MY FOR­EVER VALEN­TINE

Mar­riage not al­ways easy, mu­tual re­spect and faith play roles

RSWLiving - - News - BY KATHY GREY Kathy Grey is an edi­tor and writer liv­ing in Fort My­ers.

Mar­riage not al­ways easy, mu­tual re­spect and faith play roles

“There is no more lovely, friendly and charm­ing re­la­tion­ship, com­mu­nion or com­pany than a good mar­riage.” —Martin Luther “Com­ing to­gether is a be­gin­ning. Keep­ing to­gether is progress. Work­ing to­gether is suc­cess.” —Henry Ford

Let’s dis­pel the dis­cour­ag­ing ur­ban leg­end that 50 per­cent of mar­riages end in di­vorce. Pin­point­ing per­cent­ages by state is im­pos­si­ble, it turns out, but stud­ies in the last three decades clearly in­di­cate a steady de­cline in di­vorce. Love, it seems, is alive and well, ev­i­denced by two Bonita cou­ples whose last­ing unions de­fine Valen­tine’s Day.

BY­RON AND LINDA LILES

They mar­ried 46 years ago. She was 20. He was 27. By­ron Liles was a church youth group leader when he spot­ted Linda Sawtelle at a roller-rink out­ing. A third-gen­er­a­tion Bonita Springs na­tive (his grand­fa­ther was pi­o­neer James Wal­lace Lyles, born in 1897), By­ron wanted to be a rancher, in­stead form­ing the By­ron Liles In­surance Agency.

Linda had wanted to sing and was des­tined to re­lo­cate to Mis­souri, where she and her fa­ther would at­tend Bi­ble col­lege. But ev­ery­thing changed that night at the roller rink. “He was my first boyfriend,” Linda says. “By­ron was the one God picked out for me.”

Still, she’d promised to move to Mis­souri―and did. And By­ron didn’t stand in her way. “I wanted her to be sure [about us],” By­ron says. “I wanted her to have that col­lege op­por­tu­nity with­out my in­ter­fer­ing. But I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life with­out her.”

By­ron would pro­pose in a let­ter, which she ac­cepted. He sent her money for an en­gage­ment ring. By­ron’s mother sewed the brides­maids’ dresses. They hon­ey­mooned in Ge­or­gia. Near­ing a golden an­niver­sary, By­ron, now 73 and Linda, 66, have three chil­dren and three grand­chil­dren.

Mar­riage re­mains the cen­ter of their uni­verse be­cause they fol­low the com­mand­ments of the Bi­ble, By­ron says, with “fidelity and honor. We both be­lieve God se­lected us to be to­gether.”

PETER AND CON­NIE BERGERSON

She was an ele­men­tary ed­u­ca­tion stu­dent at South­east Mis­souri State Uni­ver­sity, where he was a pro­fes­sor. Their paths crossed on a 10-cent beer night. Their first din­ner date was at the Pur­ple Crackle, an old dance club. They dated for three years.

Peter Bergerson and Con­nie Troll mar­ried in 1972 un­der the St. Louis Gate­way Arch. They lived for 34 years in nearby Cape Gi­rardeau, where he led the South­east Mis­souri State Uni­ver­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­ence depart­ment and she taught ele­men­tary school. They raised two chil­dren.

The cou­ple mi­grated to Bonita Springs in 2002, Peter work­ing at Florida Gulf Coast Uni­ver­sity to develop a po­lit­i­cal sci­ence cur­ricu­lum and to teach public ad­min­is­tra­tion. Con­nie taught read­ing in Col­lier County schools. She re­tired in 2015, and then re­turned to teach­ing part time. “I loved the year off, but this is per­fect for me,” she says. “We have been poor as church mice. And now, for two teach­ers, we’re do­ing pretty well!”

But the path wasn’t al­ways smooth. “One of the great­est per­sonal chal­lenges was com­plet­ing my Ph.D. with two young kids at home,” Peter muses.

Be­cause the cou­ple raised their chil­dren in a city with­out nearby fam­ily, they de­pended com­pletely on one an­other, per­haps a se­cret to suc­cess. “Peter’s sched­ule was more flex­i­ble,” Con­nie says. “He’d do the oil changes and other er­rands. I had the kids in the sum­mer. We al­ways shared re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Peter likes to cook. I make the sides. We have a clean­ing lady be­cause we both like a clean house and don’t like to clean. And the last one out of bed makes it.”

“It’s not the tra­di­tional mar­riage with de­fined roles,” Peter adds. “But we have tra­di­tional val­ues: mu­tual re­spect, un­der­stand­ing, trust.”

They never thought about break­ing up, either. And if there’s trou­ble in par­adise? Laugh­ing, Peter says: “I just make a Man­hat­tan and go into the other room.”

There were, of course, ups and downs. “I had breast cancer and un­der­went two rounds of chemo. That threw us for a loop,” Con­nie says. “But Peter just picked up the ball. He is not a nurse, but he did it. And look at me now!” Peter fin­ishes the thought: “Beau­ti­ful as ever.”

And Peter in 2015 ex­pe­ri­enced pul­monary is­sues. “We could have lost him,” Con­nie says. “But he’s good now. We are lucky that God has made so much pos­si­ble in our lives.”

Peter punc­tu­ates the thought: “We like God.”

“In my house I’m the boss … my wife is just the de­ci­sion maker.” —Woody Allen

By­ron Liles gave the for­mer Linda Sawtelle a gui­tar early in their mar­riage. The Bonita cou­ple af­ter 46 years still make mu­sic to­gether.

Con­nie Troll and Peter Bergerson were mar­ried in 1972 un­der the St. Louis Gate­way Arch. The school in­struc­tors set­tled in Bonita in 2002.

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