Cecil and Nell Drue Jordan to celebrate 50th anniversary
It’s been more than 50 years since Cecil Jordan wandered over to Nell Drue Edmonson’s house on J Street in Bentonville to say welcome to the neighborhood.
“I asked her if I could store a refrigerator in her chicken house,” he said. He knew he wanted to be back to see more of her.
Nell Drue, born in Gentry in October of 1931, had just moved to Bentonville from the then-Brightwater area to take a job working as a legal secretary for attorney Clayton Little. Cecil, born in Hogscald in December of 1934, spent his days working for Kraft Foods.
About a year and a half after their meeting that day and a courtship that included a car wreck on their first date which put Nell Drue on disability to this day, the two married in a small ceremony at the Bentonville First Baptist Church in 1967.
They honeymooned at Howard Johnson Hotel in Joplin, Mo., and then at another in Springfield, Mo.
“We ordered coffee and sweet rolls to the room,” Cecil said.
This wasn’t the typical young-love-to-last-theages type of story, however. This was a do-over — each in their second marriage. Cecil was 32 and Nell Drue was 35, and they now had seven children between them.
The family lived in Bentonville until 1971 when they bought the home they still live in today — nearly 80 acres in Gentry that abuts the Wilderness Animal Safari.
The house was about 1,100 square feet, Cecil said. In 1975, they added on to expand the home. They worked on projects at their home while Cecil tried to make ends meet with his job at Kraft and a second job at an ice storage warehouse.
After taking out a loan on the home, there came a time when interest rates skyrocketed to nearly 16 percent, he said. He worked 16 hours a day, five days a week, and 8 hours a day the other two.
Cecil went to the Highway Department to see about acquiring a piece for a drainage project he was working on at home. They handed him an application and offered him a job. He said he put the application in a drawer, because he couldn’t afford the $1 an hour pay cut.
He mentioned the application to Nell Drue a while later, and she asked why he hadn’t filled it out. With her blessing, he got it out and turned it in, and after 27 and a half years with Kraft Foods, he began working for the state in 1979.
He worked as the station attendant and took care of the shop, did the payroll and kept the inventory up to date. She stayed home and took care of the home.
Cecil and Nell Drue spent their time taking short trips to Branson, walking their land or fishing in the lake on their property. They would take a small wooden raft to the middle of the lake and spend the day swimming off of it.
Though they always seemed to have someone living with them, on and off, at their home, their children were grown. Nell Drue’s son Ricky had recently graduated and got married. Her daughter Kathy had finished high school and traveled to Central Arkansas for college. Cecil’s four children lived in Malvern, near their mother.
“We had just begun to slow down and kick back a little bit,” Cecil said.
Cecil’s son Donnie, in his early 20s then, called to ask if Cecil and Nell Drue would take in his threeyear-old son, John David (JD). Donnie and his young wife had recently divorced, Donnie suffered from epilepsy and things were not going well.
The young parents weren’t prepared to care for a child and, when JD would cry, his mother would leave him in the room on the bed, Cecil said, remembering a time when Donnie’s family lived with them for about 6 months.
When they were asked to care for the child, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation.
All of a sudden, the couple, now in their 50s and who had never raised small children together, had a three-year-old at home.
“Our life became about him,” Cecil said of JD.
Little League games filled their time. When JD started school at Decatur Elementary, they had no playground equipment. Nell Drue rallied some friends to collect recipes and publish a cookbook to raise money for the equipment. They held a community work day and installed the slide they were able to buy with the profits, fixed the swings and built monkey bars.
Since 1955, Cecil had also served with the 142nd field artillery division with the Arkansas National Guard, a position he credits for keeping him afloat during hard financial times. He barely missed making history when his unit was not sent to Little Rock’s Central High School when the Little Rock Nine were denied entrance into the school.
“We were on the next rotation to go to Little Rock. I didn’t realize it would be such a big part of history,” Cecil said. “I just wondered why everyone couldn’t get along.”
“We were at Fort Chaffee (in Fort Smith) when the Cubans came over,” he added.
In 1990, as a Command Sgt. Major, Cecil was deployed to Saudi Arabia during Operation Desert Storm. Nell Drue stayed home with 11-year-old JD and waited for his return. Today, she says she didn’t know if he would come back.
He did. When he returned and JD was 12 years old, the couple adopted JD as their legal son.
The little family attended parades in which Cecil marched in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Cecil recalled a time when Nell Drue, a lady short in stature, couldn’t see over the crowd in New York. Because of his rank, they had an escort to these events.
“Don’t you know who this is?” he said the escort was asking people as she moved Nell Drue and JD through the crowd. “This is Norman Schwarzkopf’s aunt!”
She wasn’t, of course, but Nell Drue laughed in her chair as Cecil told the story.
In 1996, Cecil retired from the Highway Department, two years after retiring from the military on Dec. 29, 1994, just shy of 40 years of service. That was Cecil’s 60th birthday, and 60 was the age cutoff for the National Guard.
JD left the home in 1998 for college and later joined the U.S. Army, as well, following in his grandfather’s — now father’s — footsteps.
The couple who had a tendency to do things a bit non-traditionally had finally reached the emptynest phase … in their 70s.
“She didn’t have a good first marriage, and mine was worse,” Cecil said.
“But she still tells me she loves me at least 50 times a day.”
“They’ve been the best years of my life,” Nell Drue said. “Every day’s been good.”
Age is getting the better of them these days, but they spend each day together in their home.
“Take it one day at a time,” Nell Drue said as offered advice for young married couples.
“Hang in there,” Cecil said. “Respect each other, support each other.” “Cecil?” Nell Drue asked. “Yes, Nell?” he said. “I love you,” she said. “We’ve been blessed,” Cecil said, of his life with this woman.
The 50-year anniversary celebration for Cecil and Nell Drue is from 2 to 4 p.m. on Saturday, July 29, at First Baptist Church in Gentry.
Cecil and Nell Drue Jordan