When I think about 70 years, I think of “long-term.” Things that last. Things that are durable and stick through anything. When you think of 70 years, “marriage” is not a word I typically associate with it. I mean, it should be, but let’s be honest. In today’s society, it’s a wonder when any marriage makes it to a “milestone” anniversary and 50 is about as high an achievement you usually hear of a marriage making it these days. I guess that’s why when I heard that Jim Benson, who is staying in one of the Traceway Green Houses, and his beautiful wife Jo, were celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary, I was amazed.
It was Spring of 1946, and young Jo was working as a bank teller in Tupelo, Mississippi. When a handsome young man named Jim Benson walked by the window, she “just knew he was the one.” Jo tried to wave and smile at him, hoping to get his attention, but Jim walked on past and didn’t even look at her. So Jo decided to seek help. She found a mutual friend and told this boy the next time he saw him, “Would you tell him to please call me?” Now sitting across from the elder couple, a smile spread across Jo’s face as she recounted the story for me. “And he did,” she said with a giggle. “It didn’t take very long!”
Jo was born and raised in Tupelo and Jim hailed from Brewer, so the young couple did what most couples at that time did on dates, they went to church. “I played the organ at the First Baptist Church and he waited for me.” Jim had served in World War II and had just returned home. He was in a training school, Hemphill Diesel, to prepare for a new job. Jo and Jim dated for a little over two months before they decided to tie the knot. Neither one remembers exactly how Jim proposed to Miss Jo, “It seems like it was just a common thought we had,” but they both remember it being a mutual feeling very fast. At first they thought they would wait until Jim finished school, but they decided not to wait.
So on May 31, 1946, Jim and Jo became Mr. and Mrs. Benson. The ceremony was a small affair held at the home of Jo’s parents, located on Robbins Street. “Mother had decorated the house very nice and we had a little alter where the preacher stood before the fireplace,” she says lost in memory. “It was real sweet.” Brother Holcomb, who was the Baptist Church minister at that time, married them in an intimate ceremony before immediate family members and close friends. Jim recalls it being very brief. “Boy! We got away quick,” laughs Jo as she reaches over to touch his hand and he laughs with her. The couple made a quick trip indeed. Off to Memphis for their honeymoon. “We went on a Friday afternoon and came back on Sunday,” said Jo. “He had to be back at school on Monday.” There was a write-up about their wedding that appeared in the daily newspaper, but there were no pictures taken. Jo states now she can’t remember why she didn’t want them, she just remembers telling her mother no pictures.
“We didn’t have much of a home then,” recalled Jo. The couple lived with each set of parents on the weekends when Jim would return home from school. “We would just switch back and forth,” she explained. “I lived at home during the week and that was the way it was.” Jim didn’t want Jo to work because he didn’t want her to be working when he came home. This arrangement continued for about five months until Jim finished his training. But so long as they could be together, neither one seemed to care. “It was fun! We had fun! We made the most of it all!”
When Jim graduated from training school, he and his brother Ned went to work for Scribner Equipment Company in Amory, Mississippi, where he worked for 40 years. “I never had another job,” stated Jim. During his tenure, the couple moved briefly to Amory,but quickly decided to move back to Tupelo where they built a home in 1955 near the Country Club and have lived there ever since.
Their 70 years together has been a blessed time. They have raised two children, Judy Franks and Rusty Benson, both of Tupelo. They also boast six grandchildren and nine great-grand-children. “They make us so proud,” said Jo. And watching the pride beam from her eyes as she stared across the den at her daughter who was visiting with us too, I could tell how deeply she meant it.
While working for Scribner, Jim had to travel across the U.S. a lot and one of the most memorable things about their marriage has been their many trips together. “If he knew of someplace nice, he would always take me,” she stated. “We had some pretty good trips. Still we always did everything together.”
When the staff at the Cohen House discovered the Benson’s were about to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary, they began a secret mission to surprise them with a romantic dinner in the sitting room of the house. “The girls set up a special table, cooked a great meal and even got flowers for Jim to give to Mrs. Jo,” said Jon Stirewalt, Executive Director. Since Jim had to move to the Green House around Christmas last year for rehab, Jo never imagined they would have such a special time together on their anniversary. “He usually takes me out,” she said. “I just loved the flowers and it was so nice to have that special time together. It was really sweet of the ladies to do that for us.” Which brings me back to what makes Jim and Jo’s relationship so special to see. There is a love that flows between the two of them that can be felt the minute you meet them. Everything they have done over their 70 year marriage has been done together. And while it’s the deep, enduring, caring love so many people have come to expect from “epic love stories,” it’s also filled with school-girl giggles over how cute Jo thought Jim was when she met him, and gentle hands reaching out for each other during the interview and tear-filled eyes when I asked Jim what he thought was the key to their long marriage. “I just love her… so much.”
“I will say for them, they have always just loved each other better than any two people possibly could,” explained their daughter Judy. “They belong to Wesley Methodist Church and they always put the Lord first in their marriage. They truly, truly did. And I think that’s what’s made their marriage so good.” That’s the glue right there - they always kept the Lord first in their marriage and did everything together. “And they brought us up that way too. That’s the key to their marriage.”
So how do you continue a love story that has lasted more than 70 years? When 70 years is just not long enough to spend with the person you love? “You just keep on loving… every day,” said Jo with enthusiasm. “We’re happy! I never knew I was going to meet him, but then I saw him and thought he was it and he has been. Every day since then.”