A combined 180 years of marriage was celebrated yesterday in Dannevirke by three couples who were married in St John's Anglican Church on April 21, 1956, by Canon Gardiner.

"It's quite remarkable we all still live in Dannevirke," Jim Kernaghan said.

First down the aisle were Jill (nee Berntsen) and John Burn at 11.30am, followed by Judy (nee Anderson) and Jim Kernaghan at 4pm and Margaret (nee Berg) and Robin Larsen at 5.30pm.

"My dad had to milk the cows first," Margaret said. "Then we had to drive around the block when we arrived at the church as the Kernaghan wedding was still leaving."

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Jim and Judy Kernaghan met at a St Patrick's dance in Dannevirke in 1954, when the then Judy Anderson was just 18.

"It was one of those dances where the girls sat along one side of the hall and the men on the other," Jim recalled.

Although they didn't know each other until that first dance and Judy's mother wasn't about to allow her daughter out with a young man at that stage, she did relent when a group "date" was organised some time later.

So what was the attraction?

"Judy had a nice personality and was very easy to get on with," Jim said. For Judy the attraction was mutual.

Jim and Judy Kernaghan after their marriage in Dannevirke's St John's Anglican Church on April 21, 1956.
Jim and Judy Kernaghan after their marriage in Dannevirke's St John's Anglican Church on April 21, 1956.

After their marriage, life was "full on".

"Jim had his business which I joined him in after our five children had arrived. We took our five kids on caravaning holidays. When we were first married we built a house in Windsor St. It only had two bedrooms, so we enlarged it as the children arrived, but then when number five came along, we built a two-storey house in Ranfurly St. When all the kids left home we downsized again."

Gardening has always been a labour of love for the couple.

"I've always had a musical background, too," Judy said.

Judy began playing piano for the Lions Pride 30 years and her husband eventually joined the choir.

"If you can't beat them, then join them and I love the choir now," he said.

The Dannevirke Lions Club has played a big part in the Kernaghans' lives and this year Jim has been a member for 50 years.

"It's our big year of celebrations," he said. "Fifty years with Lions, Judy is 80 and it's our 60th wedding anniversary."

For the Burns and the Larsens the Country Girls and Young Farmers is where they met and courted.

"Not long after I left high school Jill's dad gave me a job on his Rua Roa sheep and beef farm and later Jill was the chairwoman of Country Girls and I was chairman of Young Farmers, so we spent a lot of time in the Te Rehunga Hall," John said. "Mind you, it was the girls meeting in the supper room and the boys in the main hall."

Despite sharing similar interests, it was a "good few years" before the pair got together, Jill said.

After 60 years of marriage, their recipe for a happy life is simple.

"It's about respect," John said. "We don't always agree, but we don't go into blazing rows."

For Jill it's about looking after each other and family.

John and Jill Burn on their wedding day, April 21, 1956 in Dannevirke.
John and Jill Burn on their wedding day, April 21, 1956 in Dannevirke.

With four boys, the first two born in Hamilton when John was at the Ruakura Research Station and the twins born when the couple were farming at Conoor, east of Dannevirke, it's been 60 wonderful years, Jill said.

"Our kids loved the farm and we live and enjoy each day as it comes.

"I'm one of five Bernsten sisters and John has one sister, so it's great when we all get together."

And while they find it hard to single out just one special moment, John and Jill said a trip to Africa with eight family members was a highlight.

"We went on safari, slept in tents in game parks and paddled down the Zambezi River with crocodiles and hippos. It was a real experience," John said.

Robin Larsen told the Dannevirke News he's proud to part of the history-making wedding trio.

Robin and Margaret (nee Berg) Larsen, married on April 21, 1956 by Canon Gardiner at St John's Anglican Church Dannevirke.
Robin and Margaret (nee Berg) Larsen, married on April 21, 1956 by Canon Gardiner at St John's Anglican Church Dannevirke.

"It's something, because we were all born in Dannevirke, married here and still living in the town today," he said.

"It only seems like yesterday Margaret and I were married. It's gone so quickly."

Both from farming families, they shared mutual interests and spent two years courting.

"Margaret worked at the Dannevirke Power Board and I used to bike seven miles to my job at Mangatera, earning 1, 7shillings and sixpence," Robin said. "I then went to work at the dairy factory at Umaturoa making cheese, before driving a milk tanker. After sharemilking for three years, I went and worked on Margaret's father's farm, before we eventually purchased it. It's been a good life."

Socialising at the Te Rehunga Hall was a big part of their life and their wedding reception was held there in 1956.

With friends and family keen to leave a message on their honeymoon car, the Larsens were tracked down to the Palmerston North Hotel, where their car was plastered in brown stickers with messages.

"There was also bacon on the manifold," Margaret said. "The smell of bacon was dreadful, but those were the days ... "

Eventually arriving in Rotorua, the smell of the thermal area reminded Robin of rotting eggs, so he was put off bacon and eggs for a very long time.

Margaret said patience was the key to 60 years of marriage and Robin said they never went to sleep on an argument. "The longest I had to stay awake was six days," he chuckled. "But if anyone says they've gone through marriage without an argument, they're telling lies."

With two children, Stephanie and David, and five grandchildren, Robin said they've just "plodded along through life".

After a church service at St John's yesterday the three anniversary couples shared lunch at Mangatera Hotel.

The Larsens are celebrating with 50 guests tomorrow, with their son due home from Burkina Faso in west Africa where he works for a drilling company.