By DAVID LLOYD JONES
SURPRISE AT GRACE: Marc Manning surprised Jenny Ator, a nurse at the Grace Living Center in Jenks, with the engagement ring he brought to his bride to be. Residents, in on the secret, displayed signs saying, “Will You Marry Me???? She said yes.
SHARON CAMERON for GTR Newspapers
Sometimes true love can need a little nudge.
Or a gentle push.
Or a hearty shove.
Or get kicked off a cliff and see where it lands.
Consider the case of Marc Manning and Jenny Ator.
Four years ago Marc, then 32 and never married and working for a geriatric facility in Vinita, took a couple to the Southern Hills Retirement Center in Tulsa. A remarkable couple they were, too, with the husband being 102 and the wife 101 and with 81 years of marriage behind them.
When Marc arrived at the Southern Hills facility, he asked to speak to the head nurse. Alas, she wasn’t available at the moment. Indeed the only employee who could help was Jenny Ator, who was working in the front office.
Jenny, used to handling only the paperwork of the facility, couldn’t come up with a wheelchair for the wife on the spur of the moment, so Marc lent her one of his.
That meant Marc had to come back the next day to get his wheelchair, which meant he again had to talk to Jenny once more. He called her again to make sure the couple was doing well. Then he called her again, and again. In time the welfare of the couple became of a secondary nature in the calls and the relationship of Marc and Jenny took over.
“We started going out,” recalls Jenny. “After a few weeks we were inseparable.”
Jenny was then 30 and had three children by a previous marriage. Marc and the kids hit it off. Baseball and football games and dancing lessons became part of the routine of the confirmed bachelor who had to put considerable mileage on his car to keep the relationship going since Jenny lives in Vera (between Tulsa and Bartlesville) and Marc lives in Grove.
Jenny wanted to get a degree in nursing, and for two years of their courtship she was in school. “Marc was enormously supportive,” she recalls.
After her graduation from nursing school, Jenny became employed by the Grace Living Center in Jenks.
Still, there were doubts about the relationship. Marc’s grandmother was the first to suggest they get married. They weren’t sure. They did a trial separation to see if they were really as much a pair as they thought. After roughly one agonizing month the separation was breached.
Things continued as they had been going with the marriage movement confined to lethargic inertia. In short, nothing was happening.
“Finally, last August, I said we shouldn’t see each other until a decision had been made,” says Jenny. “We didn’t contact each other for over a month.”
It gave Marc time to reflect: life with Jenny seemed infinitely preferable to life without Jenny. Finally he called Joanna Birkenholtz, the Family Liaison at Grace Living Center in Jenks where Jenny was now working and asked her for advice. If he came and tried to kick-start the relationship should he bring flowers?
Joanna suggested something more substantial, like something round, and hollow, and preferably with a jewel attached. Marc agreed.
“I should have suspected something when Anita Foster (a close friend) casually asked me what my ring size was,” confesses Jenny. But she didn’t suspect anything.
Everyone at Grace Living Center but Jenny, it seems, was in on the grand conspiracy. Jenny was sent to the far reaches of the center when Marc slipped into the facility; ring in hand (he’d brought flowers too, just for reinforcement). When he was safely ensconced she was called to the common room.
There she saw Marc, standing somewhat awkwardly, while behind him three of the center’s residents were sitting in wheelchairs holding up signs that said, collectively, “WILL YOU MARRY ME?”
Then Marc knelt down and popped the question.
You can guess what the answer was.
The wedding is set for next October.