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Marriage of Ligonier Township couple called longest in Pennsylvania

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 11:48 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Elsie Lehman, 94, kisses her great-great-granddaughter Ava Parrish, 15 months, held by her mother, Sarah of Ligonier Township, as Lehman's husband of 76 years, Alton, 99, looks on with pride on Wednesday, Feb. 11, 2014, in the Bethlen Home in Ligonier Township. The Lehmans were nominated as the state's longest married couple through the Worldwide Marriage Encounter’s Longest Married Couple Project. The couple was married on Sept. 8, 1937.

Alton and Elsie Lehman's entwined hands spoke louder than words as they smiled for photos at a surprise party where a faith-based organization named them the Pennsylvania winners of its “longest-married couple” competition.

The Lehmans celebrated 76 years as husband and wife on Sept. 8.

“We hold each other's hands so we don't get in trouble,” Alton, 99, said of himself and his 94-year-old wife.

Worldwide Marriage Encounters representatives Dick and Diane Baumbach said this was their group's fourth year of seeking nominations for the award, which recognizes couples across the nation.

“We got hundreds of nominations,” said Dick Baumbach. Nearly a dozen came from Pennsylvania.

They noted that the project is based only on submissions, and that individual states may have couples who have been married longer but were not nominated.

On Wednesday, the Lehmans took in stride the applause, the camera flashes, the roses, the Valentine's Day chocolates and balloons.

Rick and Evie West, regional representatives of Worldwide Marriage Encounter, presented the couple with a certificate.

“You indeed are a rock for your family and your entire community,” said Rick West.

The Lehmans, former Johnstown-area residents, share a room at the Bethlen Home in Ligonier Township.

Framed photos and collages tell their love story through birthday parties, holidays and reunions of their ever-expanding family.

Children Karen Lehman, Kathy Trabert, Judy McClurkin, Jess Lehman and Mark Lehman attended the party. The couple's sixth child, David Lehman, is deceased.

It took a few siblings ticking names off on their fingers to count the branches of their family tree: 20 grandchildren; 45 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild, with two on the way.

Alton held a black-and-white photo of the couple's 1937 wedding and recalled the first time he saw the former Elsie Costlow.

“Her family moved in across the street. I mowed the grass and caught a glimpse of her,” he said.

Asked the couple's secret to a long and happy marriage, Alton smiled at his wife. “Just be true to each other,” he said.

“They are amazing parents. They brought us up with strong values, taught us right from wrong. They gave us a strong work ethic,” said daughter Judy McClurkin.

Their parents also stressed service to others, and shared their strong Catholic faith with their children.

McClurkin said her father drew cartoons of his children when they were young.

“He would zero in on our personalities so perfectly,” she said.

Elsie has a “touch” of dementia, McClurkin said, but she lights up when babies come to visit.

Her mother still has a sweet tooth.

“I asked her recently if she was hungry for anything. Mom smiled and said, so cute, ‘lemon meringue pie.' So we had a lemon meringue pie party,” McClurkin said.

For their 50th anniversary, Karen Lehman wrote of her parents' “wonderful role models of fidelity and love.”

She recalled fishing trips, where sometimes the best catch was “words of advice and care” and “being together to share all our important life moments.”

Michelle Parrish nominated her grandparents for the Longest Married Couple Project.

Mary Pickels is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-5401 or mpickels@tribweb.com.

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