BROOKSVILLE — Faye and Kelley Looper can't recall the exact moment they met. Third grade, when they were in the Hernando elementary school band together, was a long time ago.
But Kelley, who now sings with the Sunny South Trio, does remember when Faye became the object of his romantic interest. They were juniors in high school.
"My best friend was dating her best friend, so we just got to know each other real well that way," Kelley said. "It was actually a date to the state fair. After the band we were in marched in Ybor City, we all went to the fair together."
Faye remembers that date very well.
"I rode on rides that night that I'd never ridden on before, just because he asked me to," she said, laughing at the memory.
"Anything that spun around, I took her on it," Kelley said. "That was in '59, and we got married in '61."
The 60-something-year-old Brooksville couple will celebrate their 49th anniversary on May 14. They were married on Mother's Day.
By that time, Kelley had joined the Navy and was stationed at the naval air station in Key West. The couple's older son, Glenn, was born in 1963, when Kelley was stationed in Jacksonville. Son David came along the following October.
When his service ended, Kelley worked for Hernando County for a while and then for a phosphate company near Plant City. Meanwhile, he tested to become a post office employee, was accepted and delivered mail in Hernando for the rest of his working career.
Faye, who had attended Central Florida Business College, worked part time early in their marriage and served as a public school substitute teacher. She also managed a video store that her mother owned.
Throughout that time, music was a central part of their lives.
In school, Kelley had played the baritone horn, and Faye played the clarinet and was a majorette.
Kelley came from a musical family where his siblings also played instruments and his father sang in a group. His mother played the piano at their Methodist church. As an adult, Kelley decided singing was a way to reach people with the Gospel, so he began singing baritone in different quartets and, for a time, gave solo concerts.
Faye had played piano for the Sunday school classes at Eden Baptist Church, where her grandfather was the Sunday school superintendent. After she married Kelley and he began singing, Faye accompanied him until they eventually began using soundtracks.
Now retired, the couple devote themselves to their music ministry, with Kelley singing and Faye taking care of the sound equipment and performing the duties of office manager.
In 2000, the couple joined the gospel singing group the Weatherfords and traveled from coast to coast, with Kelley singing at places like the National Quartet Convention in Louisville, Ky., and Faye serving as Lilly Weatherford's "right-hand man."
In concerts, Kelley has shared the stage with several well-known gospel singers, including Doug Oldham and Squire Parsons. He has appeared on Gaither Homecoming DVDs and has sung on radio and television. He has been listed in Singing News magazine as one of the finest baritones in Southern gospel music.
Church has also been an important part of the Loopers' lives.
They say they both became Christians at a young age, but it was when they were singing at a Pentecostal church in 1969 that their lives were changed.
"We received the baptism of the Holy Spirit," Kelley said. "That's when it really began for us. We've never been the same since then, and never will be."
A test of the couple's faith came in 1984 when Kelley found out he had colon cancer.
"Your world kind of stops," Faye said. "You want to think you have all this faith, but when it's really put to the test, you find out what kind of faith you do have. At first, of course, you want to know why. But when you really get down to talk to the Lord, it strengthens your faith, because then you begin to see God work."
After surgery and having half of his colon removed, Kelley underwent three months of chemotherapy.
"I went through that pretty good, and everything's been fine since," Kelley said. "It made me very close to the Lord."
Through it all, the Loopers, who have three grandchildren, say they are even closer as a couple.
"Our love has grown," Kelley said.
It's important to have your priorities right, he said.
"God has to be first and then your family and then your church," he said.
For her part, Faye said Kelley is her best friend.
"I'd just as soon go shopping or do anything with Kelley as anybody I know," she said. "A lot of couples, when their children grow up and move away, they have nothing in common. But Kelley and I have always had the music part and, of course, church and God."
She also loves Kelley's gentle spirit, she said.
"With Kelley, what you see is what he is. If he sings at a convention in front of 20,000 people, except for his knees knocking, he's still the same guy."