Most engaged couples view their walk down the aisle as a grand beginning, their first steps into a broad new adventure. Before them, at the end of that short walk, lie the myriad smiles and heartaches, trials and triumphs of a life yet to be thoroughly lived.
For alumni newlyweds Vic Dye (’54) and Joyce Richards (’57) of Skokie, Ill., their wedding day perspective was viewed through a different lens, one forged by almost 150 combined years’ experience, with decades spent apart, raising separate families.
Their walk down the aisle was part of a journey nearly 60 years in the making.
“There’s a lot of history there,” Vic said.
The two grew up less than 100 miles apart, Joyce in Lynch, Neb., and Vic in Rosalie. They shared many similarities in their rural, Methodist upbringing. They even attended the Nebraska Methodist Annual Conference together the summer before Joyce, a newly-minted college freshman, and Vic, a senior humanities major, arrived on the Nebraska Wesleyan campus for the 1953 fall semester.
Hollywood would’ve demanded a more romantic storyline right away that fall, something set under a starry Nebraska autumn night or on the homecoming dance floor. But despite attending a university of about 800 students and several of the same clubs and functions, the two spent that year merely as friends who spoke occasionally. The spring semester concluded quietly with Joyce headed back to the family farm and Vic graduating from NWU and preparing for seminary in Boston.
It could have easily ended there. In fact, Vic isn’t entirely sure why it didn’t. Back home from Boston for Christmas 1954, Vic was pondering his options for New Year’s Eve. In a turn that he can’t fully explain, he called Joyce.
“I don’t know what made me think of her,” he said. “I’ve tried really hard to put it together. I simply don’t know what made me do it.”
Joyce’s reasoning for saying yes was simple. “I always liked Vic. He was one of the nicest guys I had ever met. And, I didn’t have a date, so…”
So it began. The two rang in 1955 at a dance in Lincoln, punctuated by a New Year’s kiss. They had struck a chord with each other, one that would still resonate the following summer when Vic invited Joyce to Rural Youth Camp in Ponca, Neb. Joyce, now 20, readily agreed partly because she found Vic a great conversationalist and partly to escape her surroundings.
“Vic was very appealing and we spent a lot of time together. We could talk to each other about anything,” she said.
“Honestly, she would have gone anywhere with anybody to get off the farm,” Vic said, laughing. Regardless, the date for New Year’s grew into a summer romance.
Soon, simple geography forced some hard decisions. Both agreed to allow their relationship to follow what course it would while Vic was back in Boston. A relationship stretching from Nebraska to Massachusetts quickly proved complicated.
“There wasn’t much opportunity to talk back then. Long distance phone calls were very expensive,” Vic remembered.
“I thought we’d write,” Joyce said. “As it turned out, I was more the letter writer and so I thought maybe we could reconnect when he came back at Christmas.”
That anticipated reunion never happened. Joyce believed for years that Vic simply blew her off that Christmas. But Vic said he was too consumed with the seminary, grappling with questions about whether the ministry was right for him. Both started the 1957 spring semester with the relationship squarely on the back burner.
Now in her senior year, Joyce took a job at a Lincoln Safeway store and soon caught the eye of a coworker and Nebraska Wesleyan classmate. Rides home from work grew into invitations to coffee and social events at Joyce’s sorority, Alpha Gamma Delta.
Come March, Vic’s professional and spiritual dilemma had left him thoroughly miserable. “I was really lonely and desperate about what to do,” he said. “I called Joyce and suggested she come out to Boston for the summer after she graduated.”
Joyce’s answer was clear and immediate. Her relationship with John Richards (’60) had deepened to a level of commitment she and Vic had never reached. He showered her with kind attention and companionship. Her course was clear.
“I remember sitting in a phone booth looking at my engagement ring as Vic asked me to come to Boston,” she said. “I told him John and I were getting married in June.”
The news changed everything. It changed Joyce and Vic’s romance into a simple friendship.
Joyce and John were married and would eventually raise five children. Vic pushed through seminary and returned to Lincoln as an associate minister of First Methodist Church. He ended up marrying Joyce’s longtime friend and sorority sister Judy Jones (’59), with whom he would raise three girls.
Life soon settled into the predictable seasons of family, careers and friendships. Addresses changed over the next 25 years. The couples kept intermittent contact through Christmas cards. When Joyce and John found themselves in Judy and Vic’s neighborhood on business, the four met to reminisce over breakfast.
A series of painful events spanning decades kept the story from ending there. Vic and Judy’s relationship eroded and they divorced in 1984. That split effectively drove a wedge between Joyce and Vic as well, and they lost touch.
In 2007, after nearly 50 years of marriage, Joyce lost John to cancer.
NWU had been the place where her first serious relationship began. She’d met her husband—the father of her children—there. In her grief, Joyce could never have imagined that Nebraska Wesleyan had still another role to play in her love life.
But the following year, she attended an alumni event in Dallas. There, she saw a young woman whose nametag read “Dye”. Striking up a conversation, she described the boy she knew in college with the same last name.
“You mean Uncle Victor,” she answered.
It was the first of several serendipitous encounters that would drift the two back together. In Omaha on business, Vic had dinner with another alumni couple, Carole (Tietjen) (’56) and George (’54) Stephens. Carole had been Joyce’s roommate in college. She told Vic about John’s death and later told Joyce that Vic was still single after his divorce. She passed along Vic’s number.
“I stewed around for two or three days and finally decided that I either should call him or forget about him,” Joyce said.
How could she forget? She called.
Their first task was to clear decades’ worth of air. Joyce wanted to know what brought on the silence that had robbed her of a longtime friend when she needed one most. Vic relayed the pain of plodding into a career he didn’t want and surviving a failed marriage. After leaving the ministry, Vic ultimately built a successful psychotherapy practice in Evanston, Ill., near Chicago. The two talked for hours, like in the old days, only this time they also sent e-mails at a pace their grandkids might have struggled to match.
In the fall of 2008, they met for the first time in nearly 30 years. They were no longer awestruck kids, but life-learned adults with, as Vic put it, a lot of history. The next summer, Joyce visited Vic in Evanston and stayed for 18 months.
They traveled together, visiting new places or one or the other’s kids. They laughed, they talked, they even argued, once to the point that could have ended it. But ending a complicated relationship like theirs isn’t so simple.
One day, under the guise of showing her where he’d planted the tulip bulbs in the yard, Vic sat Joyce on a deck swing and proposed on bended knee. The two married last year, the day after Thanksgiving. Thankful, Vic told his daughters, “She finally answered my call.”
“One of the things I’ve found is that with age you figure out what’s important and what’s not,” Vic said. “One of the longings of my life has been to find someone who would listen to what I have to say. Not do what I tell them, but listen to how I’m feeling. Joyce does that for me.”
“Vic has given me an acceptance and makes me feel important,” Joyce said. “We just have a certain happiness in each other that’s really quite remarkable. I remember him being such a nice guy and today, he’s still a nice guy.”
It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.