Five couples celebrate vow renewals one bite at a time

By: Sherri Kolade | Farmington Press | Published July 2, 2013

 Harold Lesse, left, and Marilyn Lesse celebrate after their vow-renewal ceremony and hold a picture of themselves during the early years June 27.

Harold Lesse, left, and Marilyn Lesse celebrate after their vow-renewal ceremony and hold a picture of themselves during the early years June 27.

Photo by Donna Agusti

Southfield resident Bernice Gill, 85, is quick to tell people about how she met her sweetheart, Jackie Gill, and how they were married several years later in a big, beautiful synagogue on Chicago Boulevard in Detroit on Flag Day in 1949.

“My cousin was having a piano recital, and he (Jackie) is tone deaf, but he came to the recital and sat through whole thing,” Bernice Gill said. “(Afterward), he was invited to my aunt’s house and endeared himself to my whole family, and I had to go out with him.”

When they met in 1945, Jackie Gill, 90, a World War II veteran, knew the petite, dark-haired beauty with the big smile was going to be his.

“I liked her looks, I liked her act, I liked her,” he said. “I love her — what do you want?”

The Gills’ love story was one of five celebrated during a vow- renewal ceremony at The Park at Trowbridge in Southfield, 24111 Civic Center Drive, a senior living retirement community operated by Brookdale Senior Living June 27.

The event was held after Director of Residential Programs Jenny Marroni and her colleague requested that Susan Baier, from the Culinary Studies Institute at Oakland Community College in Farmington Hills, make cakes for the weeklong celebration.

The celebration included a bachelor and bachelorette party June 24, a couples’ bridal shower June 25, a rehearsal dinner June 26, and a renewal ceremony and reception the next day.

During the ceremony and reception, a band belted out tunes by Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, while residents, friends and family members danced near the wedding cake, and white and pink balloons.

Baier said the vow-renewal ceremony was an interesting idea.

“It was such a unique story that I thought maybe we could help out with these couples,” Baier said the next day.

Three culinary arts classes made the cakes, under the direction of Baier and two other instructors.

A retail baking class baked the cakes. A wedding cake instructor did the finishing touches, and another instructor and her students made butter cream frosting for the cakes.

The five-week class at OCC ended several weeks ago, according to a press release. Instructors froze the cake parts they could make ahead of time, and students and instructors assembled the cakes two days before the reception.

According to a press release, the class used decorative jewels on the toppers to go with the diamond-anniversary theme and glued them with piping gel.

“The toppers are keepsakes and not to be eaten,” said class instructor Michaelle Stidham in the press release. “They have wires and little gems in them.”

The edible cake portion featured raspberry and chocolate with butter cream frosting.

“In the world of culinary arts, chefs do a lot of charitable work,” Baier, the program coordinator for the Culinary Studies Institute at OCC, said. “(We are) always making memories.”

Marroni said Baier donated five cake toppers and one cake. The event snowballed into a weeklong celebration after one of the couples mentioned that they never had a wedding, she said.

“It was a wonderful event,” she said. “We have couples celebrating 53 to 67 years of marriage. It is very exciting.” 

Marilyn Lesse, 88, and her husband, Harold Lesse, 89, celebrated 54 years of marriage after originally meeting in Florida, where Harold Lesse was a senior at the University of Miami.

“We met at a college dance,” he said during the event. “She and two other girlfriends planned to take vacation for couple of weeks down in Miami.”

Marilyn Lesse, who originally showed up at the dance with another date, could not turn down the confident stranger who asked her for a dance.

“I saw her, and she looked pretty nice looking,” Harold Lesse said while admiring his wife. “I knew she came with somebody else.”

They were married April 11, 1949, after dating for two months.

During the renewal ceremony, the couple walked down the aisle as their grandsons played “Fiddler on the Roof” ahead of them with a violin and clarinet. They renewed their vows under a white arch covered in pink flowers and twinkling lights.

About 60 black and white photographs of couples in their earlier years of marriage surrounded the ceremony space, which also included photographs of the five couples who renewed their vows.

When asked why Harold Lesse decided to marry the young woman he knew for just two months, his answer was as clear and forward as his personality: “I knew she was the one for me.”