SEVENTY-TWO years ago, a young couple met at a dance, fell in love and began a partnership that has stood the test of time.
On Friday 22 April, Mount Martha couple Gerry and Val McKenna, pictured, celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary and reflected on the strength of a loving union that has lasted more than seven decades.
Mrs McKenna, 94, said her husband Gerry, 96, was “a wonderful man” who had been a loving husband and father.
There was no “secret” to their strong union other than shared interests, music, travel, working together and being dedicated to raising a family, she said.
The couple have lived in Mount Martha for about 30 years, but before that lived in Moonee Ponds, where Mrs McKenna taught at the Hyde Street Primary School, and Gerry was a toolmaker and pennant swimmer who gravitated to swimming instructor when they moved to Wangaratta several years later.
Only recently, Mrs McKenna reflected that their early years came back to them when their 72-year-old meals-on-wheels volunteer instantly recognised Mr McKenna as her swim instructor from Wangaratta more than 50 years ago.
“She was actually Gerry’s first champion swimmer who won a Melbourne freestyle event, so it was quite special,” Mrs McKenna said.
“It’s incredible that she remembered, but when we opened the door, she just said ‘Oh, it’s my Mr McKenna’.”
Much of the couple’s life has been about following intuition, such as when they bought a farm in Melbourne’s west “by chance” and decided self-sufficiency was for them.
“One of my student’s parents were selling their farm, so we thought ‘why not’ and so began our life on the land,” Mrs McKenna said.
“It really was as simple as that, and we just loved it, loved the freedom and self-sufficiency, and the space.”
That wasn’t the only change that shaped the McKennas’ life. At one stage they owned a newsagency, were active members of Community Aid Abroad (now Oxfam), and formed the Broadford Environment Action Movement, which is still going. Mrs McKenna also became a justice of the peace – a post she held until recently – and was an original member of the Southern Women’s Action Network on the peninsula.
Apart from inviting many high-profile female speakers to the region, including Joan Kirner, SWAN is an influential and highly respected community group that disseminates ideas and invites women’s opinions on a wide range of essential community issues.
The couple, who had three children – two who are deceased – also shared a love of music, with Mrs McKenna playing and teaching piano for many years, and Gerry being a trumpet player in a band when they met.