Let’s go back in time to 1951.
Gas was 19 cents per gallon.
Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed coined the term “rock ’n’ roll.”
“I Love Lucy” premiered on CBS.
The average cost of a new car was $1,500.
Also on Aug. 10 of that same year, Southeast Christian Church members Jim and Mildred Neat were married.
Their marriage is in its 67th year, which totals to be about 24,500 days spent together—truly a lifetime of love.
According to a 2009 Census Bureau report, only 6 percent of marriages make it to 50 years, making the Neats’ marriage a true rarity. And they still tell each other “I love you” every day.
“Before we go to bed, we see who can beat the other to say, ‘I love you,’” they said. “We try to distract the other one while the TV is on in the bedroom.”
It’s that kind of competitive, fun love that began during their days growing up in Casey County, Kentucky, which had a population of around 1,000 people back then.
“The first time I saw him I thought he was pretty good looking,” Mildred said.
“The first time I saw her she was 14 and I was riding my bike in her town and saw her near the creek,” Jim added. “I thought, ‘I kind of like that little gal.’ She was nice, a lot of fun to be around and happy all the time.”
The two attended Liberty High School together, and Jim and Mildred would frequent the Liberty Grill where all the “young people” hung out. They took trips together to the movies, basketball games and church.
Following graduation, Mildred went to the University of Kentucky and Jim was drafted into the Air Force for four years.
“We joke that Jim said he waited to marry me until my daddy got me through college,” Mildred said.
The Neats got married while Jim was still in the Air Force.
They were planning to move to New York, but Jim’s orders were changed and he spent a year in Korea while Mildred moved back home.
The Neats had the first of their two sons 19 months into marriage. They moved to Louisville after Jim was discharged from the Air Force.
Mildred was as an elementary schoolteacher for four decades, and Jim worked at American Air Filter until he retired.
As charter members of Southeast Christian Church, Mildred said church was one of their family’s main priorities. They have scarcely missed a Sunday service.
“We started coming to Southeast the first Sunday in July of 1962,” Mildred said. “It was the first Sunday of the church and when Southeast was organized.”
The Neats have been serving at Southeast ever since.
Doing life together
Jim and Mildred’s daily routine over the course of 67 years is the definition of friendship and doing life together: They eat and make the bed with each other. (Mildred jokes that Jim says he does more of the cooking.)
They do Bible devotions and pray on their knees together every night.
They regularly attend the Senior Adult Ministry’s Classic Worship on Thursday mornings and have served in many different capacities since 1962. Jim currently helps with communion at the Blankenbaker Campus, and Mildred taught Sunday School for a number of years.
They enjoy traveling and have visited all 50 states and every continent except Antarctica.
The Neats said trusting in the timeless truths of the Bible has been the master key to their marriage.
“We believe in what the Bible says,” Jim said. “We truly believe in 1 Peter 4:8, which says, ‘Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.’”
Jim and Mildred set some standards for their family from the beginning: attend church on Sundays, have a curfew for their sons, make sure their sons were running with the right crowd, no cursing and no drinking.
“We didn’t want to do anything that caused our sons to stumble,” they said.
The Neats said communication, especially in each little conversation, is important for a good marriage.
“We always agree on something,” Mildred said. “Even when it’s something small to talk about, we discuss any kind of decision together. We discuss what color the room should be painted before we go out and do it. Jim is usually great about compromise.”
The Neats do what they call “splitting the difference.”
For example, they were discussing whether the first Classic Worship held at the Chapel in the Woods had 211 or 230 senior adults. After a few back and forth laughs together on what the number actually was, they split the difference and decided it was 220.
“You have to remember there are two sides to everything,” Jim said. “See if there’s something you can work out because what she thinks about something and what I think about it, she may be right. I doubt there was ever a marriage without a quarrel.”
Jim also said he learned rather quickly what husbands shouldn’t say.
“I made the mistake shortly after we married when she was ironing my shirt,” Jim said. “I said, ‘You just don’t iron my shirts like my mother did.’ Do you know who ironed my shirts later?”
But, after almost seven decades of marriage, Jim has picked up a few tricks of the trade.
“I’m 91-years-old and I can’t tell you how old she is because I know what to say,” Jim said.
The Neats even have fun with the reality of getting older.
“We joke about who will go first all the time,” they said.
Jim and Mildred’s lifetime of love has left a generational legacy.
Their sons, Rodney and Kris, have been immensely influenced. Both are pharmacists at Kroger and members of Southeast. They met their wives at church and have given their parents three grandchildren.
Rodney said his parents gave him and his brother a “blueprint” for marriage.
“It just seems like in this day and time you’re lucky to have a father and mother,” Rodney said. “My brother and I have been extremely lucky to have parents who have lived as long as they have. They set standards for both of us. I will be married for 41 years in August and my brother for 35 years in May.”
On his way home from work each day, Rodney said he calls his parents just to chat during his 15-minute drive.
Kris said he grew up in a home with parents who faithfully followed Jesus and remained best friends to each other.
“They set a great example for me in this age when many marriages don’t last and end in divorce,” Kris said. “To see their commitment has shown us how marriage works. I can tell how much they love each other. Also, we seldom ever missed church growing up and even found churches when we were on vacation. Even in Hawaii one time we went to a church service. The two things I’ve noticed are they put God first and their commitment to each other. You seldom see one without the other, and it has always been like that.”