QUINCY -- Doris and Ted Dede still use pet names after 60 years of marriage, still make eyes at each other across the table and are still happy together.
They met at Ted's parents' business, Dede's Tavern, on St. Patrick's Day 1957 -- "the luck of the Irish" Ted calls it. Doris was covering a shift for her mother who worked there as a waitress, and Ted was killing time before a date.
"It was his eyes," Doris said. "They were really dark and piercing. I just melted."
She jokes that they've lost a bit of luster over the years, but she still finds herself fawning over her husband's eyes. Twisting one of the rings he bought her last Christmas, Doris recited the inscription from memory -- "I loved you then, I love you still, always have, always will."
Ted still offers such romantic gestures for no reason other than he wants to. He embraces the "if it's broken, you fix it" mantra that he feels defines his generation. While their relationship never broke, "it certainly got bent a couple of times."
Doris was 16 when they met. Ted was 18. He went on his date that night, out of obligation, but circled back around to the tavern afterward to get Doris' phone number. He waited two weeks to call.
Their first date was at the State Street Theater, after which they parked outside Doris' home and chatted for a couple hours in Ted's shamrock green 1948 Chrysler Coupe. The romance was a whirlwind. They married on Aug. 31, less than six months after they met.
Ted attended Gem City College at the time, favoring basketball and the fraternity life over his studies. Doris -- having dropped out of high school to study a trade instead -- was enrolled in beauty school. Her parents had divorced when she was 13; her younger brother had come down with polio shortly thereafter, and a lot of responsibility had fallen upon Doris from an early age.
"I could bake a cake from scratch at 7 and change diapers two at a time," she said. "I was really not a child at 16 at all."
The couple started out in a tiny 28-by-8-foot trailer. Ted worked at WGEM for 21 years, and quit the station to buy a restaurant, despite knowing very little about running a business.
"It wasn't a good decision," he said with a chuckle.
There was stress over the bills, and four children stretched the budget even further. After their first daugther was born -- they'd been married two years at the time -- they moved to a home on Columbus Road, what Ted called a "cute little house," even though it had no running water. Their next move took them to an apartment at 10th and State. They lived in Springfield for a time, and have since settled into a comfortable home just a block away from their State Street apartment.
A passion for performing
Music has given the couple a creative outlet and provided some relief over the years. A self-taught organist since 16, Ted remembers hearing the Kings, a local lounge group, play for the first time. The performance gave him the idea that he should travel the country as a musician. He enlisted his wife to play organ -- Doris had to find a teacher because she didn't play any instruments -- and with Ted on the drums, their music duo was formed.
"We just started plunking together and making a lot of mistakes," Ted said. "If something sounded good, we would think, ‘We're going to make it.' Then the next three hours would be spent trying to get it to sound the same way again."
Their first paying gig was in 1969, at the country club in Kahoka, Mo. They dressed to the nines -- Ted sporting a tuxedo and Doris in a ballroom gown. Ted thinks they made $100 for that show.
"Babe, I think it was $150," Doris corrected him.
"We were scared to death," Ted said, "but we must have been all right, because they called us back."
That anxiety has clung to them. Even with the two years they spent playing on the road, performing almost nightly at venues across the Midwest, they still get nervous before every show.
"I think if it goes away then we've got to quit, because that would mean we really don't care," Ted said. "I care."
Their venues of choice today are nursing homes and assisted-living homes, and they schedule their shows, primarily at Quincy and Adams County facilities, a year in advance.
They don't claim to be well-versed musicians -- Ted doesn't read music and plays only by ear -- but rather, entertainers. Ted frequently goes on stage wearing a replica of one of Elvis' iconic white jumpsuits. When he wipes his brow and tosses the scarf into the crowd, the women swoon. He has also been known to channel his inner Willie Nelson or Frank Sinatra on stage.
Doris will pass through the audience while singing, handing out paper roses to the men in the crowd as she walks by.
"One gal at Bickford (Assisted Living, Quincy) said, ‘I used to go to Branson a lot. You're bringing Branson to me,' " Doris said, describing the sentiment as a "walloping compliment."
They build their setlist from 367 songs they've learned to play together. Ted dropped the drums along the way to move back to keyboard, pushing Doris front and center to sing.
Performing has strengthened their relationship. Both attribute their love of music to keeping them together through the years.
"Music is therapy," Doris said. "I think it's been that for us. If we're stressed over anything, we go to the music."
Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.