Celebration marks half a century

RENEWING VOWS

Bertha M. Allen And Russell Allen Sr.

April 29, 2001|By Joanne E. Morvay | Joanne E. Morvay,Special to the Sun

Bertha M. and Russell Allen Sr. have given many gifts to their family over the past 50 years. The couple taught their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren the value of hard work. They showed them how to treat others with kindness and respect. They volunteered, giving something back to the East Baltimore community that has always been the family's home. And always, the Allens held a strong faith in God.

When Bertha and Russell celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary earlier this month, their family and friends had a gift for them: the wedding celebration the couple never had.

Bertha and Russell's wedding on April 1, 1951, was a quiet affair. The minister came to Bertha's parents' home on East Chase Street to perform the ceremony. Their only guests were Bertha's mother, father and sister, along with Russell's father and his best man. And about 24 hours later, Russell had to return to his Army base at Fort Eustis, Va.

A photograph from that day shows Russell, 17, grinning as he stands tall and proud in his dress uniform. Beside him is Bertha, a petite 18-year-old with a sweet smile.

The two met at a social through friends. He was quiet, and still is. But from the beginning, "I could tell we could get along well together," Bertha says.

After they married, Russell returned to the Army base and Bertha lived at home in East Baltimore. When he got out of the Army in 1952, Russell moved to Bertha's family home on East Chase Street. He took a job working the swing shift at Bethlehem Steel, where he would work for the next 40 years.

In 1964, the Allens moved from her parents' home to a house of their own on North Bond Street; and by 1965, they had had the last of their eight children.

Those days weren't always easy. Paychecks sometimes didn't stretch as far as they needed to. Families, friends and neighbors supported each other so that everybody pulled through, Bertha says. "Nobody had anything, but we all shared."

In part because of her children, but mostly because that's how her own mother Emma raised her, Bertha became involved in her community.

Baltimore City Councilman Bernard C. Young, still close with Russell Jr., and the rest of the Allen family, recalls how he and his friends stayed on the straight and narrow because of Miss Bertha's watchful eye.

"She was everybody's mom," Young said as he watched the Allens greet guests at their anniversary celebration April 14 at St. James Free Baptist Church on Old York Road.

Bertha was involved in east-side politics before Young. She catered political events, worked on campaigns and even had a hand in a band (to which some of her children belonged) that performed at political gatherings.

As her children grew older, Bertha began working for the city school system. She started as a liaison between the school system and the community. When she retired in 1985, she was a reading aide.

All of Bertha and Russell's children were educated in city schools, and most, now with families of their own, still live close to their parents.

Retirement hasn't slowed the couple down. Russell spends so much time ferrying family members and friends who don't drive to appointments that he's been nicknamed "Taxi Cab."

Bertha looks after two toddler great-grandsons every day. "They keep me hopping," she says.

It was the family who convinced Bertha and Russell to celebrate their anniversary by renewing their vows. More than 250 people turned out -- Bertha's mother, the matriarch of their family; Bertha and Russell's children, grandchildren and six great-grandchildren; nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles; distant cousins who came from as far as Detroit; the couple's fellow church members and many of the young men and women, now grown, whom the Allens helped raise in their neighborhood.

Daughter Karen and granddaughter Sherry sang, their voices filling the sanctuary. When the couple repeated their vows to one another, Russell wore that same grin he had years ago. Bertha giggled, and soon the entire church roared with laughter. She was a little embarrassed, she said later, to be talking so frankly about their love in front of so many people.

But ask why their marriage has lasted half a century, and Bertha doesn't hesitate.

"I believe that marriage is supposed to last," she says. "If you go in with the idea it's going to last, it will."

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