I married my wife, Mary Jane Erwin Furches on November 20, 1979. It would have been her mother and father’s 50th wedding anniversary. The initial plan was to have a joint service, our marriage and their 50th wedding anniversary. Unfortunately, her mother died the summer prior to the time we had planned to get married. We faced other challenges though, mainly some of our families disapproval. They disapproved because my wife was older than me. That has been a challenge off and on during our years of marriage but I didn’t expect it to be the brunt of a joke that should have honored her 39 years of teaching as she is set to retire this Thursday from Derby Middle School, but it was and while some will think there is some aspect of an overreaction from me, I will state that after 39 years of working with troubled youth in inner city neighborhoods and schools and teaching special education during most of that time, out of a love to educate and better the life of children, that should have been the focus and the reason for celebration before the Derby School Board and 12 others from the State of Kansas largest school system who were also retiring and their families recognition dinner on 5/20/12. Simply put, my wife deserved more than she got without having to be embarrassed before this group of people. Sure it may have been intended as a harmless comment, I am sure it was, but even as we left the parking lot another retiree made comment to us of her being a “cradle robber.” Again, while I don’t think that she or the person during the presentation meant harm from their comments, they were still embarrassing and somewhat stung.
I never liked the term “cradle robber!” I never liked it for a lot of reasons, one because it implies I had nothing to do with our relationship. Despite several close friends and doctors telling us we were making a good decision because of the expectant life span of men and women, (we would normally be expected to die around the same time) we made the decision to marry for one reason and really one reason only, we loved each other. While we are polar opposites in many regards, those who have known us over the years have mentioned about how good of a couple we are. We have been together some 35 years now, (we started dating 2 years prior to our marriage going on 34 years now) had our first child, our daughter Marathana, 2 years after we married, and while our marriage hasn’t been perfect, it has been worth fighting for and is now stronger than ever. We love each other and anyone who knows me, knows that if anything, especially if reading our story in my book The Keystone Kid, they know I fought for her prior to our marriage and if anything, due to my own circumstances while growing up, was older than my years in the area of maturity. I’ll be honest, I take some joy in that many who said it wouldn’t last, can’t help but have to wonder now, why it has lasted so long, it is simple, a powerful 4-letter word called L-O-V-E!
As of late the concept of older women marrying younger men is not so much of a thing. We live in an age where I like the terminology better; we live in the age, if you will, of the Cougar. I like that concept better for various reasons, there has been much written on it and while not perfect, the term is certainly better than “cradle robber.” I look at it like this, Mary Jane was hot prior to us getting married and as far as I am concerned, she has maintained her age great and for me, is still hot. We have put on some weight, age and wrinkles over the years but I still get turned on when we hold hands and caress each other’s hands at the movies, other places. I still open the door for her, take her on dates, we still enjoy our lives together and at the rate of freaking our kids out; we still enjoy the most intimate of moments together. It’s simple, we still love each other.
My wife is a remarkable woman. I don’t want to offend anyone, but for me or anyone else, a person living out her faith. When we met, even today, she lives out her faith more than any human being I have ever come into contact with. She loves God passionately and when I read the Scripture about being a loving wife I could never point to a better example than she. While we are far from perfect it is ridiculous, (in a good way,) how Mary Jane has lived out her faith and I really do know that I am the one who has come out the better due to our friendship and marriage.
Mary Jane has sacrificially supported our ministry over the years. I know without a doubt, there is no way the ministry I have been involved in could have taken place without her support; from moving time and time again, (over 39 years of teaching she has taught in approximately 10 schools) to at times, being the primary bread winner of the family. She left her family which she deeply loved so I would go back to school to finish my degree, she has done so much, even selling her prized 72 Nova Super Sport so we could have the funds to move back to Kansas. I could go on and on with things some would consider small sacrifices but I know, deep down, were tremendous sacrifices. Why? Because she is in the ministry of doing what God has called us to do together.
Mary Jane will continue in ministry, living in our Community House as a House Mother but also starting up her PartyLite business again and booking me to speak around the country while she also performs musically. This will all be secondary to spending time with our grandchildren and children in the twilight of our years. She has earned that right.
I guess I could go on, but will leave it at that other than to say, that on Sunday June 2 from 2 PM – 4 PM we are going to be hosting a celebration of her years of service and the next step in her journey of life and ministry at our house, 1249 N. St. Francis Street Wichita KS, 67214. We will provide snacks and I am begging and pleading, that those who can attend to honor Mary Jane’s contribution to ministry and teaching for the last 39 years, teaching children and showing them the love of God while at the same time, bettering their lives. I am asking that people share this with others, time is short, get the word out. Let people from all of the schools she has taught over the years know about it, friends, family, people who have supported The Virtual Pew, the ministries like Mosaic we have been a part of, the Fountain House Clubhouse world and more where she also had a tremendous role in my work there. Then there are those at various churches, Ninth Street Baptist Church in Erwin Tennessee, Calvary Chapel in Hendersonville North Carolina, United at the Cross in Wichita Kansas, Good News Christian Fellowship, (Formerly Hillsboro Mennonite Brethren Church,) in Marion Kansas, Discovery One Fellowship, (Formerly Westport Mennonite Brethren Church in Tulsa Oklahoma and more. If you can’t attend, please consider dropping her a note at my email address which I can print out for her at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org . If you can attend the reception it would be so appreciated. I would like the focus to be on her though, let it be from if at all possible, the students who have known her, her fellow teachers, her fellow administrators’ family, friends and so forth. Why am I doing this? Because after 39 years of contribution to teaching and touching so many, I believe she deserves it. Her contribution and sacrifice to the children in Kansas, Tennessee, South Carolina and Oklahoma has been remarkable. Many have gone on to live productive lives. She kept every Christmas ornament she ever got from any of her students and they still, to this day, decorate our tree because she values the fact that she had a positive impact as a teacher on the life of a young person. I think the same could be said of all good teachers, I just know personally, I have seen few, if any, better and more loving than Mary Jane.
Again the address of the event is 1249 North St. Francis, Wichita KS 67214 and you can email her your thoughts and congratulatory comments regarding her teaching and ministry experience to me at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
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To see a video of Mary Jane singing click on the following video, if the video doesn't appear click on the following link:
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