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Amy Painter and her four siblings had big plans for their parents’ 70th wedding anniversary: a ceremony, blessing and vow renewals at the local church, a reception with close friends and a party with family.

Instead, Elaine, 93, and John Rickerd, 94, celebrated 70 years of marriage without leaving home, not that it wasn’t special.

Far from it.

“It was memorable,” Elaine said. “One we won’t forget.”

On April 22, Elaine and John Rickerd celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary with a social distancing party in the garage of their Woodstock home of 17 years, honoring Gov. JB Pritzker’s stay-at-home order. Pat Inman, Laurie Rickerd, Mark Rickerd, Carol Pilger and Painter gathered balloons, a dozen roses for mom, Champagne and cake.

They set up two stools for their parents inside the garage and four chairs on the outside.

“He’s a hopeless romantic,” Painter said of her dad. “This is the first year he wasn’t able to buy my mom flowers. He teared up saying he didn’t know how to get them for her now that he couldn’t go out.”

A yellow, red and blue banner on the front lawn that read, “Cheers to 70 Years!!! Honk your horn to help our parents celebrate 70 years of wedded bliss!,” was placed on the front lawn, and the happy couple slow-danced to one of their favorite songs, “Dear Heart,” by Andy Williams, as neighbors stopped by to say hello and offer congratulations.

“People would drive by and toot their horns, but we didn’t want all that,” John said. “We said to just clap. It was a nice day.”

The party originally was planned to be on the deck, but rain moved it to the garage.

That didn’t dampen the mood.

“My parents didn’t care,” Painter said. “My dad said it was good luck and that it had rained on their wedding
70 years ago.”

John still drives – he just renewed his license registration – but hasn’t left the house in weeks. The five children take turns getting groceries and other essentials for their parents. All live within an hour, spread from Cary to Muskego, Wisconsin.

“I would have to say, these last three weeks, my longest trip has been to the mailbox,” John joked.

Painter said her mom was against anything too big for the party. Elaine said all she needed was “a blessing from Father Steve.”

“I know my mom was really nervous about doing anything big,” Painter said. “But they absolutely loved it, just the little ceremony and little party we had. They loved having their neighbors stop by and say hi, because they haven’t seen anyone in two months.

“They’ve been locked in their house, they haven’t been out. This was the first time that they have ventured out. Everyone had their face masks on and was social distancing.”

Before Elaine and John met, John served in the 3rd Marine Division and spent time on both Guam and Iwo Jima during World War II. That was a much different time, John said.

“All of the guys in high school just couldn’t wait to get into a uniform,” John Rickerd said. “It was just a highly spirited group, very patriotic. I lost a few good friends. Shortly after that, of course, the war ended, and I had a chance to either come home or reenlist. And, I must say, reenlisting didn’t seem to have much appeal anymore.”

Elaine, from Waukegan, and John, originally from Toledo, Ohio, met at a fraternity-sorority party at Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Elaine asked John to be her date at a Turnabout Dance.

“We had a good time and I finally decided to give her my Delta Tau Delta pin,” John said. “With that, my good friends took me out, threw me in the pond and that was our celebration.”

It didn’t take much convincing for Elaine to get John to move to Illinois.

“I came back from service right after the war in 1946 and she said if you want me, you’re going to have to come to Waukegan,” John said. “I got on my bicycle, and the rest is history.”

Elaine and John remained pretty active and social until the COVID-19 pandemic began. No longer able to go out to restaurants, Elaine and John prepare their own meals now. And, when the children drop off food at the house, there’s almost always a package of muffin mix for mom.

“All the girls know that mom likes that,” Elaine said. “Whenever they go get groceries, they always bring me muffin mix.”

Painter said her mom and dad are adjusting as well as they can.

Whenever the sun is out and it’s not too cold, Elaine and John go on the deck. Elaine does the crossroad puzzles in the newspaper and tends a few flower pots outside.

“For 94, my parents are very social,” Painter said. “They like to go out and do their Jewel shopping and go to Walgreens, go to their favorite restaurants. My mom doesn’t cook too much anymore, but now they’re cooking more. My dad makes a different flavor of Jello every night for dessert.”

Along with their five children, John and Elaine have nine grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. The Rickerds used to take regular vacations to their cabin on Spooner Lake in Wisconsin and John would teach his grandchildren “how to catch those big northern up there.”

After John retired from North Shore Gas in 1987, he and Elaine traveled to more than 70 countries. They last went to China, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Japan, Korea and South Vietnam. They went on cruises with a travel group from Waukegan and made lifelong friends.

“It’s really hard to believe, but the years go by so fast,” John said. “It’s hard to believe we hit No. 70 but I guess it was the result of my wife. I don’t know how she put up with me all of these years.”

“I can’t believe how the years and days have gone by,” Elaine said. “But we’ve had good doctors and lots of prayers and I think that’s gotten us to where we are right now. And family that’s close by, I appreciate having them within an hour drive, and keeping in touch with them on the phone.”

The Rickerds looks forward to having a more festive – and normal – celebration soon.

“Our garage celebration, we had a lot of fun, but when this virus is gone and we can live a normal life again, I promised the kids we can have a big celebration,” John said. “We’re going to take that banner the kids had made, and wherever we go to celebrate, we’re going to hang it up, and do some more reminiscing.”

“It was a very unusual celebration, but we enjoyed all of the reminiscing,” Elaine said. “We always look for the best.”

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