She was 18 years old and a senior in high school. He was 21 and a senior at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.
He was from California. To her, Canada was home.
But fate decreed that Diane, nee Bienert, and Art Perry meet. And it was love at first sight. Only two weeks’ worth of dates followed. And their fate was sealed.
Almost as soon as they graduated – she from high school and he from college – the effervescent golden Canadian girl and the dashing dark-haired bachelor from sunny California exchanged wedding vows. She firmly pointed out that she may have been just 18 years young then – actually, “18 and three-fourth” she quickly qualified – when she walked down the aisle, but she was a “mature 18-year-old.”
They actually had two wedding ceremonies, one solemnized in Canada and the other in California.
The first one was held at a Canadian Baptist Church in a picturesque setting. It was “in the middle of a prairie” in the town of Ludec in Alberta Province. Shortly after, they were married again in a smaller ceremony at St. Anthony’s Catholic Church in Manteca. Diane, who was raised Baptist, has since converted to Catholicism.
When put in plain numbers, their love story would be summed up something like this: 2 (individuals) + 2 (weeks) = 3 (kids) and 47 (years). As far as romances and odds of success go, the first two numbers don’t usually add up to a lifelong marriage and everlasting love.
A mere two months after they met, they were engaged. During that time, their dates came to a cumulative total of just two weeks.
Yet, Diane and Art Perry somehow defied all the odds. Come July, they will be celebrating 47 years of wedded bliss. Those years were blessed by three children – Ron, Rob, and Karen.
First meeting almost did not happen
Their meeting almost did not happen. But Art could not ignore the urging of his father, Manteca Pumpkin King George Perry, to go and visit the country above the contiguous United States. The family patriarch warned his son that once he got a job after graduating from college and work monopolizes his time, his opportunity to visit that country would be lost forever.
George Perry was not playing matchmaker for the oldest of his five children. He was simply sharing the wisdom that comes with age based on lessons gleaned from years of experience. There was also a bigger reason for his insistence.
At Cal Poly, Art’s college roommate and best friend was Doug Bienert from Canada, Diane’s brother. Both were agri-business majors. Bienert came from a farming family in the province of Alberta. Their common background in agriculture quickly cemented their friendship. They were such fast friends Bienert became a frequent guest of the Perrys in Manteca. He was not just a guest, however. He was like a member of the family, helping Art and his parents and siblings in the fields whenever he could. It wasn’t long before Bienert wormed himself without any conscious effort into the hearts of George and his wife, Violet. The whole family, in fact.
That friendship was catapulted into the next level when Bienert’s mother flew down to Manteca and tasted the Perrys’ brand of hospitality as well. So, long before Art even set eyes on his future bride, he got to meet his mother-in-law to-be without any inkling of the two families’ impending merger by marriage.
It was on the strength of the two families’ growing friendship – the Perrys in California and the Bienerts in Canada – that George Perry urged his son to visit their friends’ home and farm in Alberta when Art’s college roommate extended the invitation to see Canada. After a little bit of hesitation, Art finally acquiesced and flew up north where he met his destiny.
Love at first sight, and more
“We talked a lot. It was not just chemistry,” Art recounted their short courtship period. Definitely, there was a mutual attraction that made itself known from the first time they laid eyes on each other, he said. “She did look like a movie star,” Art confessed about his first impression of Diane.
Diane, for her part, saw a tall, handsome man from California with dark hair and dark eyes.
“Handsome? Oh, yeah! Oh, God, yeah!” she said of her own first impression of her future husband at the time.
Speaking of their fateful meeting, the deeply religious Art said, “We know that was orchestrated by God. It got to be in order for (the marriage) to be successful.”
And while their dates amounted to just two weeks collectively, they had plenty of together-time even during those days when e-mail, twitter, instagram, facebook and other instantaneous methods of communication were just wistful imaginings of forward-thinking minds.
“Oh, unbelievable!” Diane said of the times they reached out to each other outside of their few actual dates.
They communicated through love letters and telephone calls “almost every day!” she said.
Because of their shared background in agriculture, the couple did not have any shortage of things to do and talk about. In Manteca, Art was active for many years in FFA. In Canada, Diane was heavily involved in 4-H. After they met, they discovered that both of them showed Holstein cows.
Like the rest of the Perrys’ three-generation family, Art and Diane are involved in the Perry & Sons business venture with Art currently serving as president of the company.
Secrets to a long, happy marriage
A “lot of things” contribute to a long and happy marriage, Art said. Communication is number one. “It’s very, very important,” he said.
“We never had a problem communicating with each other. And we still love each other. What do you think about that?” Art said with eyes twinkling.
Besides their common farming background and shared similar values in life, Art qualified that “really and truly the real strong flame in our marriage was our belief in God. That’s really the thing that connects us, when you get down to the bottom of things. Going to church is a big part of our life.”
Even though they themselves did not waste any time walking to the altar after they first met, they advised their children to not rush into marriage. They would say the same thing to anyone contemplating marriage.
“I told my kids, don’t go and marry someone just to get married. That’s not a good reason. You need to make sure when you meet that person that there’s a real special feeling,” Art said.
As for physical qualities coming into the equation, he cautioned, “physical attractions go away as you get older;” you want that special person to be your best friend.
He added, “I know young people sometimes don’t want to hear this, but I have to make sure I included it. I think the real connection is your religious belief. I want to say, with Jesus. I can’t emphasize that enough.”
Looking back with a contented smile on his face, Art said of his marital journey with the love of his life that is still going strong, “It’s been a great marriage; a wonderful, wonderful marriage. Looking back now, as we get older, we realize it was amazing.”