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A hand to hold _ for 77 years

Sitting in his wheelchair, a gleam in his eye, Carey Akerly squeezed the hand of his wife, Julie. He would have to leave the hospital soon. A doctor was scheduled to examine his wife of 77 years. "It's kind of lonesome without you," Akerly said, patting his wife's arm. "I could hold her hand all night if she wanted me to."

Akerly, 98, was visiting his ailing 97-year-old wife at Humana Hospital-Northside on Wednesday, three days after their 77th wedding anniversary. Mrs. Akerly has been in the hospital almost two weeks, awaiting a pacemaker implant.

On the couple's anniversary Sunday, Akerly brought her roses that the couple's 75-year-old son had sent them. The flowers commemorated a marriage that began in Springfield, Mass., on Oct. 28, 1913.

At the time, Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States, Henry Ford established a moving assembly line and General Francisco "Pancho" Villa fought in Mexico. The Akerly's marriage is just nine years shy of the longest ever recorded, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.

For much of their lives the couple lived in Detroit, where Akerly worked as a toolmaker. In 1954, they moved to St. Petersburg. Akerly, who was retired, started a garden; his wife took care of the home and cooked.

"The little kids used to come by before school," he said. " "Mr. Akerly, could I have some flowers? Mr. Akerly can you come out and play?'. . . I've had a good life."

Two years ago failing health forced the Akerlys into a nursing home. They share a room at Bon Secours Maria Manor nursing home at Fourth St. N and Gandy Boulevard.

The staff helped Akerly celebrate his anniversary. Then he went to the hospital to visit his wife and show her the roses sent by their son.

Mrs. Akerly was too weak to speak Wednesday. But she smiled. And each time Akerly stopped holding her hand, she reached for his.

The secret to their marriage:

"I could tell her her faults," he said with a smile. "And she could tell me mine."