SKOWHEGAN — At a time where drive-by birthday parties and graduation ceremonies have become common, Betty Giguere of Augusta thought a car procession and outdoor gathering Sunday would be the perfect way to celebrate her parents’ 70th wedding anniversary.

Giguere’s parents — Bill and Nancy York, 92 and 86, respectively, of Skowhegan — originally had a party planned for the Tewksbury Banquet Hall in Skowhegan to mark their seven decades of marriage.

But after the coronavirus pandemic created increased restrictions on social gatherings, Giguere and her family began considering options for a celebration.

“When everything began to shut down, we thought, ‘Well, what do we do now?'” Giguere said. “My dad just turned 92, and you don’t know how long it will be for the coronavirus to go by, so it was actually one of my daughters that suggested we do it this way.”

Beginning at 2 p.m. Sunday, family members and friends of Bill and Nancy York gathered at a safe distance — at least 6 feet apart from one another — at the front yard of the couple’s house on Heselton Street.

Among the attendees: Giguere’s sister-in-law, Carolyn Arline, who attended the celebration because, she said, Bill and Nancy are like her second set of parents.

“They’re part of our family,” Arline said. “We love them so much. They’re also the last of their generation in our family, so we cherish them. There’s never been a function that they haven’t attended to celebrate us, so we needed to come and celebrate such a big anniversary.”

Other attendees opted to hold signs out of car windows as they stopped to wish the couple a happy anniversary.

Giguere said about 70 people were expected to come and go throughout the afternoon.

“After the party is all done with the extended family and friends,” Giguere said, “we’re going to have a special dinner and cake for them with just the immediate family.”

A large photograph of the couple on their wedding day in 1950 was on display in their front yard, under a banner that read, “Happy 70th Anniversary Bill & Nancy.”

Beside the photograph was Nancy’s wedding dress, which Nancy dug out of storage to display for the party, according to Giguere.

For Nancy and Bill York, their time together has gone by quickly.

“It doesn’t feel like 70 years,” Nancy said. “The only time we realize how long it’s been is when we look at our children, it’s just gone so fast.”

Giguere reflected on her parents’ relationship as she finished setting up for the celebration.

“Especially in today’s world, it’s just an awesome thing because you don’t see it,” Giguere said. “The fact that their health has held up, they’re still independent and I think they’ve been able to last for 70 years because the commitment was there.

“They are committed to each other, regardless of whatever the situation is. They just didn’t give up because they did go through hard times. Things weren’t easy for them. But being committed to each other is what made the difference.”

Bill and Nancy York met in 1949, when he was 22 and she 16.

Nancy and Bill York, shown below the canopy, celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in the yard outside their Skowhegan home Sunday. About 60 guests drove up outside the home to help the couple celebrate according to the York’s daughter Betty Giguere. Nancy’s wedding dress is on display at the left. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

He lived in Caratunk, and at that time there was a small restaurant there that my mother was working at,” Nancy said. “I was living in Benton with my aunt, so I went up for one week to visit my mother.” 

Nancy said her first impression of Bill was not what one might expect of a couple who would go on to be married for 70 years.

“He was very dirty because when I first saw him, he had just gotten back from fighting forest fires for weeks on end,” Nancy said. “And I thought, ‘Oh, Lord in heaven.’ But here we are now.”

And the rest, according to Nancy, is history.

I was supposed to come back and help take care of my aunt’s six children, and, well, 31 years later, we moved out,” Nancy said. 

When Nancy York looked at the photograph from her wedding day, she recalled her feelings as she got ready to walk down the aisle.

“I thought to myself, ‘Can I do this?'” she said. “And then I got it together and said, ‘I’m going to do this.'”

After Bill and Nancy were married June 24, 1950, in Caratunk, they started a family — sons Walter York and Robert York and daughter, Betty.

The couple moved to Skowhegan in 1981 so Nancy could take a job as a nurse at Redington-Fairview General Hospital, where she worked for more than 30 years, retiring in 2004.

Bill ran a sawmill in Caratunk for more than 25 years, before the couple made the move to Skowhegan.

The couple spent Sunday morning renewing their vows with the Rev. Mark Tanner of the Skowhegan Federated Church, where they attend services.

“We renewed our vows on our 60th anniversary and now our 70th,” Nancy said. “And I told him (Bill) he has to be healthy so we can renew our vows on our 80th.”

Walter York, one of Bill and Nancy’s two sons, said his parents should be pleased and excited to have reached such a significant milestone.

Nancy and Bill York, under canopy celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary in the yard outside their Skowhegan home Sunday. Nancy’s wedding dress is shown at the right. About 60 guests drove up outside the home to help the couple celebrate according to the York’s daughter Betty Giguere. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“They should be awful proud of what they’ve done,” he said. “This is quite the accomplishment that not many people can say they’ve done.”

Bill and Nancy York admitted marriage is not always easy. They said the past 70 years, however, have taught them the secret to a long, happy life together.

“We don’t have any arguments,” Bill said. “We have discussions.”

Nancy agreed.

“You say a lot of prayers, have a lot of discussions and try to keep things light,” she said.

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