By Marnie McAllister, Record Assistant Editor
Mary Irene and Cecil Semones have encountered tremendous challenges during more than 75 years together. They weathered the flood of 1937, World War II and the death of a child.
They are among about 150 couples being honored by the Archdiocese of Louisville for milestone wedding anniversaries this year. The archdiocese holds a special annual Mass to honor couples marking 30, 40, 50 and 60 or more years of marriage. This year’s celebration is set for 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 29, at the Cathedral of the Assumption.
The Semones were married nearly 75 years ago on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, Nov. 26, 1938, in the vestibule of the old St. George Church. Both were 20 years old and prepared to face life together, come what may.
By that time, they had already experienced the Great Flood of 1937 together. Their families lived on the same street in West Louisville and were shuffled to various shelters together during the 10-day evacuation, Irene Semones, the former Mary Irene Bartley, recalled during an interview at their home on Sept. 23.
“I kind of enjoyed it,” she said, smiling at her husband. “He was with me.”
Cecil Semones, who was less gregarious than his wife during the interview, noted, “I could reach over and grab her hand from the cot I was lying on.”
They were quick to add that their families were close at hand, too.
The couple no longer clearly remember the things so often romanticized in films — the first date, the proposal, or even why they liked each other to begin with. They’ve made a 75-year marriage a good one by respecting each other, they said.
Respect is especially important, they noted, because she is Catholic and he is Baptist. Both have faithfully practiced their own traditions these 75 years.
“We respect each other and we respect each other’s churches,” said Cecil Semones. “I’m sure there was some stress, but we overlooked it.
“When we were married, the priest asked me to promise not to break (his wife’s) relationship with the church,” he noted. “I promised, which was kind of lonely for me. But I kept my promise.”
They started a family soon after their wedding but lost their first child, a son they named Donnie, when he was just eight months old.
When their second son, Jerry, was eight months old, Cecil Semones was drafted into the Army. He served in Europe during World War II as a company clerk in the 397th Infantry Division.
“We had 194 men,” he said he recalls. “I was eight to 20 miles from the frontlines (during most of the war). Our company was in three battles.”
During the war, Irene Semones lived in a second floor apartment with her baby Jerry and a photo of her husband. When he returned after three years at war, his son was, by then, a toddler.
“He didn’t remember his dad when he came home,” Irene Semones recalled. “He said, ‘That’s not my dad; there’s my dad.’ And he pointed at the picture.”
The couple sent their children, Donna and Jerry, to Catholic schools. Cecil Semones attended Baptist services while his family attended Mass each Sunday.
Later in life, when the children were grown and Mr. Semones’ eyesight began to deteriorate, Mrs. Semones drove the car and together they attended her church, St. Margaret Mary, on Saturday evenings. Then they attended services at Westport Road Baptist Church together on Sundays. Now neither drives, but they watch Mass of the Air and a Baptist service on Sundays.
Their early years, especially the war years, were lonely and stessful times, Irene Semones said. But now they’re part of a lifetime of memories that serve as examples to their children and 14 grandchildren.
“Dad was a very good provider and always took care of his family first. And she was a very good mom. They were really a team I think,” said Jerry Semones, who celebrated his 48th wedding anniversary on Sept. 11. He and his wife, Marita, are members of St. Gabriel Church. “I’ve always been impressed by the longevity of their marriage. They’ve presented the example that it’s something you have to work through.”
“They are great role models for us,” said Donna Weber, who married her husband Steve more than 42 years ago. They are members of St. Patrick Church.
Donna Webber and her brother said that religion — and the differences in their parents’ religion — always interested them.
“I used to love talking religion around the table,” she noted. “It gave me a different perspective on religion. I remember Dad telling us, you don’t have to agree with another person’s religion, but you have to respect them.”
Irene and Cecil Semones said they never considered the difference in their religions a substantial stumbling block.
“Our religion is quite a bit alike,” said Irene Semones, matter-of-factly. “We believe in Jesus Christ, that he died on a cross for our sins.”