GREENE — Betty had traveled home, from Washington, D.C., to Montgomery, Ala., for her 20th birthday and there was no way she was staying home for the evening.

A friend told her about this dance.

Albert K. “Bert” Murch was a pilot in the U.S. Air Force, a 22-year-old from Maine down in Alabama for training.

“A few of us took a ride into town,” he said. “We got fooling around on the bus and I popped a button on my shirt — that was as bad as stealing the colonel’s wife.” 

He headed to the local United Service Organizations office to find someone to fix his button, stat.

They told him about this dance.

“That’s how we met, on the dance floor,” Bert said.

Five months later, he asked her to marry him. Twice.

Last month, Bert and Lela “Betty” Murch celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.

She’s 90, he’s 93. They live in the oldest house in Greene, built in 1798. They talk about slowing down, making adjustments such as moving to the first floor, then talk about their tractor and Bert’s eagerness to get his garden going for the year. 

Her first impression: “He was a complete gentleman. He was a lot different than some of them on the dance floor,” Betty said.

She credits their longevity, in part, to mutual respect.

“We still feel about each other as we did in our 20s,” she said. “I have always put him first. I think he’s done the same thing with me.” 

Bert grew up in South Casco. He’d been a part of the ROTC at the University of Maine and started his military service in the Army before switching to the Air Force to fly B-17s and B-29s.

“I walked so many miles with the infantry, I was tired of walking; I wanted to fly,” he said.

Betty had moved to D.C. after high school to work for the government and take college classes at night. 

After that dance, they talked often and wrote letters almost every day. 

That next March, “I wrote her a letter and asked her if she’d marry me,” Bert said. “‘I said, ‘I’ll call you tomorrow night to find out what the answer is.’ I called and she hadn’t gotten the letter.”

So on the phone, he asked again. She said yes.

There was tension at the time, Betty said, about marrying a northerner, and in Alabama you had to be 21 to get married without your parents’ permission.

They picked Richmond, Ind., near another training assignment of Bert’s, to tie the knot on April 7, 1945.

Richmond’s mayor married the couple. The local florist, a kind stranger who became a friend, gave them flowers, paid for dinner and paid for a night in a hotel. 

Bert left the service and the couple moved to Maine a short time later. They had two children, Bob and Betsy. They bought the house here in 1970.

Together, they taught Sunday school classes and were Cub Scout leaders.

“(The boys) camped in our backyard to get their badges,” Betty said.

Bert coached countless baseball teams, eventually donating a ball field to the town.

He worked in life insurance for 33 years and once a year they traveled for his annual conference, meeting people they never would have met, going places they wouldn’t have otherwise had a reason to see, Betty said. They’ve had a lot of fun together, she said.

“They wake up every day, no matter what’s going on with health or whatever, looking forward to what that day has to offer,” son Bob said. “My dad is the biggest optimist there ever was.”

Bert has his seeds all ready to go for his garden this spring. They can and freeze at harvest, make their own cider and keep up their small orchard with pear, apple and peach trees.

On Sunday, the two will be guests at a party of 100 people gathering to celebrate their 70 years.

“The night I proposed I hit the jackpot twice,” Bert said. “She said yes. I was at a pay phone, and when I put my money in the slot, everything that was in the telephone fell on the floor. I called the operator and asked what to do (with all the coins). She said to put it back in — it took me a half-hour.”

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