At 80, Reverend Finds Love's 2nd Chance

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The Reverend Perry Epley and his wife, Tilly, are hardly newlyweds. They've been married for six years now.

But they still act like newlyweds.

"She's just wonderful," Epley gushes.

"He treats me so well," Mrs. Epley swoons.

It's not uncommon for such marital bliss to remain in full blossom. But it is uncommon for two people to experience it in their late 80s.

Epley is 86, and his bride says (as she puts a finger to her lips) that she's 88, although it's impossible to believe. Both of them had previous marriages which ended with the deaths of their spouses he after almost 55 years, and she after 57 years.

"The reason I suppose we got a little delayed on our marriage, much as I was attracted to her, I thought I should be marrying a younger woman. But my son counseled me and said, 'Dad, she's younger than you are!' And I realized, yes, she is."

At first, she wasn't very interested.

"I was busy with my church work," she said. "I didn't want to be bothered."

It wasn't long, however, before she decided that being bothered by Rev. Epley was a very good idea.

Call of God

Born on a farm near Waverly, Iowa, where he remained through high school, Epley studied scientific agriculture at Iowa State College. He was drawn into the ministry in 1937 at the dawn of World War II, when the Army was in dire need of more chaplains.

"I felt I needed to volunteer and get in there with them," he said. "It was the call of God. I had a Christian experience an assurance of salvation and I felt a burden for those who didn't have it."

(At that time, Epley was a member of the Evangelical Church, which went on to a number of different denominations. Today, Epley belongs to the Church of the Nazarene, which he says "holds more strictly to my original denominational commitment.")

While in the service, Epley was sent into Belgium's Battle of the Bulge.

"They had the Germans on the run," Epley remembered. "Sensing the end was near, some of the chaplains refused to leave their troops and take their earned trip back to America until it was all over. So all they needed were a few chaplains, 28 years old and younger. Since I was 29 at the time, I was sent to a general hospital at Nancy, France. That's where my ministry was based.

"I was married and had children by then. Before I had left, my (late) wife, Chalice, gave me a leather-bound pocketbook of Psalms that I carry with me and use all the time to this day."

A new life

After serving alternately in denominational and non-denominational assignments in the Army chaplaincy, Iowa and Colorado, Epley came to Payson in 1980 to be with his son, work as the interim pastor at Ponderosa Baptist Church, and to enjoy an elevation lower than that of Woodland Park's 8,500 feet in Colorado.

"I liked the pine trees of Payson," Epley says with a smile that tells you his enthusiasm hasn't diminished. "We had them in Colorado. I was surprised they had them in Arizona, which was known to me as a desert state."

At that time, both of the Epleys' first spouses were still alive, and the foursome were good friends.

"It was only about six months after Chalice's death that my son said to me, 'Dad, if you find another fine Christian woman like my mother, I'd consider it a compliment to her if you got married.' Well, in the course of time, the Lord brought Tilly and me together in 1995.

"We celebrate our anniversary every month, because at our age you want as many anniversaries as you can get," said the beaming bridegroom. "We've had our 78th anniversary already!"

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