Bill and Ailene Hartman did not go out for their 65th anniversary, which happened to fall during a pandemic.
Both are in their 80s, and Bill has battled lung cancer, so they are vulnerable to COVID-19, the infectious upper-respiratory disease that has been especially dangerous to the elderly and those with underlying health conditions. So the Hartmans stayed at their Shepherd Park Plaza home on Wednesday.
Thanks to the creativity of their four caring offspring, they still had their best anniversary yet.
Their adult children – Bill, Dana, Janet and Tom – first arranged to have the Hartmans’ front yard decorated with jumbo photos of the couple from the 1950s and a colorful sign that said, “JUST MARRIED … 65 YRS AGO.” Then they delivered dinner and dessert from one of their parents’ favorite Italian restaurants and, to top off the celebration, organized a parade of family members and friends who drove by their house with smiles and personalized signs.
“Probably the greatest,” Bill Hartman said when asked how this year’s anniversary compared to others. “We’ve never had one like this before.”
Their daughter, Janet Schmidt, said the drive-by celebration was the best option under the circumstances. Son Billy Hartman also said it was the best way to entice his parents, who like to go on their own drives and have continued to do so during the pandemic, to stay safely at home.
Better yet, the elder Hartmans never saw it coming. The sign and photos were placed in their yard Wednesday morning, and they said the anniversary celebration appeared to peak when Dana dropped off Shrimp Fettuccine Alfredo and strawberry cheesecake from Ciro’s on the Katy Freeway.
But Dana then asked her parents to step outside, where they saw a parade of about 25 vehicles drive past their house. The group included relatives and friends, some from Houston’s First Baptist Church, as well as 100-year-old Naomi Cotton.
“We were very much surprised,” Ailene said. “The fact that they thought enough of us to come over and do that was just fantastic.”
The Hartmans, who both worked as Realtors and had their own Century 21 brokerage from 1972-98, met in church as youngsters. Bill was introduced to Ailene by one of his friends, who had dated her, and Bill said he asked her out when his friend left town.
“We’re no longer friends,” Bill joked.
He proposed to Ailene when she was a student at Reagan High School in the Heights and he was about to join the U.S. Army. She told Bill they needed to wait until they got a little older, so he went off to serve in Germany and regularly sent back gifts such as crystals and figurines.
After Bill returned home and Ailene graduated from high school, they were married on May 6, 1955. Ailene said a photo of her in her wedding dress was published in The Leader, which had started serving the area about six months earlier.
“I wanted to be sure she didn’t back out,” Bill said of the gifts he sent from overseas. “She’s a good deal.”
Bill said he and Ailene have spent only two or three nights apart in all the years they have been married. Along with their four adult children, they also have several grandchildren and great grandchildren.
Ailene said the secret to their matrimonial longevity is their faith.
“I think the strength of our marriage is because we love the Lord and we have served him and brought our kids up in the church,” she said. “That’s very, very important.”
Bill said he and Ailene have the “greatest kids in the world.” Billy and Janet both followed their footsteps in the real estate business, while Tom works for a title company and Dana is in the medical field.
They had treated their parents before on their anniversary, but this year’s celebration was especially meaningful even though they couldn’t spend an extended amount of time together or go out together.
Billy said he and his siblings wanted to make it memorable in case it was their last anniversary. Bill is 88 and has had a total of three bouts with colon and lung cancer – he still take chemotherapy pills – and Ailene is 83.
But the Hartmans remain active. On Thursday, for example, they made a day trip to Galveston.
“No matter where Dad goes, he’s having a good time,” Billy said. “That attitude of just having a good time has helped him.”
On Wednesday, the Hartmans’ kids helped them have a good time without going anywhere.