Love is in the air! Mr. and Mrs. Harden celebrate 43 years


As part of an ongoing series, The Crossroads Chronicle is sharing local love stories in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. From these couples to you, enjoy!


Willie and Joyce Harden are as sweet as they come. In an interview on Monday, the two agreed they’re perfect for one another—but they’ve also worked to become one in marriage over the years.


Their story starts back in 1976. Both of them are natives of Swainsboro, and they both attended Emanuel County Elementary and High School prior to integration. When integration happened, the two moved to Swainsboro High School in the same year, 1969. However, oddly enough, Willie and Joyce say they don’t remember crossing paths in their high school days. Instead, they met at the place that matters most… Mount Moriah AME Church on Green Street in town.


“Willie played the drums for a gospel group. I went to a sing at Mount Moriah with a friend,” Joyce recalled.


“And she fell in love with me!” Willie exclaimed, filling in the gaps. The two laughed in harmony at his witty yet true interjection. What happened next for the lovebirds is something you seen in a romance movie. He walked Joyce to her car and asked her if she was seeing someone. The Hardens both contest they don’t remember her answer, but Willie’s next move was as smooth as butter. “I told her if she was and he wasn’t treating her right, I’d like to take her out.”


And that’s pretty much what happened next. The two began dating shortly thereafter, but the dating scene four decades ago was much different than it is today. Willie and Joyce, for the most part, only saw each other at church. Some phone calls and a few visits took place intermittently, but their relationship was, in a literal sense, mostly centered around God and His house.


“It didn’t take us long to figure out we wanted to get married,” Willie said. The Hardens agreed that couples back in those days were taught that if you wanted to pursue marital things like living together, sharing finances, and starting a family, there was no need to put off the inevitable. The evolution of their own courtship was no different. “We talked about it some, and I asked her if she would marry me. Her response was, ‘You have to ask my dad.’ Of course, I was a little shaky. I didn’t know how he’d feel, but I eventually built up the nerve to go ask him.”


More specifically, Joyce says her now-husband first went to her mom, the easier one of her parents to approach about the proposition. “We just clicked. We felt like this was it, and we wanted to get married right away. At the same time, my daddy didn’t play. He told me, ‘You’re not going anywhere if that boy doesn’t come ask for you!’ So I told Willie that. After he talked to my mom, he went to my dad, who gave his blessing.”


With the nerve-racking deed done, the couple swapped vows July 3, 1977 at 3 p.m. at Mount Moriah with Rev. Bennie Brinson, one of Joyce’s teachers at East Georgia, officiating. It wasn’t a big wedding, but it was Christ-centered—and that was what mattered.


Not much has changed today in terms of their relationship’s focus. The couple, although they were both raised in the rural part of Swainsboro, made their first home inside the city limits in a cute little house on Pughsley Street. A year later, they moved to their current home on Youngblood Street. There, they’ve raised their family, which includes three daughters: Vanessa, Stephanie, and Tracy. The Hardens have also welcomed their grandsons and one great-granddaughter inside those same walls.


Joyce and Willie have learned a lot in their almost half-century long marriage. Joyce spent her entire life working as a nurse for different medical facilities while her husband, on the other hand, split his life’s work between Roper, Ogeechee Behavioral, the Army National Guard, and FedEx. The common thread among them has always been their faith, and that remains true today. Lots of what they’ve learned has to do with religion and the importance of being religious together as husband and wife.


“You have to have Christ Jesus at the center of your marriage,” Joyce advised. She and her husband have led Love in Action Worship Center in Swainsboro for the last nine years, so that piece of advice comes as no surprise to the congregants and worshippers they’ve met along the way. However, the Hardens literally practice what they preach. “We pray together. We read the Bible together. I prayed early on in life for God to send me the right husband, and I can honestly say Willie is an answered prayer. He has always been very nice to me, never spoken a harsh word to me. We’ve been married 43 years with no cheating, no affairs. That said, marriage can be beautiful, but you have to work at it.”


And work they have. Over the years, Willie and Joyce have realized what the sanctity of marriage entails. For instance, the couple says you should never advertise your problems to anyone else; certain things should remain private between husband, wife, and Jesus.


In addition, couples should embrace their differences, not try to change one another, figure out a good coping strategy for problems, apologize when necessary, forgive when necessary, share household work, appreciate and trust each other, and communicate 24/7.


“We had challenges in the beginning, like transitioning to living with each other and figuring out our finances as a married couple and raising a family… But we’ve made it work because of our family and because of our commitment to God and each other. It’s been the best decision I’ve ever made, marrying Joyce. We’ve been blessed to see all these years together, and I pray we see many more.”


One of their earliest memories as a married couple, Willie said, emphasizes the importance of family. He once had a bicycle with an extra seat attached. One day, he rode a young Stephanie around town so long she fell asleep. He held the handlebars with one hand and her with the other until they reached their house. Once he arrived, he called out for Joyce to come help him so their daughter wouldn’t fall over or wake up. His wife met him halfway down the driveway with a smile.


“I can’t think of another man I’d rather be with. My husband is a kind man, a wonderful dad, and a great grandpa. It is so good to be married and have freedom, trust, and love. No one knows me as well as Willie does, and no one knows Willie like I do. You grow to love each other even more than the day you met. There’s never a dull moment,” Joyce said. “I would tell anyone not to let what you see on television fool you. The make-believe things you see aren’t real. It’s not always perfect, but it’s always worth it.”


The couple’s best advice, in short, for a long, healthy, lasting marriage is to not get caught up in someone’s looks because time will always change that. Instead, focus on the person’s heart. Pray for your significant other, and avoid a mentality that defaults to divorce when things get tough. Lastly, treat each other like you want to be treated and lean on God. For 43 years, Joyce has been a “happily married woman” and Willie has been a “happily married man,” so they must be doing something right.

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