By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published October 16, 2014
Some 158 couples reaffirmed their wedding vows at the annual archdiocesan Mass to honor 50- and 60-year marriages on Oct. 4.
These couples had first said their I do’s in 1954 and 1964, but this time they and their families gathered at St. Brigid Church, in Johns Creek, with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory to celebrate and renew their longtime commitment.
In 1964, the Beatles ruled the airwaves with “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty. Sidney Poitier was the first black actor to win the best actor Academy Award, honored for “Lilies of the Field.” And these three couples, the Nicholsons, the Trujillos, and the Murphys, started their married life together.
ATLANTA—Thinking about their first date still makes Norma Nicholson laugh.
She was a cutie, attending the then all-girls high school at the Cathedral of Christ the King. Brooks, who goes by Tony, was a tall, lanky quarterback, a leader on the gridiron for the Marist football team.
Their first date was a movie at Peachtree Street’s Fox Theater, followed by a hot spot where the high schoolers would be seen.
Norma is comfortable now to admit, she was more into him then he was interested in her.
Initially. But by the third date, the young man from the Sylvan Hills neighborhood on Atlanta’s south side was smitten.
“I said, ‘This may not work.’ But it did. We had a second and third date.”
Fifty years after their wedding, the couple has leaned on each other, with his sense of humor and her steadfastness in faith.
Their courtship started as she finished her final two years at the new St. Pius X High School and he attended an Alabama college, with hopes of getting into the U.S. Naval Academy. Norma frequently made the three-hour bus ride to visit him for college dances, even staying in a convent during her visits.
Soon, he was back in the Peach State. Both were students at the University of Georgia. She was a cheerleader. (She joked her duties including holding Uga I, the team bulldog. The UGA mascot is now Uga IX.)
Despite being on the same campus, the two lovebirds took a “sabbatical” and dated others. The news was not welcomed by their parents. It lasted a few months, although they’d still see each other at the student coffee shop. A date to his aunt’s 25th wedding anniversary party brought them back together.
It was the last time their relationship was anything but close. Just months after graduating—he earned a business degree, she studied English—the two exchanged vows in front of family, friends, fraternity brothers and sorority sisters at her home parish, the Cathedral of Christ the King.
He recalled being so nervous in his three-piece tuxedo it took his bride to remind him to smile. Her gown was topped with a fashionable pillbox hat. She said the day and champagne reception were wonderful, although the walk down the long aisle of the cathedral was no easy task.
Their first daughter was born so close to nine months to the day of their wedding, the couple was on the receiving end of ribbing. Two other daughters followed. Two attended Marist and one St. Pius, keeping alive the legacy of their parents attending rival high schools. Three generations of the family have now attended Marist. Norma recently retired from an administrative position at the school. Tony has been honored for his service to his alma mater.
Caroline Iwanchuk, who lives in San Francisco, is the middle of the three Nicholson daughters. She said her parents valued their faith and passed it along.
“We try to teach them the same values of following Christ,” said Iwanchuk about her two children.
“I can’t think of one time they raised their voices at each other. They have a very beautiful marriage. It’s not that they always agree with every single thing, but they are nice to each other,” she said.
The Nicholsons have lived off of Chamblee Dunwoody Road for more than 40 years, almost as long as they have been parishioners at Our Lady of the Assumption Church.
He worked in the home construction and remodeling business, leaving his mark on more than 100 homes, mostly in Cobb and Gwinnett counties. The business is cyclical. One dry spell was during the late 1970s when he couldn’t get real estate agents to show his houses because few wanted to buy the pricey gas to drive the 20 miles.
They’ve known struggles. Norma’s sister, Anne, was in a car crash in 1976 while at the University of Georgia, causing her brain damage. Norma’s father made a dozen trips to the healing shrine in Lourdes, France, praying for a recovery, which never came in the way they hoped. Norma traveled there once, which made a lasting impression on her. Anne came to their home for weekend visits to save money on the cost of a full-time aide. The sports-loving Anne would have to be carried to a second-floor bedroom. In a 1992 essay Norma wrote for The Georgia Bulletin, Norma said, “Even though no physical cures have been evident in Anne’s recovery, the miracles received in spirit cannot go uncounted.”
Anne died two years ago. Norma feels so strongly about the healing from the shrine, she distributes water from Lourdes to people who are ill to comfort them.
Norma said she learned through her sister to surrender worries to God when hardships seem insurmountable. The couple’s shared faith was something they leaned on together.
“The Lord was there to give us the strength to take care of her,” Norma said.
To mark their wedding anniversary milestone, they will be going on a pilgrimage to the holy places of Fatima and Lourdes.