Over the course of the next three weeks, The Crossroads Chronicle will be sharing local love stories in the spirit of Valentine’s Day. From these couples to you, enjoy!
Leannas Café was bustling Monday morning, but for Dess and Ginny Smith, they were the only two in the room. The couple who recently celebrated their golden jubilee in December sat next to one another, Dess snacking on a breakfast goodie and Ginny drinking her coffee. The two were laughing about something—specifics unclear yet irrelevant. The look in their eyes during that moment said enough, but Dess silently and unknowingly made that instant even sweeter when he put his hand over his bride’s and gave it a little lighthearted shake. It’s the little things that matter, after all.
Their courtship, like most, started with a friendship. Dess and Ginny met back in 1960 when he dated her sister, Anne. Another 10 years would pass before they became official. Anne moved on, found the love of her life, and married. In 1970, Dess asked Ginny on a first date that April and says he fell head over heels in love that very night. Ginny, however, says he simply caught up with her.
“I reckon I’ve always loved Dess. When he dated my sister, I was 11. I had a crush on him at the time,” she said with a chuckle. Needless to say when Dess asked her to accompany him to a Jaycee meeting in Waynesboro, she happily obliged.
“It hit me hard,” Dess followed up his wife’s comment about their first courting. “I fell in love on the first date. I had known her for 10 years, and she got me. It was on then!”
With such a solid foundation, the love birds didn’t tarry around when it came to moving along in their relationship. By late summer 1970, Dess had concocted a perfect plan to make Ginny his for good. She had signed a contract to teach over in Houston County and planned to live and work there with her best friend, Mary. Not to miss his shot, Dess went to see a principal at one of the local schools. His goal was to land Mary a job here, and it worked. When Mary came to Swainsboro, she, of course, brought Ginny with her. The girlfriends began teaching here shortly after that “deal” was solidified, and they found a place in the area to live together. By fall, Dess was ready to pop the question.
“I decided I was going to marry her. Even though I thought I knew the answer she would give me, I was still nervous. There wasn’t a big proposal… The important thing was the question and her answer,” Dess recalled.
Ginny’s take is pretty similar. According to her, Dess came over to her apartment one night to visit. She was sitting in her chair when he got down on one knee and asked the question of a lifetime, a question that would shape the rest of her life. In disbelief, she laughed—but she said yes in the end.
In a ceremony officiated by Rev. Sam Ingram, the two married in December 1970 at First Baptist Church in Tennille. Dess’s brothers served as groomsmen. His dad was best man. Ginny looked to her sister, cousin, and two roommates as well as her brother, who ultimately gave her away since her dad (and her mom) passed away before she was a teenager. (On that note, Ginny claims the sweetest part about her marriage to Dess is the fact that her dad met her to-be husband in their younger years before his passing.)
Right away, the newlyweds set out for their honeymoon. They traveled to Augusta on their wedding night and departed the next morning for a stay in a chalet in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. They spent almost a week there, making memories that would live in their hearts forever. Little did Dess and Ginny know, they would return to that same chalet, nearly unchanged at all with the exception of the replacement of the original wood-burning stove, for their 25th anniversary in 1995 as well as their 50th anniversary in 2020.
In the years since their honeymoon, the Smiths have built a beautiful life here in Swainsboro and an even more beautiful marriage. Their first home was on Racetrack Street. After about five years, they moved to North Main, where they stayed from 1975 to 1987. Their most recent move in 1987 would be their last; they purchased the house Dess grew up in and have been there for almost 33 years now.
Four children—Dess, Mary Ellen, Richard, and Anna Kate—were raised inside those different walls. Nine grandchildren and five, soon to be six, great-grandchildren have followed. The amount of love Dess and Ginny have for all of their family continues to grow, as does the amount of love they have for one another as husband and wife.
Their marriage, of course, has evolved over the years. In the earliest stages, the Smiths enjoyed different things. As they’ve gotten older, their interests have melded. For instance, they greatly enjoy traveling together; they’ve camped in every single one of the continental United States. They also love a good western movie.
What’s more, though… They’ve figured out what works. Dess worked a variety of jobs over the years. From being in the Army National Guard to dairy distributorship to working for Fast Go Oil and Lube to ironworking, he finally retired in 2011. Ginny, on the other hand, retired from teaching after 40 years in education a year later in 2012. To avoid being stifled by the sudden change, the couple found a working outlet for both of them in community involvement. Today, they’ve found a balance. Dess is part of the Kiwanis Club and serves as registrar for numerous SAR chapters in the region. He’s also part of the Methodist Men, the historical society, the Dixie Theatre committee, and the Pine Tree Festival committee. His wife, on the other hand, is a member of the Seedling Garden Club, the Kiwanis Club, the DAR, the UDC, and is active in the First Methodist Church.
That’s not to imply their entire marriage needed a balance. Some things, the Smiths say, just work themselves out naturally.
“It has just gotten better and better, being married. We fuss sometimes, sure… If anyone tells you they don’t fuss in a marriage, they’re not being truthful. I look at it like this: how boring would our life be without the occasional fuss? When our children hear us fussing and tell us not to, we always respond with, ‘We’re not fussing, we’re discussing!’” Dess said with a laugh, looking at his wife. “Your love just grows. There’s no way to explain it, but that’s what happens. And as your love grows, so does your respect and your commitment to your spouse.”
Ginny echoed those sentiments, but she added an important part of her own. “Any time we have an issue, we pray about it. We didn’t always do that… One day, we just started holding hands and prayed aloud. It’s a bold move, but you just have to do it. It makes a world of difference.”
That’s precisely the kind of man she asked God for in her youth. Their love story, in that way, is a testament to the old adage, “Ask and you shall receive.” About her husband, Ginny said, “He’s just a good ol’ boy. He’s a great American, a great soldier, a great father… The most honest person I’ve ever known, and I can trust him. I love him with everything in me. He’s a good man. I prayed in college the Lord would send me an honest, sober man that would love his family. God fulfilled His promise to me.”
Likewise, Dess says his lovely wife was a gift from God Himself as well. “I know God gave me Ginny. She was gorgeous, smart, hard-working. She loved children and was all about family, and that’s what we’re all about.”
Both of the Smiths agree they somehow bring out the best in each other, and that’s one component to a healthy marriage. When asked about the secret to a long-lasting marriage, the Smiths’ advice is relatively simple. Take your vows seriously from the very beginning. Have high standards for one another and hold each other accountable. Don’t pout in a marriage. Communicate with your partner. Forgive and forget. Pray with all your soul and love with all your might. If you do all that, you may be well on your way to a little chalet in Gatlinburg to celebrate your own 50th anniversary in the future.