The Pelicans

One of the fond memories we have from when we lived in Harrisburg was our custom of regularly sharing dinners with the Deyhle family. During those times together while our kids were off playing elsewhere in the house, we four adults would sit around the dining room table and talk – and look forward to a time in what felt like the way distant future when we would go somewhere together to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversaries (we were both married in 1971). Our custom of shared dinners ended at some point and Dale and I thought that the idea of a 25th anniversary trip together probably ended too; it was just something to talk and dream about at the dining room table.


In front of our rented house in June 1996
Front row: Wendell and Faithe Zercher; Esther and John Spurrier
Second row: Harriet and Dale Bicksler, Karen and Dan Deyhle
Third row: Sharon Engle, Darlene Keller
Fourth row: Millard Engle, Mark Keller, Wanda Heise
Back row: Diane and Dallas Wolgemuth, Glen Heise

Then as our 25th anniversary approached, the idea of a joint celebration gathered momentum because Dan Deyhle started recruiting other couples who had also been married in 1971 to join us. Ultimately, after multiple planning meetings to choose a destination and work out all the logistical details, in June 1996 eight couples converged on a large house called “Of Pines and Pelicans” on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. We had a wonderful week eating meals together, telling our stories about how we met and married, sharing our joys and struggles, sightseeing and enjoying each other’s company, and laughing and making memories. We had such a good time we decided we wanted to keep getting together – and “The Pelicans” anniversary group was born.

The eight couples have more in common than being married in 1971 (actually, one couple was married in 1970 but was unable to celebrate their 25th in 1995, so we invited them to join us and fill the eighth bedroom in our rented house). We are all Messiah College graduates, and many of us knew each other when we were in college. All of us have also spent time overseas in some kind of mission or service-related assignment. (Full disclosure: my overseas “assignment” was only as a missionary kid!) Among us, we have 16 children, therefore exactly reproducing ourselves, and we now have daughters- and sons-in-law and 18 grandchildren.


In Venice for our 40th

Since 1996 when we celebrated 25 years of marriage (or 200 years as our T-shirts said: 8 couples x 25 years each = 200 years), five of the eight couples have gone on more trips together to celebrate milestone anniversaries. For our 30th, we went to Ontario, Canada; for our 35th, we cruised to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick; and for our 40th, we cruised the Eastern Mediterranean. We’re already beginning to think ahead to our 45th in 2016. It’s a major challenge in group decision-making to choose what to do and where to go, so we need to start our planning early! We also spend a weekend together every August at a rented house in Mifflin County, Pennsylvania, and at the turn of the millenium, we established a tradition of having a New Year’s Eve party as well. In between, we usually have other gatherings at one of our homes.


At Ox Bow in Mifflin County

Our conversations when we’re together are always entertaining – ranging from lighthearted fun to serious conversations about serious issues. We laugh a lot – at recurring jokes, memories of past get-togethers, our personal foibles, our aging bodies, etc. I’ve often thought that sometime I would like to diagram our conversations over the course of a weekend together – keeping track of all the topics, how they connect to one another, and how the topics circle back around to pick up a theme from 10 minutes ago or perhaps a day ago. Almost every time we get together, at least one meme is created. Sometimes those memes are picked up the next time we get together, and some have lasted almost since the beginning.

We enjoy wonderful home-cooked meals to which we all contribute, and usually have way more food than we need. We talk about tough stuff, including controversial issues on which we don’t all agree. We are keenly aware that we are aging, and while we joke about our increasing inability to hear each other’s conversations and our fading memories (it’s getting so it’s not a problem to repeat stories because we’ve already forgotten the details from when they were first told!), the joking is tinged with the recognition that our “disabilities” will inevitably increase. We’ve also talked about how we will handle it when one of us is a widow or widower among the other couples, which we know will happen one of these days. We’ve attended the weddings of each other’s children, most recently our son’s wedding, and we’ve celebrated the birth of each other’s grandchildren, most recently the birth of a grandchild the grandparents weren’t sure they would ever have. We’ve “borne each other’s burdens” of illness (three bouts of cancer, back surgery and open heart surgery), employment challenges, and concerns for our children and grandchildren.

Back in 1996, when we wore our “Married 200 Years” T-shirts to a restaurant one evening and found ourselves explaining to other guests at the restaurant who we were, someone commented that they didn’t think they knew eight couples who had been married that long. Now we’re past the 40-year mark as couples and we know how blessed we are. I can’t speak for all the Pelicans, but for me this group of friends is a wonderful treasure I hope to enjoy for many more years as we grow old together.


11 thoughts on “The Pelicans

  1. What a great synopsis of us! I, too, cherish these times together and the deepened friendships that have been created. As the years go by, the depth of our history together deepens and I can’t imagine being without this group of friends. When I run into any of you/us anywhere, I realize that my mood brightens and I am glad! No matter the future, I will always be thankful for all of you and our times spent together! Thanks for writing about it, Harriet.

  2. Thanks for the explanation. I had heard of the Pelicans before–no doubt through some mention you mader–and always wondered to what it referred. Always sounded a bit fishy to me…sorry.
    What is truly scary (for me) is that I had some of you as students when you were at Messiah. Gulp. But, yes, I too am aging and having trouble hearing at times (something I realized in my last teaching time at HACC) and have creaky joints.
    Congrats to all–to long lives, to friendships, and to enduring marriages.

  3. Very interesting Harriett. A Suggestion: One of these upcoming anniversaries consider visiting “Newfoundland & Labrador”. The locals pronounce it New Found Land (accent on Found), and nickname it “The Rock”. Arthur & Lona, Verna Mae & I were there two weeks in 2003. Lona did the logistic & itinerary planning. We stayed in Bed & Breakfasts which might be a bit difficult for a group your size. Still, it is something to think about.

  4. Harriet, For many years, we have hinted at the need for someone to write up the Pelican story, and most of the hints were directed your way. This is a good start! Each Pelican is so unique, we hardly know which one is the most unique; but definitely, the whole group is singularly unique! (You did not mention this, one of our favorite words to play with, so I had to bring it up.)

    • I know, Karen. I thought about adding a whole section about our fun with language, and our pet peeves, but it was getting too long. I guess that’s for the sequel, or part two!

  5. Envy is notgodly, so I’ll say that many readers will be envious! Judy Keefer


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  8. As a sister to one of your members (Faithe Keller Zercher), I know how supportive your group has been to her and to Wendell. What a blessing the Lord has given each of you in each other through the years. Thank you for sharing about it all, and best wishes for each gathering, including this weekend!

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