Willem and Florence Schurman will celebrate Valentine’s Day as a married couple of 71 years and counting. Photo courtesy of Donna Smith

A lasting lesson in love

  • February 13, 2013

A mother’s advice helps keep couple together for seven decades

TORONTO - Always kiss each other goodnight, said Florence Schurman’s mother. She told her daughter that she and her future husband should never go to bed angry. Seventy-one years of marriage later, Schurman sticks by the validity of that advice.

Schurman, 89, and her husband, 94-year-old Willem, are being honoured as Ontario’s longest married couple, at least as far as Worldwide Marriage Encounter (WME) has found.

WME ran a contest to find the longest-married couple and will be entering the Schurmans into the first nationwide contest for Canada’s longest married couple. WME is a lay, Christian marriage movement present in 98 countries that proclaims the value of marriage and Holy Orders in the world and Church.

The contest was started to recognize the “importance of marriage in our society” and to recognize “that there are many people who are very committed in their marriage,” said Dane MacCarthy, a 30-year member of WME.

Some of the other couples entered into the contest have been married for about 50 to 70 years.

For the Schurmans, their seven-decade journey together began three days after the bombing of Pearl Harbour. It was a Wednesday night in December 1941 when 18-year-old Florence married 23-year-old Willem in front of 14 guests at the Richmond Hill United Church, where they still attend services today.

They wanted to marry before Willem went off to join the war effort, which he did in February 1942. After his service with the Canadian Armed Forces, the couple settled in Richmond Hill and later Aurora where they raised six children.

The Ontario co-ordinators of WME will honour the couple Feb. 10, recognized by the archdiocese of Toronto as Marriage Sunday, after the 10:30 a.m. service at the Schurman’s home church.

Marriage is important because “it’s critical to our whole society,” said MacCarthy. “It’s essential in terms of a functioning society and the raising of our children is a direct product of marriage and what happens with our children in the future is what’s going to happen to our society in the future, so it’s essential.”

MacCarthy has been married to his wife Anne for 50 years, youngsters compared to the Schurmans, he said. His secret to lengthy marriage is communication and the importance of the initial commitment.

“We never considered divorce. Maybe murder on occasion, but never divorce,” he joked. “We believe that there’s nothing more important than our relationship, not what we own, not our children, but each other is what’s key. When you keep that focus, you’ve got a chance to make it work. Be able to forgive. To give and forgive. And to accept each other, recognizing that we’re different people and to revel in the differences.”

As for the Schurmans, their son complained to his mother that she and her husband never taught them how to fight. But Florence says she and her husband thought it was horrible when their own parents fought. So the couple vowed to never follow suit.

“We are thrilled to love each other and we never have a serious disagreement,” the couple said in a press release.


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