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Iowa women in love for 72 years finally wed

Slowly they began to unfold the full story for the first time.

Vivian was a farm girl near Creston. Nonie a farm girl near Yale. Vivian was an indoor girl, spending hours "teaching my dolls," practice for her dream of becoming a teacher. Nonie was an outside girl, helping on the farm and playing basketball, such a rough-and-tumble guard that she once broke a rib during a game.

Neither considered romance much back then. Vivian caught the interest of a boy once who became a friend but she cut that short by telling a schoolmate: "I wouldn't go with him to a dogfight."

Then Nonie saw Vivian from afar one day, and it changed everything. Both were attending Iowa State Teachers College (now known as the University of Northern Iowa) in 1942.

"I could tell you exactly what she had on," Nonie said. "A gray dress with black velvet trim and big pearl buttons."

That was it. They never spoke.

But after Nonie dropped out of school and returned to Yale to work, she heard the school in town needed a new teacher. "I prayed that night that she would come to Yale," Nonie said.

By chance, Vivian saw the job there and got it. She soon met Nonie, who asked her to a movie. Nonie had to work that night but told Vivian to go to the show, and she would join her later.

"She was already bossing me around," teased Vivian, the soft-spoken one in the relationship. "But I had a new friend."

They hit it off.

"What then?" they were asked.


"This is difficult for us to talk about," Vivian said.

"No one knew what was happening," Nonie said. "We didn't even know it was anything special. I was just drawn to her. That's all."

"The hand of God was there," Vivian added. "Suddenly, we were in love."

From that day forward, they felt like they were in hiding.

They moved into an apartment above a building where the local mortuary stored its caskets. People just thought they were two young roomies living in an unusual place.

But soon friends started to drift away, and the couple suspected they knew. No one said anything, even after they moved to Glenwood when Vivian got a teaching job there.

"I'm sure back then she would have been fired," Nonie said.

They learned each other's ways. Nonie couldn't cook, and Vivian "couldn't mow a yard no more than the man on the moon." So they divided up duties and made a life together, although holidays with family were spent apart.

In 1947, they moved to Davenport and by 1950 had a house built, settling into the neighborhood. While Vivian continued to teach, Nonie worked office jobs at the local newspaper and sheet metal plant.

They traveled widely in their Lincoln Town Car, venturing to many states and their favorite location several times — the mountains of Banff, Alberta. Vivian was the detailed organizer, planning the trips. Nonie supplied the laughs.

They argued, but it never lasted long.

"I guess it's just the love," said Vivian on what kept them together.

They joined the First Christian Church and sang in the choir. They came to know each other's families. They grew old. They retired. They grew sick, and one time 16 years ago, Nonie was so bad that she spent three months in the hospital with an infection in her back that threatened to make her an invalid. It was tough on them both, but Nonie healed.

"She never shed a tear," Vivian said, proudly. "The day she came home, the sun was streaming in the windows of our cottage. She began to cry."

Through all this they kept quiet, although at times they wished they could live the life of "normal" couples.

"It used to be a mortal sin," Vivian said of living together, "and that was a big bother to us."

Even after the 2009 court decision making same-sex marriage legal in Iowa, leading to 6,000 marriages in the following four years, Vivian and Nonie didn't give it a second thought. They had been hiding it so long.

Until one day a longtime friend came to visit.

Jerry Yeast, 73, of Davenport first met them as a young man in college. He did landscaping for their yard. They have stayed friends since, and the women have proudly watched him grow into old age himself. At first he thought of them as two women who just lived together, until one day he visited their home with his wife and saw only one bed.

"I think they were sharing something with us," he told his wife.

Yeast had often privately thought marriage was only for a man and woman. But after he learned of an extended family member's homosexuality, he began to reconsider his position.

"My journey in accepting same-sex relationships was formed by these two women, so I thought I should thank them," he said.

When he did, Vivian and Nonie told him it was the first time they had talked to anyone about their relationship.

"I was dumbstruck," he said. "I kind of blanked out, until I said, 'My gosh, this is Iowa! You should get married.' "

At first, the women told him that they didn't want to make newspaper headlines. But then they called him back. For "legal reasons," they explained, they would marry. The longtime insurance salesman looked into their legal arrangements and told them everything was solid. So they decided not to marry.

But they called back again later. Something had changed.

A young woman who works in the retirement community had come to them one day.

"She asked us the question," Vivian said. "So we told her we had been together for 70 years. She said, 'awesome.' " She was so excited that she ran down to eat her lunch with the other caregivers and told them.

"We'd been quiet such a long time. It was hard for us."

They eventually told Jerry that they still wanted to marry. It had nothing to do with legalities. Maybe, as Jerry suggested, their marriage would be an inspiration to others.

The decades of silence was ending. Vivian planned the wedding — every last detail. Emotions came out as she shopped for a dress.

"I always wanted a wedding," she said at the shop, admiring the dresses.

More than 30 people were in the First Christian pews that day, and the Rev. Linda Hunsaker presided.

It was no small decision. No gay couple had ever married in the church.

"It's Vivian and Nonie," Hunsaker said of the decision to marry them. "They had been in the church since 1947. They had been deacons and in the choir. We thought of them as a couple. Nobody asked them, but you can't not know. In the church directory, they have their picture together.

"When you don't know somebody, it's easy to make statements about right and wrong. But when you know someone, have a relationship with them, which is what God wants, you want the best for them."

Nonie thought she would be "shaking in my boots" as they sat in their wheelchairs before the assembled. But she wasn't. "I faced the people in the audience. I just found it so wonderful. I'd never felt so good before, in front of that many people," she said.

At last they exchanged wedding rings and vows as "loving partner" and "loving spouse."

"So many wonderful people in our lives were there, people that knew about us but loved us still," Vivian said. "God brought us to this point. We don't know why. It seems like this is an end really, which is a little scary."

The Rev. Hunsaker got only one negative comment of the dozens she fielded in the days after. Jerry Yeast noticed one thing that warmed his heart.

"I began to hear them addressing each other as 'sweetie' or 'dear' which they had never done before in public," he said. "They had learned to live with their heads down so long. And now they don't have to live with their heads down."


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