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Inseparable: Even in their final moments, love defined a Spring Hill couple's journey through life

SPRING HILL — They held hands the entire time.

Aged fingers laced through and through, dangling from the hospice beds in the living room.

There was enough time for family to come and say goodbye. Enough time for the grandchildren and great-grandbabies to cuddle with Grandma and smother Grandpa with kisses.

It was enough time for memories to stray — to the bright summer day when they kissed and called each other sweetheart.

• • •

Two months after they met, 22-year-old Don Marcum wed 17-year-old Gerry Luddington. Don's sister — Gerry's best friend in high school — introduced them.

The marriage was against her parents' wishes, but she went ahead with it anyway. It was a sunny June day in 1950 at a Lutheran church in Lyons, Ill., where they would embark on a 57-year journey.

There was something about the man with fire-engine red hair, who always had an adventure up his sleeve. When they went on dates, Don used to pick her up in a taxi because he didn't have a car.

Gerry thought that was a riot.

And Don could never get over the quiet, grounded woman, who immediately seemed to be his better half. She always dressed to the nines, and had rich, dark hair the color of chocolate.

Both from Chicago area, the Marcums lived all over the country, in places like California and Wyoming and Florida.

Here, in the sunshine Don loved so much, they would raise their family.

'A great romance'

Dennis Marcum is 49, and the youngest of the four children.

He sits at his parents' dining room table in Spring Hill with his only sister, Donna, 51. Piles of old pictures and yellowed newspaper clippings engulf the space around them.

On the wall above the siblings are their parents' smiling faces. It's a close-up of them standing cheek to cheek, a black-and-white moment captured on their wedding day.

"If you knew my parents, they were just the most amazing people," Dennis said. "They just led an amazing life."

Don was the dreamer; Gerry the roots.

To support the family, and chase away his boredom, Don had a variety of jobs. In Illinois, he had a diving company, called the Depth Chargers, which led him to meet Jacques Cousteau. Meanwhile, he ran a hotel in Lyons called the Presidential Inn.

Around that time, he also became a police officer. In addition, he recorded a 45 rpm with friends and hoped for a music career.

In the late 1960s, to escape mobsters who kept trying to get Don to join their network, the family moved to Daytona Beach, where they ran the New Frontier Motel. There, Don opened a drive-in, where the kids became honorary potato peelers in the back.

All the while, Gerry, a trained bookkeeper, watched the finances. They never had a lot of money, but were always rich in family.

"They had a great romance, but it had its ups and downs like anyone else's," Donna said. "Mom always told this story about how she got so mad at Dad once that she threw a soup can at him. She threw it so hard it stuck in the wall. Then he brought all his friends over to look at it."

Eventually, the Marcums would head over to Florida's west coast. They ended up in Aripeka, living in an old motel. The kids each had one of the rooms, while their parents lived in the main house.

It was there where Don started a business that's still in the family — known today as Hudson Heating and Cooling. Using books and old equipment, Don taught himself about refrigeration and air conditioning after a repairman once charged him the outrageous amount of $350 to fix a broken refrigerator. He never forgot how mad it made him.

From Aripeka, the family bounced around a few more times from Tarpon Springs to Hudson, and eventually to Spring Hill.

Ever since they could remember, the kids had heard their parents talk about how they wanted to die together.

"We'd be at dinner, and they'd say, 'If we have to go, we want to go together,' " Dennis said.

Days to live

On Feb. 28, a Thursday, Don's heart started to race like the day he met Gerry. The 80-year-old called Dennis, who took him to his doctor on Spring Hill Drive.

They gave him injections to slow down the pace. But at 155 beats per minute, they called an ambulance and took him to the hospital in Bayonet Point.

He lingered there with his family at his side. The kids made sure to bring Gerry, weak from years of dealing with diabetes and kidney problems, to his room in a wheelchair. Their mother, 75, had lost most of her sight, but could see with the little peripheral vision she had left.

More than a week later, Gerry had taken a turn for the worse. She had trouble breathing. Running down from the hospital's third floor, where his father was one Sunday, Dennis met his mother in the ambulance at the emergency entrance.

Doctors settled her on the second floor, just below her husband.

In the coming days, physicians would put a breathing tube in Don to keep him from dying. He had an infection somewhere that they couldn't find.

Meanwhile, tests showed a mass in Gerry's chest. Doctors wanted to do surgery to confirm the cancer, but she refused.

Both were given days to live. Both wanted to go home.

Until the end

Hospice brought Gerry back to their yellow house on Durham Street on March 12, a Wednesday. Awaiting her husband, she made sure someone did her hair and makeup that afternoon.

She asked to wear her favorite nightgown, a soft lavender dress with purple flowers. She was nervous, just like the day she got married.

When Don arrived that night, Gerry wanted to meet him at the door. But she was too weak to get up.

The couple stayed in the living room, in front of the big-screen TV, where they loved to watch Everybody Loves Raymond and Clint Eastwood movies. In their hospital beds, they took the same positions from which they watched television in their matching green recliners — Gerry to the right, Don to the left.

He couldn't move so well, but every once in a while, Gerry lifted herself up to check on him as the night wore on.

The next day, they died hours apart — Don at 6 a.m., Gerry at noon.

But it was enough time for memories to stray. For family to say goodbye with cuddles and kisses.

It was enough time for aged fingers to lock, never to let go.

They held hands the entire time.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at or (352) 848-1432.

A lifetime of love they held and enhanced, to "Angels in Passing" they now belong.
Blessed with a wish so many loves desire, to share the promise after the body tires.
To journey together, neither to remain. To walk in glory with all strength regained.

A passage from Donald and Geraldine Marcum's obituary notice

Inseparable: Even in their final moments, love defined a Spring Hill couple's journey through life 03/22/08 [Last modified: Monday, March 24, 2008 1:46pm]
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