By NICHOLE GOLDEN, Staff Writer | Published October 20, 2016
LAWRENCEVILLE—Jack and Irene Marder of Lawrenceville had just two guests, who doubled as witnesses, at their 1941 wedding.
Father Henry Faber married them at St. James Church in Penns Grove, New Jersey, two months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. There were no photographs taken and the bride carried no flowers.
Although the marriage began in a simple fashion, it has spanned seven decades with steadfast love. The Marders celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary Oct. 19.
Jack and Irene reside at Garden Plaza, a senior living community near Georgia Gwinnett College.
They grew up living two houses down from one another in the area of Bradley Beach and Asbury Park, New Jersey. Irene McAllister was better acquainted with Jack’s younger brother, William.
“She was my brother’s girlfriend. He introduced me,” said Jack.
Jack was in the seminary at the Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, when the formal introduction was made.
“I knew it,” he said of his feelings for Irene. “She used to write to me.”
For two years, Irene wrote letters to Jack. She would sign them as “Mac” because he wasn’t supposed to be receiving letters from girls.
Jack came home unannounced from school. When his mother asked why, Jack replied, “I came home to marry Irene.”
They had talked about getting married, but there was no official proposal. Jack simply placed his fedora on Irene’s head upon arriving home. The bride was 18 years old, and the groom 21. He went to Sears and bought a wedding ring, which was delivered. “I didn’t have any credit at the time,” Jack recalled.
A few weeks after the wedding, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entered World War II, changing the course of the newlyweds’ life.
Jack decided to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps, knowing he would eventually be called up. The couple moved to Illinois where Jack was serving at Chanute Field.
“She made me promise I wouldn’t fly,” he remembered.
When everyone was being rounded up to be sent overseas, Irene told Jack to not leave the house that day. Eventually, he was sent to the Philippines.
“She cried. She thought flying was dangerous,” he said.
Jack flew many missions from the Philippines in a B-25 bomber, one named “Irene.” He returned home three months after the war ended in 1945.
Five generations are nearby
The Marders, already parents, went home to New Jersey and he began a career with DuPont. They moved to Atlanta in 1956 when he accepted a new position with DuPont.
The Marders are parents to six children: Joan, Jane, Patricia, Pamela, Jack Jr. and Bill.
“I’m keeping them all,” Irene said about her children.
“We even talked about having 17 kids,” said Jack.
Their children all live in the Atlanta area with many of them able to drop by and visit several times a week. The Marders attend Mass at the senior living community where Father Ted Johnson, a Garden Plaza resident, celebrates Mass.
In addition to being a homemaker, Irene worked at a dime store and jewelry store. Jack worked at Nationwide Insurance as a second job for added income. After the war, he joined the Air Force Reserves, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1975. He retired from DuPont in 1986.
They have 21 grandchildren, 37 great-grandchildren, and two great-great grandchildren.
“It’s a blessing,” said Irene of the generations.
Jane Rodgers, the Marder’s second daughter, recalls faith and family always being emphasized. Their dad would take them to daily Mass during Lent, and afterward they would get a sticky bun.
“We always seemed to have money issues,” said Rodgers, but it didn’t seem to matter that finances were tight.
“We always had dinner together. We always knew Mom and Dad were there,” she said.
The oldest of the children, Joan Raines, said their parents always had an offering at church.
“He taught us about giving—to want to be givers and the value of money,” said Raines.
She recalls a saying displayed in their house, “Charity begins at home.”
In Atlanta, the children attended school at Our Lady of the Assumption, Christ the King, and St. Pius X High School. The family enjoyed a friendship with Marist priest Father Joe McLaughlin, who celebrated many family weddings.
“As Catholics growing up, Sunday and holy days were not optional,” said daughter Patricia Shida. “We worshiped as a family.”
Their dad taught them to pray the Our Father in Latin. Jack served as a lector and usher. A convert to Catholicism, Irene served as a Eucharistic minister.
The parents always told their girls, “Your best friend is going to be your sister.”
The Marder sisters discovered that to be true.
When the Marders’ sons were born, the sisters celebrated with delight.
Prayer shawl ministry
Jack and Irene have side-by-side computers and occasionally take walks on the treadmill. At 96, Jack still enjoys a nightcap of Crown Royal.
“He was only allowed one,” said Rodgers of her mom’s rule of moderation.
Irene, who learned to crochet at the age of 12, makes prayer shawls or lap blankets for cancer patients at Emory Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Atlanta and has given away more than 100 she has made. Each blanket comes with a note indicating she prayed for the recipient while crafting it.
“It’s therapy. It really is,” said Irene, who will turn 94 in November.
“She made all their clothes,” added Jack. He said the girls had hundreds of handmade dresses when they were little.
The family will gather with friends Oct. 22 at Garden Plaza for a reception honoring the couple.
Their granddaughter, Deborah Westbrook, recently completed a move back to Georgia from out-of-state. Her goal was to be back in time for the celebration.
“I love hearing their stories,” said Westbrook.
She also enjoys looking through a scrapbook, complete with handwritten letters chronicling her grandparents’ history.
“I covet that book,” she added.
Jack signed all of his letters to his wife, “All my love, all my life, Jack.”
Irene said she never had any fear of commitment.
In an Oct. 1 Mass, honoring couples celebrating 50 and 60 years of marriage, Archbishop Wilton Gregory spoke about the committed and sincere love described often by St. Paul.
“The Latin word equivalent of sincere means ‘without wax,’” said Archbishop Gregory in his homily. “Each jubilarian’s love for a spouse has been and continues to be a love that has no artificial component about it—no separation from sorrow or suffering or pain, but a love that struggles to give all and that is willing to endure all.”
A photograph of the Marders at a previous Mass for couples with milestone anniversaries hangs outside their apartment, welcoming visitors.
With many years of marriage experience, the couple offers a bit of advice.
“You better just love your spouse,” offered Irene.
Sometimes not talking is important, noted Jack.
“That last word is hard to eat some times,” he said.
Irene marvels at Jack’s memory of details from the past, including how they spent his first paycheck from DuPont at the A&P grocery store.
“He’s been a faithful husband and patient with me, and I think he still loves me,” she said.
Irene said her favorite memories of life have been “when each of my children came, and when I married him.”
Jack reaches for a jewelry box he gave to his wife, with a bow still affixed. The message imprinted on the lid summarizes his feelings.
It reads, “I loved you then. I love you still. I always have and I always will.”