- July 28, 2021
Tina and Bill Gardner didn't mention love when they were asked about the keys to building a long and happy marriage.
Love for them is a given.
The Lakewood Ranch couple oozed love during their 60th anniversary party July 1 at Lakewood Ranch Country Club. Over the course of an hour interview, their love rose above all else.
Their looks. Their laughs. Their stories.
Both are 82 years old, although they look and act much younger. With two artificial hips and knees, and open-heart surgery, Bill Gardner continues to play golf three times a week. Tina, who has a nursing background, is all about a healthy lifestyle. Her husband has his golf, she plays tennis.
They sat at a table and ran through some memories, constantly looking toward a door to check for arriving family members. Their four children were all attending the event as were their 12 grandchildren (six boys, six girls) and assorted spouses and significant others. Twenty-five family members in all were eating filet mignon and salmon in the Wine Room.
As their family arrived, Bill and Tina Gardner shared stories about their first encounter.
Both grew up in Jeannette, Pa. As Bill tells the story, they were poor but didn't know it.
Bill Gardner was an athlete as a kid, playing sports as much as possible. At the age of 16, he was doing what came natural to him, playing basketball outside a community center in Jeannette when he became thirsty. Across the street from the courts was a drug store fountain, complete with what once was called a soda jerk.
That soda jerk was Tina.
Bill Gardner entered the fountain and Tina moved to take his order.
She said, "What do you want?" and Bill relied, "Water."
Tina took exception to his non-order, barking "Is that all you want?"
Bill Gardner leaned back in his chair at Lakewood Ranch Country Club and laughed. It was his first example of how direct his future wife would be for the next 67 years.
Her attitude almost was a bit scary to the teen.
I thought, 'I wouldn't want to be around her," he said.
But it was the next night Bill went to a dance and Tina was there.
"I said 'hi' and she asked me to dance," he said. "I said, 'I don't dance.'
"She said, 'You're dancing.'"
Tina taught her future husband the square step (box step) that night.
"There was something about him," she said. "But he needed to be worked on a little bit."
After seven years of going steady, and working on each other, Bill and Tina were married July 1, 1961.
They already knew they were opposites.
Their daughter Julie Warren, who like her parents lives in the Country Club, said if one liked it hot, the other liked it cold. If one liked it quiet, the other wanted it loud. One was a type A personality and the other laid back. It was like that with many things.
It never seemed to matter.
"They each had a special group of friends," Warren said. "Mom plays tennis, paints and swims. Dad has a huge group of golf buddies."
If they disagreed on many minor matters, they were in complete agreement on the important issues.
"Ever since I was growing up, I always knew they would be there watching my field hockey and lacrosse matches," Warren said. "We had dinner every night around the table, and they always were there. It was loud and honest, and you always knew you were loved."
Tina Gardner said she and her husband always have emphasized family. When any one of them had problems, they knew to come to their family for answers. Tina Gardner said they would sit down and discuss the problem, then try to find solutions.
The anniversary celebration wasn't a time to discuss problems. It was a complete family reunion for the first time in two years since no visiting was done during the pandemic. And all family members were able to eat without concern about fat content or calories.
"Mom was vegetable juicing back in the day," Warren said. "We never had white bread at home. I used to trade my lunch for Ho Hos and Ding Dongs."
Bill Gardner, who worked for 27 years as an Anne Arundel County (Maryland) auditor, administrator and lobbyist, might have snuck a few Dong Dongs in his day, but he credits his wife's insistence on a healthy diet for his longevity.
Together, over the years, they ran a restaurant/deli, and five video stores. They made life comfortable for their children.
In turn, Bill Gardner said they passed tips along to them.
"Be true to yourself," he said. "It's your life, you lead it."
Tina Gardner added, "We always told them, do what's going to make you happy."
The interview was over and, smiling, Bill and Tina Gardner went to meet their family members.
But, really, what is the secret to a long relationship?
"Just say 'Yes, dear,'" Bill said with a wry smile.
Tina just shook her head.
"Absolutely you need to have a sense of humor," she said.