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Married during a pandemic, local couple says no time to waste

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Gary Kuehl and Shirley Olson speak their vows during their April 17 wedding ceremony at St. Mary's Catholic Church in Worthington. Gary's daughter stands as a witness in the background, donning a face mask. (Special to The Globe)
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WORTHINGTON — As many engaged couples alter their wedding plans by delaying or significantly scaling back their ceremony due to restrictions resulting from the global pandemic, a Worthington couple was determined to tie the knot in the face of COVID-19.

When Shirley Olson and Gary Kuehl became engaged after Christmas, the novel coronavirus was circulating in Wuhan, China with reports of dozens of cases of pneumonia-like illness. The virus quickly spread around the world and, in mid-March, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz ordered the shuttering of churches and businesses, with gatherings restricted to 10 people or less.

In Worthington, Shirley and Gary still weren’t concerned about their April 17 nuptials — at that point still a month away. They believed things would be back to normal before their big day.

“With all of this commotion, a person would think we were desperate, and I guess we were because my fiance is 80 years old and I am almost 79,” Shirley shared. “We could have gotten married anytime, but like I said, ‘Time’s a-wastin’.’”

Their rush to the altar didn’t come without a few minor COVID-related predicaments.

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For starters, they couldn’t apply for their marriage license at the Nobles County Government Center because the building was closed to the public. In nearby Rock County, licenses were only being issued one week in advance of the wedding. Waiting until what seemed like the last minute made Shirley and Gary a little nervous, so on March 27 they secured their all-important document at the Lyon County Courthouse in Marshall.

By then, Shirley had already received her mail-order dress, and Gary’s new shirt and tie were ready at The Stag for curbside pick-up. The only thing she was waiting on was her headpiece — a fuchsia-colored flower and veil to match her dress — also via mail order. When it finally arrived a week before the wedding, minus the veil, Shirley made a quick trip to Walmart, where she bought a yard of fuchsia-colored tulle for a mere 97 cents.

“I’ve never sewed anything in my life, so I pinned it with hat pins and it worked just fine,” she quipped.

Father Jim Callahan performed the wedding ceremony at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Worthington on one condition — no more than 10 people could attend.

“We were only planning on inviting 20 people at most,” Shirley said. “I didn’t even send out invitations; that’s how low-key our wedding was going to be. It got really low-key after all this took place.”

Both she and Gary had very small ceremonies for their first weddings more than half a century ago, so this wouldn’t be much different. They narrowed the guest list down to five people — and that included Father Jim. Gary’s daughter and granddaughter were the witnesses, with his daughter doubled as wedding photographer. Shirley’s granddaughter was to sing — and ultimately she did, though it was via CD rather than in person due to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

“Father Jim thought that was the way to have a wedding,” Shirley said with a laugh. “He said, ‘You’ll have to give lessons to other people on how to have a wedding.’

“It is true, people spend a lot of money on weddings,” she added.

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After the ceremony, the happy couple and their witnesses celebrated with wine, cheese and crackers at Shirley’s home.

Less than two weeks later, Gary had hip replacement surgery, propelling Shirley to both wife and nurse. Perhaps he had this timeline all planned, she now jokes.

Their honeymoon was to include a trip to Colorado to attend a wedding on Shirley’s side of the family, but that has since been postponed. From Colorado, the couple planned to travel to Alaska, and they still intend to take that trip when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.

Both Gary and Shirley enjoy travelling, and hope to see parts of the country they didn’t see during their first marriages. Between them, they have a combined 105 years of wedded bliss with their first spouses. Shirley and her late husband, Irwin, celebrated 53.5 years together, while Gary and his late wife, Izzy, were married for 51.5 years. Both couples had resided in Worthington for many years, but didn’t know each other in social circles.

The two met while Shirley was working at Crossroads Care Center and Gary was a driver for People’s Express. Years later, Shirley — at the request of a friend — took over housekeeping duties for the Kuehls. When Izzy died two years after that, Shirley continued to clean house for Gary.

“Gary asked me to go out to lunch one day — he said he hated eating alone,” Shirley recalled. “For a while we’d go have supper together ,and we were just friends at first. Our friendship grew over that time.”

Their short engagement turned out to be a greater blessing than they could have imagined.

“I don’t think we’re ever, ever going to forget it,” Shirley said, noting that they aren’t newlyweds, but rather oldlyweds. “We’ve only got so many years left, we know that.

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“Being quarantined together isn’t too bad,” she added. “It’s a lot better than being quarantined alone.”

Related Topics: CORONAVIRUSWEDDINGS
Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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