WEST JEFFERSON-Bill Fuller was only 19 years old when he met the love of his life.
It was 1964. Fuller, who now resides in Florida, was a senior at the New England prep school, Suffield Academy. His school had just been invited to a formal dance with a nearby female prep academy.
In his four years at the academy, he had never been to a school dance. Perplexed and possibly concerned with his social standing, Fuller asked his school’s social director to fix him up with a date.
Fuller was in luck.
Through serendipity alone, Fuller was placed with the lovely Jeannette “Jenn” Parriott.
“We had a marvelous time at the dance,” Fuller later recounted in a letter. “Over the seceding year and a half, our infatuation grew into something I wanted to make last so I asked Jenn to marry. She said, ‘Yes.’”
Setting a date, finding a state
The young lovers didn’t want to waste a minute in legitimizing their budding romance, but there was a small technicality that prevented them from tying the knot.
The 1960s was a different era. Old fashioned morals and ethics prevailed over more progressive viewpoints on marriage and love.
“Our plan was to be married, but to keep it a secret until we graduated from college,” said Fuller. “As we started to plan, we found that most States required parental permission if the girl was not at least 19. I was 19, but Jenn was still 18…at least for another 14 days.”
Undeterred, Fuller searched out nearby states that held no sanction on their full fledged romance.
There were only two states that did not include the 19-year-old provision in the listed requirements for marriage. One was Idaho and the other was, as fate might have it, North Carolina.
A the time, Fuller was a freshmen at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn. while Parriott was enrolled at DePauw University in Greencastle, In.
“We plotted the closest town in North Carolina on a line from Sewanee to Greencastle and into North Carolina,” Fuller remembers. “We came up with West Jefferson.”
With a plan in place, Fuller borrowed a fraternity brother’s Volkswagen to pick-up his bride to be. The couple drove all day and night over the course of more than a thousand miles before arriving in West Jefferson.
Their first item on the itinerary was finding a suitable Presbyterian Church.
“We never discussed it nor did we ever consider anything but a wedding ceremony performed in a church,” said Fuller.
They found Mt. Jefferson Presbyterian Church where they met with Rev. Thomas I. Smith.
“He said he would marry us, but that we had to get a license and he wanted to see us that evening to discuss some matters.”
Initially, Fuller was fearful that the minister would talk the couple out of getting married. He reluctantly returned to the church to meet with Smith.
“He told us to relax that he wanted to describe what (was) going to happen and the meaning of the wedding ceremony,” he said. “He explained that we were probably going to be too nervous and excited to be able to pay close attention to the meaning of what was being said during the ceremony. He explained the ceremony was meaningful and we should have the opportunity to reflect upon the meaning and understand what were about to do.”
‘I do’ and empty pockets
On Thursday, May 5, 1966, Fuller and Jenn were married by Smith in the sanctuary of the church.
“I had never been to a wedding before and certainly did not know the appropriate practices and conventions,” said Fuller. “I believe it was Billy Brown (a witness of the marriage) who mentioned after the ceremony that it was customary to give some money to the minister.”
Fuller was immediately shocked and embarrassed by this sudden revelation.
“I looked in my wallet and realized that I was not sure I had enough money to pay for the gas for the roughly 1,000 mile return trip,” Fuller recalled. “I pulled out a $5 bill and said I planned on more to come in the future. Sadly, this was a promise I did not keep.”
To make amends for his previous shortcomings, Fuller is planning to repay the church $5 for every Sunday that has passed since his wedding 50 years ago next week. He plans to bestow this gift on the church during a special vowel renewal ceremony at Mt. Jefferson Presbyterian Church.
It is not the only transgression of the family that Fuller regrets and would like to atone for.
“I never saw the letter, but I was told that Jenn’s father wrote a scathing letter to Rev. Smith, which I am sure berated him for such a foolish and unchristian action as to perform the marriage for two children,” said Fuller. “Thus, not only did Rev. Smith get ‘short changed’ at the ceremony, but got the wrath of a very unhappy father of the bride. For this, I have always felt sorry for Rev. Smith.”
Today, Fuller believes the donation is the least he can do for a lifetime of memories.
“Often on our anniversary I think of this man that had the faith in two young people who he truly believed were in love,” said Fuller. “It is that faith in us that has carried us for 50 years of marriage.”
Reach Jesse Campbell at 336-846-7164.