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Alabama couple reflects on 69 years of marriage during one-of-a-kind second honeymoon

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Mary Nelle and Lamar Dill relax in the living room of the Presidential Suite at the Battle House Hotel on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. (Michelle Matthews/mmatthews@al.com)
Mary Nelle and Lamar Dill relax in the living room of the Presidential Suite at the Battle House Hotel on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. (Michelle Matthews/mmatthews@al.com)

On April 24, 1949, Lamar and Mary Nelle Dill were married in Anniston, Ala., "on a Sunday at 4 in the afternoon," he recalls. After spending the night in Montgomery, they drove south in his '49 Mercury, emblazoned with "Just Married!" wishes that Lamar never could completely erase from the paint, to the finest hotel in Mobile, the Battle House.

Friday evening, the couple -- he's 92, she's 95 -- returned to the Battle House to spend the weekend. It was the first time they've visited the hotel, which was closed from 1974 until it reopened in 2007, since their honeymoon trip. The visit was a gift from their son Jay and his wife, Phyllis, and their daughter, Lark Howell and her husband, Joe, who accompanied the Dills.

When they checked in, they learned that the Dills' room had been upgraded to the sprawling, luxurious Presidential Suite on the eighth floor. The 1,995-square-foot suite, with French doors that open onto a private terrace overlooking downtown Mobile, rents for $3,000 a night.

"We're kind of rolling around in here," said Mary Nelle as she perched delicately on a chair in the suite's living room. "We need to invite some friends and have a party!"

family smaller.jpg>The Dills ordered room service Saturday morning and ate breakfast on their private terrace. From left are their son, Jay Dill; Mary Nelle Dill; their daughter, Lark Dill Howell; their daughter-in-law, Phyllis Dill; Lamar Dill; and their son-in-law, Joe Howell. (Michelle Matthews/mmatthews@al.com)

Their party of six ordered room service Saturday morning and enjoyed breakfast on the terrace.

The couple met when Lamar's cousin, who was a friend of Mary Nelle's, wanted to introduce them. Mary Nelle insisted that she didn't like blind dates and said she wasn't interested in Lamar. "One day she came and brought him anyway, and we went out and kept going," she said.

After a three-year courtship, they got engaged in December and married in April at First Presbyterian Church. "Lamar planned the honeymoon," Mary Nelle said. "I didn't know where we were going." After visiting Mobile, they continued on to the Mississippi coast before returning to Anniston.

wedding photo 1949.jpg>Mary Nelle and Lamar Dill were married on April 24, 1949, at First Presbyterian Church in Anniston, Ala. (Courtesy Lark Dill Howell)

In 1949, First Presbyterian Church was a beautiful old Victorian structure, said their daughter, Lark. The church was torn down in the 1960s and a new, more modern one was built right across from the Dills' home. For years, she said, they have walked to church.

Though it was shuttered for decades, the Battle House didn't suffer the same fate as their former church building. They remember the hotel being a beautiful place in 1949. "The woodwork and carving in the lobby are the same, but the inside was more old-fashioned," Mary Nelle said.

On this visit, the hotel staff has endeared themselves to the couple. "I don't think you can find a better hotel anywhere," said Lamar. "I can't emphasize enough about the Battle House and their service."

A U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, Lamar retired about 25 years ago from his job as chief electrician for the city of Anniston. He had also owned his own business, and Mary Nelle had kept the books for him. She then started teaching kindergarten at their church, eventually teaching kindergarten and remedial reading in the public school system for 23 years.

"We're completely different personalities," she said. "He likes one thing, and I like another."

"And then we do what she wants to do," her husband joked.

"We argue a lot, which is normal," Mary Nelle said. "But he knows I love him, and I know he loves me."

Mary Nelle is a music lover who enjoys attending concerts as well as reading and doing puzzles to keep her mind sharp. Lamar has volunteered for 25 years in admitting at Stringfellow Memorial Hospital, where he has logged more than 7,000 hours of service.

Lamar likes "anything with wheels," Mary Nelle said. He used to ride motorcycles with a group of friends, and he has owned two airplanes and boats. A couple of years ago, he decided he wanted a limousine and found one for sale in Connecticut.

"I thought he'd lost his mind," Mary Nelle said, laughing.

limo smaller.jpg>Lamar Dill "loves anything with wheels," his wife says. The family drove from Anniston to Mobile in his newest acquisition, a limousine. It was parked outside the Battle House all weekend. (Michelle Matthews/mmatthews@al.com)

They traveled from Anniston to Mobile in Lamar's Lincoln Town Car limo Friday, and it remained parked outside the hotel on South Royal Street for the weekend. Because of some eye problems, Lamar no longer drives, so his son and son-in-law took turns driving the limo.

"We thank God every day for what we have," said Mary Nelle. "It's important to have friends you share your life with. We've had so many friends, and that's so important."

Having such a close family -- both of their children live nearby -- has also helped their marriage, they said. "We didn't think we'd live this long in the first place," said Mary Nelle. "This gives our children something to shoot for."

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Source : http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2018/02/alabama_couple_reflects_on_69.html

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