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18TH IN A SERIES ON LONG MARRIAGES
It was Sept. 25, 1976, and the New York International Bible Society was holding a fundraising dinner in New York City. Kathy Cornell, an 18-year-old employee, found herself sitting at a table beside Glenn Palmer, a 21-year-old Navy sailor in a white service uniform. Glenn was quiet, not knowing anyone at the table, but Kathy had fun chatting with friends. She remembers thinking he looked like an egghead because of his Navy-issued black rimmed glasses. A few days later, she felt guilty and wrote him a letter. He answered, and thus began their correspondence.
They didn’t see each other for three months, but they enjoyed writing letters. In December Glenn came home for Christmas, and he began courting Kathy. Navy duties kept Glenn away for long stretches: He saw her again only once before proposing to her at his family’s house in Vermont in May 1978. They married a year later. “I had actually seen her eight weeks total in the first 2½ years of our courtship,” Glenn said.
Being involuntarily apart, it turned out, would be a theme of their marriage. The Palmers trusted God and stuck together, but loneliness and parenting made long months of separation difficult.
For the first 20 years of marriage, Glenn was gone on Navy deployments and ship duties about a third of the time. Back home in Norfolk, Va., Kathy said, “I had a really hard time just being in the house by myself.” She remembers leaving the lights and the radio on and still feeling bored and lonely when she got home from church or her job at a Christian bookstore. Meanwhile, Glenn was tired of seeing only men his age, in the same clothes, every day, and he missed his wife. To stay connected, the couple followed the same Bible reading plan and wrote letters to each other, numbering the envelopes to keep them in order.
During Glenn’s long deployments, they made a paper chain and tore one link for every day he was gone.
Eventually, their six children replaced Kathy’s loneliness with busyness. At one point, she had four children ages 5 and under: She went grocery shopping with one baby in a backpack, one in a front pack, one in the shopping cart, and one walking beside her. Kathy planned out the days to keep her sanity: She had the children listen to cassette tapes, read books, and play with neighbors and church friends. During Glenn’s long deployments, they made a paper chain and tore one link for every day he was gone. When he returned, Kathy said, the small children sometimes struggled to adjust: “Who is this man coming home? I don’t remember him.”
The Palmers made financial sacrifices to put all their kids through Christian school and invested in family vacations to historical places. Daughter Rebecca Vandermolen remembers visiting museums on their trips: Her dad became so animated explaining the history of the place to the children that others would think he was a museum tour guide and listen. She also said her parents were hospitable and let her and the other children bring their friends home with them at any time.
On April 14, 1988, Glenn’s ship hit a mine while patrolling the Persian Gulf and almost sank. Kathy saw the news about the USS Samuel B. Roberts on the television but had to wait a few days before Glenn could call her. After he came home that June, Kathy sank into six months of depression from the stress. “It was sort of a delayed reaction,” she said. She found comfort in the book of Psalms and in playing hymns on the piano: “I don’t know how people would get through things like that without the Lord.”
Glenn retired from the Navy a commander in 1998. The Palmers’ youngest son moved out this year, but their house is not empty. Kathy’s sister lives with them, as does a deacon from their church who rents a room. Glenn, 65, serves as an elder at their church in Norfolk, teaches Sunday school, and runs a side business. Kathy, 62, serves with the church’s music ministry. Their children have moved to other states, but the family stays in touch and meets together at Christmas and in the summer.
Remembering nearly 41 years of marriage, Kathy said, “I could go back and say, ‘Lord, this was from You.’ It was a calling. There was no escape hatch.”
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Nine thousand six hundred square feet. That’s how big Julie Rosati’s house is in Oneida, a small town in central New York. The three-story red-brick building with tall white columns used to be a nursing home. But since Rosati became the director of the Save the Storks Pro-life Training Center in November 2019, it has served a double purpose: a home for her, her husband Steve, and their three adopted children, and a dormitory for the center’s students. At the beginning of the pandemic this spring, it took on a third role as a storage place for mounds of donated diapers, cribs, and baby clothes.
New York health officials confirmed the state’s first known case of COVID-19 on March 1, six days before Gov. Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency. By mid-month, the state had more than 1,000 reported cases and 10 deaths, and Rosati had heard the seven Care Net pregnancy centers in central New York were temporarily closing their physical locations for the safety of staff and volunteers. WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) food centers closed, the Salvation Army stopped accepting donations, and hospitals ran short of baby supplies for new moms. Rosati knew these closures meant mothers in crisis would need help.
To fill the gap, Rosati started a local donation and delivery program she called a “pop-up pregnancy center.” She, her family, and about 30 volunteers collected, cleaned, sorted, and delivered donations to needy families in central New York and mentored moms remotely. The program provided women practical and spiritual help but also allowed Rosati to engage her children in serving low-income neighborhoods.
Across the country, pro-life pregnancy centers made up for a dearth of in-person services at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic this year. A pregnancy center in Sacramento, Calif., ran a diaper drive for three weeks that served 1,500 families. Another in Baltimore, Md., ran a curbside pickup operation to distribute diapers, wipes, and formula. Others provided needy families with grocery gift cards. Rosati’s operation met a similar need.
Rosati issued her first call for donations at the end of March. People delivered their carloads to her home. Trash bags full of baby supplies soon leaned up against car seats, strollers, and play sets by the brick wall of the long back porch. Some donations appeared overnight. One local congregation organized a donation drive and gave Rosati one truckload and two vanloads of diapers, wipes, cribs, and strollers. Jasmine, Rose, and John Rosati (now ages 14, 13, and 12) were finishing the school year at home, so they spent their 10 a.m. snack breaks sanitizing the items before bringing them inside. The donations filled six of the building’s 23 bedrooms.
For Rosati’s first delivery, in March, she brought a bassinet to a 14-year-old refugee and sex trafficking victim. The first week of April, she tucked flyers advertising the free baby products into food boxes at a local church’s grocery giveaway. Someone then posted a picture of the flyer to Facebook. “That day, my phone started blowing up,” said Rosati. Pregnant and young mothers called and texted, asking for diapers, wipes, and pregnancy tests. Rosati connected each woman with a mentor who took the order and continued to check back in by phone or text. The mentors prayed for the women, offered advice, and told them about the gospel.
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17TH IN A SERIES ON LONG MARRIAGES
Robert “Smokey” Nevins met his future wife at California’s Sacramento State University. Smokey, born blind, needed someone to drive him to a music appreciation class, so he checked the school’s list of assistant readers for, he said, “girls with pretty names.” He decided to call Patricia.
Patty remembers how, the first time she came to pick up Smokey, his father invited her to watch football. “So I instantly passed the test with his parents,” she said. After dating, breaking up, and getting back together, the couple had a 10-day engagement and a 14-person wedding in January 1980. (“We’re both … extremely lazy about wanting to do big production things,” explained Patty.)
Smokey and Patty spent the next decades raising a family and learning to love and care for one another, but health problems, Smokey’s disability, and the uncertainties of life were a constant challenge.
The Nevinses settled down in Sacramento: Patty did clerical work, and Smokey played jazz guitar at coffee lounges. The couple got creative to find things they could enjoy together. Some of their go-to hobbies were braille Scrabble and Monopoly and riding a tandem bicycle. “When you ride bikes separately, it’s hard to connect and talk,” said Patty. “We had a great time riding around and having conversation.”
Relying on His people to sustain us, His Word to sustain us, His Spirit to sustain us.
Soon after they married, Patty pointed out that husbands are responsible to provide for the family. Smokey was surprised: He dreamed of one day becoming a pastor but hadn’t had many job opportunities growing up. With Patty’s encouragement, he started working in telemarketing and eventually became an analyst for the state. His 31-year career allowed Patty to stay home and raise their children—all nine of them.
Their first baby came five years into the marriage, and after that Patty was “changing diapers for 20 years straight.” The Nevinses tried to follow advice they heard in the Christian world to raise their children right: homeschooling, Scripture memorization in the car, nightly family devotions, church activities. But as the children grew up, they realized parenting methods alone couldn’t guarantee spiritual life. Today, the couple says, some of the kids are following Jesus, some are unbelievers, and some they aren’t certain about. They have determined to trust God to save the children.
One of the biggest challenges of their marriage has been health issues. Since age 17, Smokey has suffered from epilepsy. During seizures, Smokey would lose consciousness, sometimes yelling or cursing, and then become sick and disoriented as he recovered. The couple endured treatments and drugs with painful or personality-altering side effects. Both say the prayers and support from their small church have been essential. Patty remembers one day when Smokey had a flurry of seizures and she couldn’t care for him and the kids. A church member took Smokey to his house and read Scripture to him, waiting for the seizures to stop. Smokey has not had a seizure for a year, but the challenge of trusting God with his health continues: Earlier this year, he had open-heart surgery.
Smokey, 62, retired last year and serves as an elder at the couple’s church. He loves doing ministry, though Patty says he still envies young men going to seminary. Patty is the facilities care coordinator at their church and recently retired from a job at a local library. The couple celebrated 40 years of marriage in January. “The success of our life … is because of the Lord being true to His Word,” said Patty. “Relying on His people to sustain us, His Word to sustain us, His Spirit to sustain us.”
Smokey’s health problems now prevent him from balancing on the tandem bike. But the Nevinses have gotten creative about that problem too: For his 60th birthday, Patty bought a two-person tricycle for them to ride side by side.
—This story has been corrected to note that Patty Nevins has retired from the library.