Longtime Love Birds: Paul and Ellenor Whiteman Married 82 Years
By Julie Perine on May 20, 2012
Paul Whiteman had popped the question in her family living room, getting down on both knees and presenting her with a basket-set, diamond and gold ring. He had ridden his Harley Davidson to her Bridgeport Main Street residence. It was cold outside, but he soon got warmed up.
“Back then, you only heated one room in the house. They had a fire lit in the livingroom before I came in,” Paul Whiteman said.
The couple cozied up on a satee, Ellenor remembers and they had to sit “pretty close together.”
That was more than 82 years ago, but the excitement is fresh.
So is the love affair between Ellenor and Paul Whiteman. It’s obvious when you hear them talk, look at each other – or tease one another in a most affectionate way.
The term of endearment which Paul uses for his wife is “Honey,” but he often throws in the nickname, “Short.”
“She used to be short and fat as a little girl, but now she’s tall and skinny,” said Paul about the apple of his eye, the former Ellenor Lawson.
The couple shared the story of how they started dating in 1927 while attending youth group, “Christian Endeavors,” held at Methodist Protestant Church. He was the best catch at Bridgeport High School, good looking and an “all around good fellow,” Ellenor said.
She, with her brown, wavy hair, was pretty and friendly, Paul said.
Each weekday, he traveled by foot from his family residence on Maple Ave. to her home on Main Street to walk her to BHS, then located on “Trolley Terrace,” atop Orchard Street.
“I had a big, corduroy, sheep-lined coat and she used to put her hands in my pocket to keep warm,” Paul said. ‘I’d put mine in there, too."
During winter weekends, the couple often went sled riding on closed-down city streets. As Ellenor remembered those wintertime dates, she threw her head back and laughed.
The couple’s courtship came full circle when they went from going steady to being engaged. A short engagement it was, said Paul, as he told the story about their trip to Spencer to tie the knot on Jan. 11, 1930. Clara and Richard Earl Lawson had approved of their daughter's marriage to Paul and even the road trip down state, but there was one condition.
“He said Ellenor wasn’t riding on that ‘thing,’” said Paul, grinning ear to ear.
So they left the Harley at home and took the Lawsons’ black and white 1927 Chevy Cavalier, a soft top with a rumble seat.
The reason for the off-site wedding was so that the Rev. Paul P. Holden, who previously was the couple’s pastor at Methodist Protestant Church, could do the honors.
Ellenor remembers her wedding ensemble, purchased at Parsons-Souders Co., to a T.
“It was a crepe dress with points about six inches below the hem all around. It had a long waist with a bow at the side. It was between lavender and purple, a real rich color,” she said. “The shoes were patent leather, high heels, with three straps across the arch.”
Her groom was attired in a flecked, black, double-breasted, three-piece suit.
After the ceremony, the Rev. Holden gave the young couple some heartfelt advice before sending them on their way.
“He told us to never let the sun go down on our anger,” Ellenor said. “And we never did.”
The honeymoon was a one-night stay at the Blennerhassett Hotel in Parkersburg. The newlyweds returned to live with Ellenor’s parents while Paul worked for Midland Gas Company by day and attended business college by night. The school was located overtop Byard-Mercer Drug Store, Paul said.
“I came home to Bridgeport on the last street car of the day,” he said. “If I didn’t make it, I’d be in trouble.”
Paul’s next job was with National Carbon Company. By then, the couple had their own home on Lawman Ave.
“When we bought the house, it had two rooms and ‘a path,’” Paul said. “We built onto it.”
Paul came home one early evening to find Ellenor ironing under some shade trees in the backyard, a spot she frequented.
“I got home from work and told her I wasn’t going back,” said Paul, adding that he was unfulfilled at his job.
He subsequently worked with one of his four brothers installing furnaces and eventually established Paul Whiteman Construction, building houses until he retired in 1972.
The couple raised two children: Richard, born in 1935; and Carolyn Sue (Moninger), born in 1939.
“They were both angels,” Ellenor said.
Ellenor was a homemaker – and a very good one, Paul said. She sewed clothes for the kids and could cook like no other. His favorite dinner was steak and potatoes with chocolate pie for dessert. She could also make a mean sugar cookie from scratch, he said.
Through the years, Ellenor was also an artist, creating landscape portraits, some of which she sold and others to accent their own home.
The family stayed active in the United Methodist Church, the successor of Methodist Protestant Church. Both Paul and Ellenor were longtime, faithful Sunday School teachers.
The family often traveled together, in the mountains of West Virginia and across the country with the “Airstream Trailer Club.”
“We were in every state of the union and I think every capital,” Paul said.
They also took several trips abroad, sometimes just the two of them. On one European excursion, they visited London, Germany, Switzerland and France. And, yes, they kissed atop The Eiffel Tower – more than once, Ellenor said.
The only job Ellenor had outside their home was keeping books for her husband’s business.
“You were afraid to trust another woman; weren’t you, Honey?” Paul teased.
The Whitemans proudly showed off their high school yearbook; Paul, of the class of 1927, listed as president of the civics club and a member of the Operetta. He was also an athlete, playing baseball and football. Ellenor, two years his junior, attended all of her boyfriend’s football games, standing along the sidelines to cheer for him. They didn’t have bleachers then, they said. Ellenor was also a school socialite, her favorite organization being “The 13 Club,” she said.
Just after talking about their high school days, the couple turned their attention to a group of photos on the wall and pointed out their grandchildren, Richard Paul and Daniel Whiteman and Gregory and the late Leslie Moninger and their great-grandchildren, Tyler, Shelby, Matthew and Courtney Whiteman.
The Whitemans lived in their Lawman Ave. home for close to 80 years.
“I wanted to build her a new house, but she just loved those trees,” Paul said.
Their son Richard said they have been a living testament to love and marriage.
“They’ve always just done everything together – the whole 82 years,” he said.