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After tying the knot almost seven decades ago, at St. Paul’s Catholic Parish Church in Summerside, Austin and Ethel Pendergast are proof that love can stand the test of time, distance and even tragedy.
“We met at a party in Indian River. I was 24 and Austin 22,” said Ethel (nee Deighan), now aged 94. “They had a lot of house parties in those days because there was no television, so people played music, danced, and sang in winter. Austin asked me to dance at the party, and after we ended up dating.”
Austin knew there was something special about their relationship after just a handful of dates, but it was about to be put to the test when he was assigned a job in Churchill, Man.
“We had three or four dates before I left, but we stayed in touch and wrote letters,” said Austin. “I came back after the first year in Churchill for two weeks and that’s when I asked Ethel to marry me.”
“It took me by surprise, the engagement party," Ethel said. "I just never even thought of getting married at that time, but it happened. Austin went back and stayed another year in Churchill for work, and then when he came home in October we got married the following month in the year 1950.”
The couple had eight children of their own, as well as raising two orphans and spent most of their lives in Kensington before more recently moving to Summerside.
“The little 13-year-old girl had never been out of the orphanage until we took her home in the summer. But both children did very well. All the kids went on to university and had a good career,” said Ethel.
She acknowledged one daughter, Anna, took them across the world.
Anna Stammberger competed in the Olympics, world tournaments, and numerous Pan American Games in basketball. She was not only the co-captain of Canada’s national team but also competed in Germany’s first division and worked there for many years as a coach.
“We never had much in terms of money, but we always provided and put the children first. We then made time for ourselves to go out dancing on a Saturday evening,” Ethel said, adding their marriage was built on a strong foundation of love, communication, and respect.
Disaster was, however, waiting around the corner ready to rattle that strong foundation.
“It was Labour Day weekend and we usually went camping to give the children a break, but we decided to change plans and go to Souris. On our way home we called in to visit a relative. We were waiting in the car and our oldest son, Allan, aged 10, ran into their barn to play,” said Ethel.
“Our other two boys, Pat and Kevin followed behind. Inside it was dark and filled with straw and hay barrels. The three climbed a ladder that went into the loft and started running. Allan was in front and all of a sudden he disappeared.
“He fell through a hole where they lifted the barrels of hay, and he hit the cement floor (a drop of 28.5 feet). Both of his knees went through his stomach, so they took him to the hospital in Souris, but it was too severe, so he had to be taken to Charlottetown.”
Ethel was seven months pregnant when she was informed by the doctor that her son was in critical condition and would likely die.
“We came home, prayed, and had a mass for Allan. We dedicated him back to God because everything stopped. Nothing was moving – the urine, blood pressure, he was in a coma.”
Allan would undergo an intensive operation to remove the ligaments and bone fragments, but after a few days, recovery, a miracle happened.
“He opened his eyes and said, ‘Hi Dad.’ Austin was overwhelmed and called me right away,” said Ethel. “Allan completely healed and has never been sick a day. He recently retired from a successful 36 teaching career.”
Divorce has never been an option for the couple, who contend the secret to such a long-lasting relationship is that they needed each other and their family.