Golden anniversary marked under ‘Golden Arches’

Published Oct 29, 2017 at 9:00am

On Oct. 2, two days after celebrating 50 years since they tied the knot, Gary and Elaine Neidl stood underneath the Golden Arches at the same McDonald’s restaurant where they met 52 years ago.

The Ocoee, Fla. couple came back to Elaine’s hometown so that they could celebrate their big day with a Big Mac.

“It sort of started out as a joke,” Elaine laughed. “I had mentioned that it was going to be our golden anniversary so why not go celebrate it under the Golden Arches where we met, and our friends thought it was a great idea.”

On Dec. 8, 1965, the former Elaine Grande was a senior at Rome Catholic High School, while 19-year-old Gary Neidl had already served two years in the U.S. Marine Corps. Elaine was editor of the school newspaper at the time and while on their way to school to work on some articles, she and her girlfriend decided to stop at McDonald’s on Black River Boulevard for lunch.

“Gary was parked next to us at McDonald’s,” she recalled. “It was back in the days when you didn’t go inside to eat. You hung a tray from the car window and ate in your car.”

Thinking Gary appeared “somewhat aggressive,” when he was very forward about wanting to speak with her and ask her out, Elaine said she wasn’t very happy when her friend snuck in and gave him her phone number.

“I wasn’t interested in talking with Gary. By today’s standards, you could have probably considered him sort of a stalker,” Elaine said jokingly. “My girlfriend gave my phone number without me knowing. She later said, ‘Don’t worry, he won’t call.’ But he did, and we went on a date to the Capitol Theatre.”

Gary even recalled a day when he decided to go see Elaine at Rome Catholic unannounced, and had a run-in with a very protective nun.

“She was trying to get me to leave the school, but I kept saying I wouldn’t go until I saw Elaine,” he remembered, laughing. “She ran after me and I ended up jumping down a flight of stairs to get away from her.”

The young couple dated for about a month when Gary was sent off to Vietnam for a year. Elaine recalled getting in trouble at school because she “called in sick” when she decided to join Gary’s family at the airport while sending him off to Vietnam.

They wrote each other every day and after that year, the two were engaged. Elaine joked she didn’t exactly receive the most romantic of proposals.

“He just handed me a box and said, ‘Here,’” and I was like, ‘What is this?,’” she laughed.

Soon after Gary was sent off for another year in Vietnam, and their two-year courtship would be strictly long distance through letters.

The Neidls were married on Sept. 30, 1965 in St. Peter’s Church in Rome, and then they moved to Quantico, Va. Their daughter Tina (husband Corey Bittner) was born on Dec. 5, 1968. While pregnant with their second daughter Cheryl (husband Matthew Fields), Gary was deployed for one year to Okinawa, Japan. Born Oct. 30, 1970, Gary didn’t get to meet daughter Cheryl until she was 10 months old.

“That was one of the down sides of military life,” the couple said.

Being a small-town girl from Rome, Elaine said she thought it would be exciting to marry a man serving in the military and have the opportunity to travel the country. She said she enjoyed “the adventure” of visiting and seeing new places.

“We are the perfect example of the cliche, ‘opposites attract,’” Elaine said. “He is a Type A personality and I am more laid back. It works. Gary knows how to get things done.”

Throughout their 50 years, the Neidls have lived in several locations, such as Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in North Carolina; Parris Island, S.C. where Gary served as a drill instructor; Okinawa, Japan for one year in 1974 (once again the family was separated for a year); and Orlando, Fla., Gary’s last duty station of his 20-year military career. They now live in Ocoee, a small suburb of Orlando.

After retiring from the Marine Corps in October 1983 under the rank of Master Gunnery Sergeant E9, Gary was operations manager for a large lumber company in Orlando until 2010. Before “retiring for good,” he was a Ford truck representative for Florida.

Elaine stayed home for nine years to raise their two daughters, but later worked as a typesetter for newspapers, magazines, and ad agencies. She also served at one time as the digital image librarian for Darden Restaurants.

Obstacles to overcome

While their love and devotion has lasted more than five decades, Elaine said their marriage cannot be described as a “match made in heaven.”

“We have had our share of ups and downs, like most couples,” she said. “But with prayer, persistence and patience, the marriage has prevailed.”

One of the “obstacles of marriage” included raising their daughters.

“Gary was a strict disciplinarian because of the Marine Corps background,” she said.

Other obstacles:

“Jealousy, I wish I had known how to deal with that better,” Elaine said. “And communication is so important. Both partners should be able to say how they feel without being judged.”

What they would change

“I don’t think I would change anything, because marriage and life in general is our journey on this earth and all of our experiences make us who we are,” Elaine said. “There’s no dress rehearsal for marriage. I just take one day at a time.”

Important to focus on

“Don’t hold grudges from the past,” Elaine advised. “Dwell on the happy times and the successes in your marriage. I like to make a mental list of the good points and bad. In our case, the good times always surpass the bad.”

Now both in their retirement, the Neidls enjoy their four cats and three parrots, and seeing the world. They have been on more than 20 cruises and several road trips, visiting Italy, Sicily, Spain and other places in Europe and overseas. Their latest trip was to celebrate their special anniversary in Rome.

The Neidls hosted a celebration for 40-50 family and friends at McDonald’s with hamburgers, French fries and milkshakes. Several who attended the Neidls’ wedding ceremony were in attendance, including two of Elaine’s bridesmaids. Gary said the party also served as a reunion for four Vietnam veterans who also hadn’t seen each other in about 50 years.