. Usually, he assists with parking for such events.
But when he learned the event would be May 23 — his wedding anniversary — he couldn’t help but mention it.
“They said, ‘You want to get married?’ and I said, ‘Why not?’” Jim Reger said.
The relationship had already stood the test of time. Along with more than a half-century of marriage, they have four children and 10 grandchildren. They moved to Lakewood Ranch in 2007, after 40 years in Massachusetts.
Babe Reger, 77, used her sewing skills to size down the period-era dress chosen for her gown.
And when the time came, Babe Reger walked down the isle of the church (nevermind that it was built in 1887) wearing a bonnet and holding a bouquet.
A woman dressed as a widow served as Babe Reger’s witness and a man in a tattered uniform stood in as Jim Reger’s “long-lost brother.”
One man even teased he’d raise objections. But by the ceremony’s end, the couple had exchanged rings and a kiss to the sound of clapping.
The couple even walked out of the church beneath an archway of swords created by solders and waltzed in the adjacent courtyard.
Christine Brown, special events coordinator for the park, said that when the church bells rang, people came from all across the park to attend the ceremony.
“When we say ‘living history,’ this is a great example of getting the audience to experience the era,” she said.
“It was more moving than I expected,” Babe Reger said. “It was kind of special. We hope to have — I don’t know about 56 more — but many more years together.”
Contact Pam Eubanks at [email protected].