They met on cruise, now begin new journey

Just Married

Thelma Unkelbach and Ray Wurzer

July 28, 2002|By Sandy Alexander | Sandy Alexander,Sun Staff

Thelma Unkelbach and Ray Wurzer had a lot to celebrate this month. July 12 was Ray's 81st birthday. July 13 was Thelma's 77th birthday and also the day the two married at the Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Baynesville.

The two exchanged vows surrounded by Thelma's three daughters and Ray's daughter, their sons-in-law, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, siblings, nieces, nephews and friends. At the reception at Sheraton North, two of Thelma's daughters sang Andrews Sisters songs and a band provided music for dancing.

Thelma and three girlfriends also reminisced about the trip they all took on a Mississippi riverboat cruise -- the same one Ray was taking with his daughter and son-in law when the couple met.

Thelma and the other "merry widows" as they jokingly call themselves had rooms across from Ray's on the July 2001 cruise from Memphis, Tenn., to St. Paul, Minn., but they were at different dinner seatings, so they didn't cross paths at first. It was a couple of days before Ray spotted the ladies having a boisterous good time in the bar and went to join them.

Thelma came to Baltimore from North Carolina in 1944 to work in the Bethlehem Shipyard during World War II. She retired from the Social Security Administration in 1976. Ray says he was drawn to "her beautiful smile and the way she talked with that little Southern drawl."

"From the word go, my heart fluttered," he says.

"We seemed to have a lot of things in common," Thelma says of Ray, who grew up in Buffalo, N.Y., and joined the U.S. Army in 1942. Ray worked for General Motors until 1984. His wife died three years ago.

Their affinity became clearer after Ray arranged to join Thelma and her friends for dinner, and later, as he and Thelma spent hours talking on board one afternoon while the others went ashore.

"We can just talk about everything and anything," Thelma says.

At the end of the cruise, Thelma gave Ray her phone number. Her flight to Baltimore was delayed, and by the time she got home, there were two messages from Ray on her machine asking if she arrived safely.

Over the next few months, Ray flew from his home in Macomb, Mich., about once a month and Thelma went to visit him as well. Ray enjoyed taking all four of the women from the cruise to dinner as a group, but he knew Thelma was the one for him. In October, they decided to be married.

"We have to grab the happiness in our hand and close our fist," Ray says. "Just because there is snow on the dome doesn't mean there isn't fire in the heart."

"I had no intention of ever marrying again," says Thelma, whose husband died in 1993. She was happy traveling, golfing and volunteering. But when Ray became her "ardent pursuer" she realized how much she enjoyed his companionship.

Thelma and Ray plan to travel a lot in addition to splitting their time between her home in Parkville and his in Macomb.

They are taking a 10-day honeymoon trip from Toronto to Vancouver on the Trans Canada railroad. Ray says if they can enjoy sharing a tiny room for that many days "we're going to have a happy married life."

Beyond that, they will see what comes. "At our age, we don't have too many long-range plans," Thelma says.

But Ray has one agenda for sure: "I told her I'd court her for the rest of her life."

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