FORT SMITH -- Bernie and Helen Kremer, members of Sacred Heart of Mary Church in Barling, who celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary Nov. 17, have been walking hand in hand since 1939.
The couple, who lives in Butterfield Place, an independent and assisted living complex in Fort Smith, uses their walkers to get from their apartment to the dining hall, "but when we get there, we let go of our walkers and walk hand in hand to the table," Bernie said.
At 95, Bernie is six years older than Helen, 89. They have known one another since their school days at St. Meinrad School in Prairie View.
"I didn't have any brothers and didn't care about boys, but I saw Bernie when my sister and I were wading in the creek," Helen said. "Three boys walked by, and two of them stopped to giggle, but Bernie kept walking home. The good Lord told me right then that that was the man I was going to marry, and I never saw anyone since then. Of course, he was older and dating, and I would cry when he dated other girls."
She had made a bigger impression on Bernie Kremer than she realized, despite their age difference.
"I had her in mind even when we went to school. I liked her all through school; none of the other girls could ever compare to her," he said.
When Helen was 16, Bernie asked her to a dance, and they dated quite a bit until their 1941 wedding at St. Meinrad Church. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Bernie received a notice for the draft, but because of vision problems he never served in the military. He continued to work in the coal mines with his brothers.
After their first son, Fenton, was born, the couple moved to Fort Smith and Bernie began a career in the auto body business, eventually settling in Paris. Helen and Bernie had three more children -- Allen, Bernie Jr. and Barbara.
"When we had our third son we decided we should name one of them 'Bernie,'" Helen laughed.
Helen raised their children and managed the home, while Bernie worked two jobs. During the day he worked at Armbrusters, where he took regular size cars, installed a mid-section and turned them into stretch limousines. At night and on weekends, he operated his own business -- Kremer's Auto Body in Paris.
"We never took a honeymoon or went on a vacation," Helen said, "but I didn't care."
She said the secret of a long, happy marriage is staying in love.
"It's in my heart to stay forever with this man. The good Lord told me that he was mine. Everything that he does -- I just love everything about him. He is so good."
Bernie, looking at his wife fondly, added, "It's because I love you. I've loved that little girl since she was a little girl and first caught my eye."
The couple planned a big party at Sacred Heart of Mary parish hall for their 70th anniversary in 2011, but Helen passed out and fell in the parking lot before the party.
"She went to the hospital, and when she came to, one side of her hair was shaved. It was a miracle she pulled through," Bernie said.
Their anniversary party was postponed until January 2012, when they celebrated with their four children, 11 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, family and friends. On their 71st anniversary in November, they had a special Mass celebrated and placed flowers on the altar.
In retirement, Bernie and Helen enjoy each other's company, doing word puzzles and playing bingo. Bernie worked with stained glass as a hobbyist for many years and gave many pieces to his children and grandchildren. Helen still knits. She recently made a hat and blanket for a new great-grandchild in Texas and is working on a hat and blanket for another great-grandchild due this month.
"I couldn't have found a better woman to marry in the whole world," Bernie said.
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