They wanted to have a big party for their 50th wedding anniversary.
Gene and Linda Crump got married in New York City on Oct. 10, 1970. A big family wedding, his two brothers, her six siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles and friends.
Their photographer showed up in a taxi after the ceremony was over. He’d been in an accident on the way to the church that totaled his car.
He still had his camera and tried to recreate some of traditional wedding tableaus, but he was so shook up that half of Gene’s head was missing in most of the pictures.
There is one perfect black-and-white photo from the honeymoon that followed.
It’s taken at the Copacabana in Manhattan. Gene in a suit and tie, mustache and sideburns, his arm around his bride. Linda in a simple purple dress, her black hair sleek and close to her head. You can see the ring on her finger. You can see a program on the table, too, with a photo of that night’s star: Joan Rivers.
They’d gone out to dinner at the Hilton, where they were staying, Linda said Friday. Gene disappeared and when he came back the food had arrived at the table.
Take it away, he told the waiter. He paid and they left without eating.
He’d gotten them tickets for dinner and a show at the famed New York City nightclub and they had to get going.
Years later, long after they moved to Lincoln and earned their law degrees and raised two children, as they served their church and their community and earned accolades and made memories with dozens of lifelong friends — they went to see Rivers perform at the Lied Center for Performing Arts.
They brought the program from 1970.
The comedian signed it after the show: Dearest Gene and Linda, I hope you have a wonderful, wonderful life.
By all accounts, they have.
“Marriage is a beautiful institution if you meet the right person,” Gene says. “Nothing beats it.”
They first set eyes on each other in the fifth grade at PS53.
A boy named Gene and a girl named Linda from the same Bronx neighborhood, in the same class. She was shy, he was busy with Boy Scouts and sports and friends. They didn’t make a connection. They went to the same junior high school and it was the same story. But later, in separate high schools, they did.
On their first date, they went to a track meet.
There were more dates that followed and, after Gene graduated, he went off to Nebraska Wesleyan University.
The next year, Linda enrolled. They dated, but not exclusively, and then 1967 came and Gene signed up to serve his country.
“And I realized I missed her more than anyone else I was thinking of.”
This is the way Linda tells it: “I chased him until he was smart enough to catch me.”
Gene got out of the Army in June 1970 and they were married four months later.
Then Linda finished her degree in biology at City College of New York with Gene at her side.
They moved back to Lincoln and Gene finished his degree at Wesleyan and then onto law school with Linda at his side.
They had baby Kathryn by then. Then son Eric 5 years later.
Linda taught at Lincoln High School. Gene worked for Legal Aid and eventually became deputy attorney general in the Kerrey administration and Associate General Council for NU. After law school, Linda went on to become director of Affirmative Action and Diversity Programs at UNL. She served as president of the Nebraska Bar Association.
They joined Newman Methodist Church and stayed for nearly 40 years.
They lived in a mobile home in north Lincoln and a split-level in Salt Valley View and moved to a house on a tree-lined street in the Country Club neighborhood in 1985.
That first February, they threw a housewarming party. Gene and Linda in the kitchen making cheesecake and crepes, pound cakes and gingerbread cakes. There was enough wine for 200 people.
It turned into an annual Valentine’s Day event for friends and colleagues and everyone at their small northeast Lincoln church.
They loved being hosts. And they loved family picnics in the park, just the four of them.
She is the quiet one, Linda says. Gene’s the outgoing one. They’re both private, but social. Moviegoers, theater-lovers. They had season tickets to Lincoln Saltdogs games and Husker women’s basketball games with their longtime friends Bob and Marilyn Wagner.
The two couples had tickets to the Lied Center and the Lincoln Community Playhouse, too. The men met in law school and had daughters the same age. In 1988, the Wagners’ daughter, Betsy, was in a car accident.
“She spent two months in the hospital,” Bob said. “They came up to see us every night.”
That kindness wasn’t exclusive to them, Marilyn said. “They did things like that for other people.”
They learned from their own parents.
Linda’s dad was the dad in their Bronx neighborhood who fixed all the kids’ bikes for free. Her mom volunteered at church. She told her children: If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
Gene’s parents were involved in their church, in Boy Scouts, all their sons’ activities.
“If you want to have a good community, you have to work to make sure it’s good,” Gene said. “I’m of the belief if you make your home better, you make your neighborhood better, you make your city better.”
They mentored people. Nurtured them. Helped them find opportunities.
“We grew up with a sense of civic-mindedness,” their son Eric Crump said. “The sense they gave Kathryn and I is that if you have talents and gifts, you shouldn’t use them just to enrich yourself, they should serve the community as well.”
Be on a board. Join the NAACP. Serve on a committee at church.
They modeled what they believed.
One day, Eric came home from school, declaring the things he wasn’t going to do because he was a boy.
One of those things was cooking.
“Everybody cooks,” his mom told him. His dad did cook, but after that, he cooked more often.
“Within a week, my dad was in the kitchen more,” Eric said. “We learned men cook and men clean and women do repairs around the house.”
Eric, 44, and his wife, Camilla, got married in 2008, they have a 10-year-old son Carter. Kathryn and her husband Patrick Teague, married since 2002, have two boys, Stokely, 16, and Miles, 12.
Their parents modeled a good marriage, Eric said. The same way their parents before them did.
“They were considerate and made sacrifices for each other and they taught us that as well,” he said. “If you genuinely care for and love someone, you learn ‘I don’t have to be first.’”
They got good advice early in their marriage from Leola and Hugh Bullock, Linda said. “Remember the key to success in marriage is a 60-40 split and you should hope to marry someone who gives 60.”
They each tried to be the one who gave 60%.
It wasn’t hard. They loved each other and they truly liked each other.
“First of all, he makes you happy all the time,” Linda said. “He has this sense of humor and well-being. He can be very grumpy, but he has a kind heart always.”
Joyful Gene, she calls him.
He likes her company, says Gene. Her intellect, her thoughtfulness. What she likes, he likes.
“They’re both their own people, but they’re a fantastic couple,” Marilyn Wagner said.
“A very loving couple,” said their church friend Pat Shepard. “Just lovely people”
A matched set, said another church friend Joan Rich. That old song by Olivia Newton-John, “Hopelessly Devoted to You?”
That’s them, she said.
“Gene and Linda. Linda and Gene. Usually, when you saw one you saw the other. In social, church, and community outings, you could always find them together, being supportive of one another’s ideas and needs.”
They were honored with the Lenora Letcher Award by the NAACP. The Fulfilling the Dream Award by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. The Distinguished Service Award from the Nebraska Alumni Association.
Their biggest accomplishments?
“I think our children are kind people,” Linda said. “We were able to raise kind people.”
In late 2018, the Crumps left Lincoln. They wanted to be closer to their kids and grandkids back East, Gene said.
“She said she didn’t want to live in a place where the Ace Hardware sells snow shovels.”
They love the winters in Venice, Florida, south of Tampa. They walk together early in the morning to watch the sunrise. Often they are back on the beach as the sun sets.
They both quilt. Gene took it up after Linda did, so they could spend that time together. The same way she took an interest in his interests — photography, sports, travel to far-off places.
“I don’t think we have a remarkable life,” Gene said. “We have a good life. We’re proud that we’ve been doing it for 50 years.”
The pandemic put a stop to that big wedding anniversary party. But there was a party at their daughter’s house in Virginia.
Eric wrote a poem. Their three grandsons — Stokely, Miles and Carter — spoke. An eighth grader from the middle school where Kathyrn is an administrator sang. They all wore matching shirts with stick figures of a bride in a veil and a groom in a top hat. Linda (heart) Gene 50 years.
It was just wonderful, Linda said.
Pure joy, said Eric.
There was a perfect picture of a happy group of people. Kathryn and Patrick. Eric and Camilla. Three handsome, growing grandsons.
Gene with his mustache. Linda her hair curly and white.
Both of them smiling and holding hands.
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Columns from an upside-down year: The Angel in Room 255
A story about hope and goodness and friendship at a time when people needed to hear about the angels of this world.
Reach the writer at 402-473-7218 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @TheRealCLK