James Edward And Selma Mae Degroat

Couple Married For 52 Years Die Just Five Hours Apart

August 25, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

For more than half a century, James Edward DeGroat and his wife, Selma Mae DeGroat, shared a life together: They worked, raised a family of five and, until last year, liked going out occasionally for an evening of dancing.

Early yesterday morning, a little more than five hours apart, their married life together came quietly to an end while they held hands in hospital room 408 at Franklin Square Hospital Center.

Last Tuesday, Mrs. DeGroat, 70, who for the past year had been suffering from lymphoma, fell in their Chase home and was taken by ambulance to the emergency room at Franklin Square.

While his wife went to have an X-ray, Mr. DeGroat, 74, and his daughter, Deborah Tate, who had accompanied her mother in the ambulance, and his son-in-law, Fred Tate, went to the hospital cafeteria to get something to eat.

"We were with him when he was stricken with a brain aneurysm," Mrs. Tate of Rosedale recalled yesterday. "He had just finished his dinner ... when he collapsed."

Mr. DeGroat, who never regained consciousness, was placed on life support, while his wife was admitted to the hospital.

On Thursday, Mrs. DeGroat was taken to her husband's second-floor hospital room to be reunited for a few minutes.

"We took her down there so she could see him for the last time," the couple's eldest son, Kenneth DeGroat of Finksburg, said yesterday. "And then on Friday, she took a turn for the worse."

Kenneth DeGroat and his siblings asked hospital officials if it would be all right if their father and mother were in the same room, and they agreed.

Because Mr. DeGroat was unconscious and they were told that there was no hope of a recovery, the family made the decision to have him removed from the ventilator Saturday.

An hour later, Mr. DeGroat's bed was gently wheeled through hospital hallways until it was finally placed next to his wife's. A nurse then dropped the bed rails separating the couple.

"They put his hand on top of her hand. She did open her eyes and looked at him. She definitely knew he was with her and then she went back into a coma," said Carolyn DeGroat, a daughter-in-law. "The nurses were crying. Everyone was crying."

For the next 36 hours, the inseparable hands did not move until death did them part at 6:15 a.m. yesterday, when Mrs. DeGroat, surrounded by her son Kenneth and his wife, Carolyn, and her daughter Deborah, died.

Later that morning, Mrs. Tate and a nephew were at Mr. DeGroat's bedside when he passed away five hours and 40 minutes after his wife.

Their love affair began more than 50 years ago as a result of a Tupperware party.

Mr. DeGroat was living with a sister, Mildred Reid, in Middle River when he met his future wife.

"He went to a Tupperware party to pick up my mother, and he saw this really good-looking, petite blonde and wanted her phone number," said a niece, Janice Reid of Stewartstown, Pa. "They dated for eight months before marrying in 1957."

Selma Mae Holder, the daughter of a Baptist minister and a homemaker, was born and raised in Johnson City, Tenn. After graduating from high school, she came to Baltimore looking for work in the early 1950s. Mrs. DeGroat worked for years as a factory worker at Domino Sugar in Locust Point before retiring.

Mr. DeGroat, the son of a politician and a homemaker, was born and raised in Bakersville, N.C.

In 1953, he moved to Baltimore and went to work for Pemco International, manufacturers of porcelain enamel coatings for kitchen and bathroom appliances, barbecue grills and floor tiles, on Eastern Avenue in East Baltimore.

Mr. DeGroat worked for 45 years at Pemco and was a supervisor when he retired more than a decade ago.

While Mrs. DeGroat enjoyed cooking and entertaining family and friends, her husband enjoyed golf trips to Myrtle Beach, S.C.

Together, they enjoyed taking cruises and vacationing in Ocean City, and also liked visiting family in Tennessee and North Carolina.

"It is a love story. As sad as it is, it's a love story," Carolyn DeGroat said.

The couple are also survived by three other sons, Michael DeGroat of Columbia, Mitch DeGroat of Essex and Mark DeGroat of Lexington, Ky.; 11 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.

Mrs. DeGroat is also survived by two sisters, Hassie Hodge of Johnson City and Ruby Lyons of Bakersville.

Mr. DeGroat is also survived by two sisters, Mildred Reid of Stewartstown and Doris Leford of Bakersville.

Plans for a joint funeral service were incomplete yesterday.

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