Lasting love: Couple shares 65th Valentine’s Day

Clarence and Eileen Becker of Duncansville have been a couple since 1945, when they met during a square dance at the Grange Hall in Chest Springs.

Then in their early 20s, Clarence was home on leave from the Army Air Corps, and Eileen, who lived in Altoona, gave her brother a ride to the dance that both she and her brother wanted to attend.

Now in their late 80s, neither Clarence nor Eileen recalls everything that happened at that dance. But both say it was the starting point leading up to Jan. 17, 1948, their wedding day, and the lifetime of memories that followed.

When asked to name the most important thing in life, both had an answer.

“A lot of love,” Clarence, 87, said.

“Living,” Eileen, 88, replied.

In January, the Beckers celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary with family and friends during a Mass and reception at Garvey Manor Nursing Home. Eileen moved there Dec. 21 after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, identified as the cause of why she had become slow with daily tasks in late November.

“It’s been unreal,” Mary Kay Parrish of Duncansville, one of their daughters, said. “The weekend before she went into the hospital, they were at three concerts together. I think that’s what has kept them young. They were always on the go.”

Clarence knows his wife’s prognosis and said he realizes that today will likely be their last Valentine’s Day.

“Inoperable,” Clarence said, shaking his head with a half-shrug of his shoulders and disappointment.

“She’s 88, and the risks of surgery are too great,” Parrish added.

In the same way they lived their lives, the Beckers continue to make memories.

For the 65th wedding anniversary, one of their two sons, Monsignor Michael Becker of St. John The Evangelist Church in Lakemont, arranged a Mass at Garvey Manor’s Chapel. Their 80 guests joined them for a catered luncheon at the nursing home. Photos from those milestone activities, with both Clarence and Eileen wearing wide smiles of pride, make up a famed collage hanging in Eileen’s room.

Parrish and Michael described their parents as good examples.

“Our life was very family-centered,” Parrish said.

“We were always in church together,” Michael Becker said, “and church was part of our lives.”

The family attended St. Patrick Church in Newry where Eileen was organist and choir director.

For 35 years, until retiring in 2002, Eileen was the director of the Ecumenical Conference of Greater Altoona, an organization that focused on peace and justice and pushed for better housing, a food bank, campus ministry and weekly religious classes for mentally challenged individuals.

Clarence, a China-Burma-India veteran who flew 59 round-trips over the Himalayan Mountains during World War II, worked 35 years for the U.S. Postal Service, mostly as a rural mail carrier in the Hollidaysburg area. After retiring in 1983, he took a job at the Blair County Courthouse and worked as a rotating tipstaff with several judges.

Like his wife, Clarence enjoys music and has been a part of the Altoona Horseshoe Chorus since the early days of the 62-year-old organization.

Parrish, a retired teacher who now sells real estate, said her parents were not strict, but they had rules and expectations of their children.

“And they were supportive, too,” Parrish added. “They always encouraged and helped us.”

The couple’s other two children are Charles, the assistant director of the Van Zandt VA Medical Center, and Peggy Freyvogel, a photographer who lives in the Monroeville area.

In addition, the Beckers took in eight foster children over the years, including one with Down syndrome. Sandy was part of their lives until his death in 2011 at age 45.

Of the Beckers’ 10 grandchildren, all are college graduates, Parrish said.

The couple also have eight great-grandchildren, and three more are due this year, in March, May and July.

In a story published in 2002 in the Mirror about her pending retirement, Eileen offered another piece of advice based on her life.

“You have 24 hours in a day. Use them the best you can,” she said.

Mirror Staff Writer Kay Stephens is at 946-7456.