‘That’s the woman I’m going to marry’: First dates, faith and growing families



On Sunday, April 25, the Camden Diocese’s annual Wedding Anniversary Mass was celebrated at St. Agnes Church in Blackwood, to honor those couples celebrating 25 and 50 and more years of marriage. The following are the stories of four couples recognized on Sunday: how they met, when they got married, and how their Catholic faith has contributed to their long-lasting union.

anniversary1-webJoan and Richard Whitelock, 50 Years

Photo by James A. McBride

“That’s the woman I’m going to marry.”

Those were the words spoken by Richard Whitelock to his mother in 1957, as he pointed out the young woman across the room during his friend’s wedding. Richard was usher for the groom, and Joan was a bridesmaid.

Three years later, Richard and Joan had their own wedding, May 14, 1960, at St. Bartholomew’s Church, in the Wissinoming section of Philadelphia. This year, they are celebrating 50 years of marriage marked by faith, love and devotion to each other, and which has produced three daughters, three sons-in-law, and six grandchildren.

Now living in Blackwood, they are parishioners of St. Jude Parish.

When asked what has kept them going, Joan responded, “Faith in the Lord, love, and a really good sense of humor.”

Now retired, Joan, spent close to 15 years working in the Diocese of Camden, with the Office of the Tribunal, the St. Pius X Retreat House, and in the Office of the Diaconate.

Richard, 74, is president of his own company, Miker Enterprises, which sells steel and metal to manufacturing companies.

With their daughters grown, Richard and Joan spend as much time as they can together, and travel any chance they get.

On Sunday, they had the whole family around them to celebrate their golden anniversary at a nearby restaurant. “God’s been good,” Richard said.

anniversary2-webJoanne and Bill Klatt, 50 years

Bill and Joanne met at a mutual friend’s gathering, a college graduation. They both noticed the attraction, but complicating matters was that each had a date.

Even so, says Bill, “The spark started then … eyes connecting, on the dance floor.”

Although Bill was a Lutheran, he found himself “asking more questions” about the Catholic faith around this woman he loved. “She led me the rest of the way.”

Shortly after they met, Bill became Catholic, and on May 28, 1960, they got married at St. Ambrose Church in Philadelphia.

They currently live in Sewell, and are parishioners at Our Lady of Peace, Pitman. They have three daughters, two married, and five grandchildren.

From 2001-03, Bill was director of the Diocese’s Pro-Life Office. Today, he is an executive committee member of Good Counsel Homes-South Jersey, which seeks to provide safe housing and education for homeless pregnant women and their children.

For their anniversary, the two had a family gathering at home, and Father Frederick Link, a family friend, celebrated Mass there.

Joanne said she’s thankful for Father Link, and the community she’s come to know in the diocese, in her 50th year of marriage. “We appreciate the support of our community,” she said. “We’ve had just about every experience that life can bring along.” What has also kept their marriage strong, Bill notes, is their ability to express their feelings to one another, at any time. “Good communication is important…to express yourself honestly and lovingly to each other.”

anniversary3-webArlene and Bill Ezekiel, 50 years

Photo by James A. McBride

For Bill Ezekiel, the lack of transportation didn’t stop him from finding true love.

One night 50 years ago, Bill was at a Camden bus stop, late at night, and noticed Arlene. The two talked while waiting for the bus and en route to their respective destinations, until Arlene got off at her stop at a nearby library.

Not willing to wait to see her again at the bus stop, Bill went to his home in Pennsauken, borrowed a neighbor’s car, and drove back to the library to ask her out on a date.

Five months later, the two married, on Nov. 26 at St. Joseph’s Church, East Camden, and this year they will officially celebrate 50 years of marriage.

Coming from a devout Lutheran family (she taught Sunday school at a Lutheran Church), Arlene knew her family would have reservations about her marrying a man from a devout Catholic family. But her feelings overwhelmed her; she admired Bill’s own devout faith, and was interested in converting.

“The more I learned, the more impressed I got,” she said. She completed her Catholic education before the marriage, and on their wedding day, she received the Holy Eucharist for the first time. (Her family, despite their misgivings, were in attendance at the wedding to support her).

Now living in Audubon, the couple has had eight children, 18 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild walk through their doors. Another great-grandchild is on the way).

The two place a big emphasis on family. Arlene helps her granddaughters sell girl scout cookies, and Bill is a real estate broker/sales rep for Prudential Fox and Roach, along with his daughter, Kim Tracy.

With family, Arlene mentions, “you have a support system. Family means looking out for each other.”

“It’s not about how much money you have, it’s what you can do for others.”

“We both work at” marriage,” Bill said. “You can’t get good at it by osmosis.”

Today, Arlene is director of the Spiritual Center Library at St. Rose of Lima Parish in Haddon Heights. “Marriage takes faith, kindness. If you’re trying to do what’s right, you do your best, and you have your faith, God will work with you.”

anniversary4-webRenee and Michael Koestler, 25 years

Now parishioners of St. Catherine of Siena in Clayton, Mullica Hill residents Michael and Renee Koestler first met while both of them worked at Sears in the Neshaminy Mall, in Bucks County, Pa.

After both graduated from Holy Family University, they married on Oct. 12, 1985, at Maternity BVM in Philadelphia.

Michael, 46, is a recruiter for Integrity Rehab Services, a nursing home company based in Michigan, and Renee, 49, is a secretary at St. Michael the Archangel Regional School in Clayton, where the two youngest of their four children, Bobby and Maggie, attend.

When discussing what’s important to a long-lasting marriage, Renne cites “communication, trust,” and a desire to be in each other’s company.

“We enjoy each other’s company. We watch TV, play scrabble, or the (Nintendo) Wii together.”