MARQUETTE - Barbara White thought she was going out to dinner Tuesday with her husband, Philip, but was in for a huge surprise.
In turn, so was her husband.
The occasion was the 60th anniversary of the couple's first date, which took place Nov. 26, 1953 on what was Thanksgiving Day. In honor of that anniversary, Phil had told Barbara he wanted to buy her dinner, but instead hatched a plan for the pair to return to the site of that first date: The Nordic Theater in downtown Marquette.
Philip White made a special movie ticket for his wife, Barbara, in honor of the 60th anniversary of their first date at the Nordic Theater, which no longer exists. GKC Cinema employees Elizabeth Wentela and Jed Mentzel look on as Phil presents the ticket to his wife of 58 years. The couple holds the popcorn and roses they were presented by the young GKC staff members at Book World, where the anniversary date took place. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
The problem is the theater no longer exists.
But Phil didn't see that as an issue. Instead, he went to Book World, the business that now occupies the first-date site, and spoke with its manager Lee LaForge. Phil was hoping for a chance to set up a TV, DVD player and two chairs in the store so the couple could again view the movie from the first date, "The Redheads from Seattle."
Instead, LaForge went all out, calling friends to help make the date anniversary a special celebration.
"We have the Elements of Consignment who loaned us some nice padded chairs and Donckers who loaned us some velvet ropes from the old Delft Theater," LaForge said. "Then we have a flower bouquet from Flower Works on Third Street and two employees are coming from GKC (Cinemas) to bring a bucket of popcorn and deliver the flowers."
LaForge also borrowed a projector and screen from friends, then Book World employee Nina Purtee went out to find glass bottles of Sprite, which is what the couple enjoyed with their popcorn 60 years before. Miles Glendening, another Book World employee, parked a car in front of the store so he could move it as the Whites pulled up, affording them "front row" parking.
"We wanted to do everything we could to make things special," LaForge said. "In this day and age most people's first date is set up on a computer. The traditional date is gone and now people 'hang out' instead.
"We hope Phil and his wife are able to take a step back in time. That's my goal."
LaForge was at his other job when the couple arrived, so Purtee escorted the Whites to the back of the store - to "see a display," Phil had told Barbara - but instead they were ushered into the temporary mini-movie theater, with GKC employees Jed Mentzel and Elizabeth Wentela waiting to present them with the bucket of popcorn and the bouquet of flowers.
Barb was a bit thunderstruck.
"I thought we were just going to dinner. This has totally blown me away," she said. "Who'd have ever thought we would have a 60th anniversary of our first date at the Nordic?"
Even Phil, who got the plan started, was amazed at all the effort that had gone into making the occasion special.
"I most especially thank Lee LaForge and all the staff here and all the people who helped," he said. "This has been incredible."
Phil told a wee bit of a tall tale about how the couple met, then shared the real story.
"I first time I saw her, I threw a snowball at her from across the street at the Delft Theater," he said. "Then I called her the next day for a date. I suggested we go to a movie, but she said it was Thanksgiving and she didn't know if there'd be a movie playing. But I told her there would be."
Barb added, "We went to see 'The Redheads from Seattle' even though he already watched it the night before."
Phil White was 19 and Barbara DePetro was 17. The couple married on Sept. 10, 1955.
"We went on to have four wonderful children and nine wonderful grandchildren," Phil said.
As the young ushers, the Book World staff and the reporter got ready to exit the makeshift movie theater to allow the couple some privacy, Phil explained he had purchased his copy of "The Redheads from Seattle" a few years back.
"She has seen it at home before, but was not expecting to see it tonight," he said. "It runs for 90 minutes."
With a smile, Barb said, "Wait, WHAAT? We're not going to dinner yet?"
She reached for the popcorn and the two laughed, settling into their borrowed theater seats to watch once again the film that launched a lifetime of happiness.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org