A Post-Valentine’s Day Wedding Story

Chris and Bonnie (Raser) Frey (at left) stand with Esther (Raser) and Earl Engle on the two couples' joint wedding day on August 23, 1950. (Courtesy of Abilene Reflector-Chronicle)

I know that the original Valentine’s Day has nothing to do with the “romance and love and kissy-face fealty” that we associate with the contemporary holiday. But I couldn’t resist sharing the story “True Valentine” from today’s Abilene Reflector-Chronicle — especially since it provides more insight into mid-century Brethren in Christ wedding rituals, a frequent topic of study at the search for piety and obedience.

“True Valentine” describes the courtship and double wedding of two sisters — Bonnie and Ethel Raser — to two cousins, Chris Frey and Earl Engle. Both couples grew up in the Brethren in Christ Church, and Chris and Bonnie continue to attend the Abilene congregation in Kansas.

Here’s a taste of the story:

Neither sister remembers who came up with the idea of a double wedding, but soon both sisters were planning their wedding for Aug. 23, 1950.

“We used Evy’s wedding dress pattern and Mother took us to Younkers [a department store] in Des Moines (Iowa) where we bought our material,” Bonnie said. The material was a watersilk taffeta that was $2 per yard, according to Bonnie.

They bought the same fabric in pink for bridesmaid dresses, Esther said.

The 38 buttons for each wedding dress were covered at Younkers for “a nickel a piece,” Bonnie said.

“Esther let me plan the ceremony and she planned the music,” Bonnie said. “We wanted everyone to memorize their vows. Chris’s dad was a minister. I didn’t quite trust him, so I typed the ceremony all out and sent it to him.”

Remarkably, both of the sisters say there were no disagreements about the ceremony or wedding arrangements.

The dresses were completed in time, but the sisters had trouble with the veils.

“I think someone, maybe Phyl [Phyllis Hershey, a college friend], helped us finish them up a day or two before the wedding,” Bonnie said.

The day of the double wedding, Wednesday, Aug. 23, the water system at the family house ran out of water.

“Dad hurried to town with the water tank and returned with a tank of water to put in our supply tank,” Bonnie said.

In the late afternoon, around 40 family members gathered for a picnic-style meal outside the Raser home.

“I remember there was a ham, potato salad, relishes, rolls, lemonade – all delicious,” Esther said.

She said she packed for the honeymoon and tried to nap.

“Esther and I were upstairs in the south bedroom getting ready to put on our wedding dresses,” Bonnie said. “Mom came in to help us. She helped one of us – maybe me – and then when she went to help her second daughter, she turned away with tears in her eyes.”

Bonnie and Esther rode to the church in the back of their family’s car.

“It was horribly hot, probably 100-some degrees,” Bonnie said.

“I was sweating inside my snug wedding dress,” Esther said.

A nearby skating rink had a loud announcer playing music for rollerskaters. There was no air conditioning in the church and the windows were open. The brides’ brother, John, went over to the rink and asked if they could wait until the ceremony was over. About 150 to 175 people, including relatives from California, Ohio and New York, had gathered at the Brethren In Christ Church in Dallas Center, Iowa.

The ceremony began at 7:30 p.m.

Bonnie’s friend from college, Phyllis Hershey, read “Speak to Us of Love” from The Prophet.

Their brother-in-law, Samuel Herr, was a professional musician and soloist. He sang “I Love Thee” and “Oh Perfect Love.”

Donna Frey and Linda Book, Chris’ nieces, were seven years old. They wore pink dresses and served as candlelighters. They walked on a bench behind the greenery and candles.

“They had long hair and I was so afraid they would catch it on fire as they bent over the candles,” Bonnie said.

Lois and Marie Raser, sisters of the bride, were bridesmaids. They carried bouquets of gladiolas. Chris’ roommate, Austin Heise of Hamlin, and Alvin Heise of Abilene (who later married Earl’s sister) were groomsmen.

“The brides, given in marriage by their father, were dressed in identical floor-length water-silk taffeta, with fingertip veils. They carried white astors and gladiolas,” according to the wedding announcement published in the Dallas Center Times.

“I went up on my dad’s arm and then he went back to get Esther,” Bonnie said. “We four took our vows in front of family and friends.”

“I especially remember our father proudly taking us up the church aisle,” Esther said.

Earl’s grandfather, a minister, gave the closing prayer.

“He [Millard Engle] had a full beard and a loud voice,” Bonnie said. “We knew he’d pray a long prayer.”

“We knelt for a LONG prayer,” Esther said.

After the wedding, the reception was at the Raser’s home about a mile from the church.

Read the whole article.

We’ve written before about the wedding traditions of the mid-century Brethren in Christ — a community that was quite diverse in its expressions of religious nonconformity. This wedding story confirms much of what we’ve written before in regards to dress style/color and the visiting rituals related to weddings.

It would be interesting to know if the wedding music described in the article was accompanied by instrumentation, or was purely vocal, since instruments would still have been considered “worldly” by most Brethren in Christ during this time.

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About Devin Manzullo-Thomas

Father to Lucas. Husband to Katie. Prof and administrator at Messiah College. PhD student at Temple University. Member of Grantham BIC.
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3 Responses to A Post-Valentine’s Day Wedding Story

  1. Harriet Bicksler says:

    Great story again! I do wonder about the names of the couples, however. I think in your intro to the newspaper story it should be Bonnie and Esther Raser, who married Chris Frey and Earl Engle, respectively. You might want to check….

  2. Elaine Reed says:

    You’ve posted a lovely picture and story. I remember Bonnie as a church camp counselor when I was in high school. She really cared about us and found a creative way to relate to us and our problems.

    It’s sad to note that sisters who were so close, had to be separated when Esther and her husband moved to PA. That happened a lot in the BIC church, especially to those in the Midwest. But families managed to stay close with letters and visits. Now there’s even e-mail and Skype.

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