Local couple still holding hands after 70 years
Originally published at Muskogee Phoenix – 23 June 2018.
Raymond Sewell wakes up every day, makes himself breakfast and drives to Broadway Manor to see his wife of 70 years, June Sewell.
The Sewells celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary May 23. The couple are survivors of the Great Depression and were Oklahoma educators. Raymond is a World War II veteran.
June was diagnosed with dementia after she experienced a decrease in health in 2016. She has lived at Broadway Manor for just under a year.
Raymond said the adjustment to his wife living in a nursing home was difficult, but they have both adjusted and now see Broadway Manor as home. He said when he visits his wife they talk, hold hands and simply spend time with each other.
“She still likes to hold hands, likes to be touched,” Raymond said. “She’ll say ‘come and hug me.’ That’s one of the basic needs that people have, and she still has it.”
Raymond said the secret to their long marriage is simply to love and want to take care of each other.
After being drafted into the war Raymond was stationed in India. When he made his way home to Oklahoma, he enrolled in East Central University at the age of 24, where June also attended. Raymond first saw his wife at a football game in 1947.
He saw her standing in the bleachers with a friend and thought she was cute, so he sat next to her.
“I had her telephone number before the game was over, but it took me a year to get a ring on her finger,” Raymond said. “She was stubborn, but she’s been nice ever since.”
The two were married in 1948 and both pursued careers in education. Raymond said living through the Great Depression and World War II gave both of them a desire to help others.
“I tried to do for kids what my teacher did for me,” Raymond said. “When you’re at the bottom of the barrel, you see what life is like and how hard it is and you have more empathy for others. I have understanding for poverty.”
The couple both worked in schools across the state — East Walnut, Hennessey, Okmulgee, Henryetta, Braggs and Muskogee. They moved from Henryetta to Muskogee in 1975 and never left.
Raymond received a Master of Education and doctorate in curriculum and instruction from Oklahoma State University, while June received a Master of English from Oklahoma State University. They both taught at Bacone College before she taught at Muskogee Public Schools, and he become Superintendent of Braggs Public Schools.
Even after she had retired, June continued to teach through volunteering her time with local Hispanic students who needed help learning English. Because of her volunteer work and dedication to education, she received the Daily Point of Light Presidential Award. The award began with President George H.W. Bush’s 1989 inaugural address and then became a nonprofit award administration called “Points of Light.”
Despite June Sewell’s dementia, she continues to recite poetry with her husband, daughter and nursing staff. Her husband and daughter, Lana Reed, help her continue to engage her passion of poetry and literature by reciting Shakespeare and “The Raven” by Edgar Allen Poe.
Reed quotes an opening line from “The Raven” to prompt her mother’s memory.
“Once upon a midnight dreary,” Reed said.
“While I pondered, weak and weary,” June said.
She pointed at Raymond and said, “it’s his turn.”
“I couldn’t hold a candle to you. You’re too good,” Raymond said.
June said her favorite thing about her life with her husband is the children they raised: Sheila Sewell, Frank Sewell and Reed. Frank Sewell died in 2016. Raymond agreed with his wife and said his family is what he is most proud of.
In addition to their three children, the Sewells have nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.