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St. Petersburg 91-year-olds tie the knot in the middle of pandemic

Don and Jeanine Sandin bought their rings online and emailed their wedding announcement to 200 people, but kept their guest list small.

ST. PETERSBURG — After an early five-course dinner on New Year’s Eve 2018, Jeanine Sprague invited Don Sandin up to her ninth-floor apartment downtown to watch the fireworks explode over Tampa Bay.

It was the first official date of Don, 91, and Jeanine, just five months younger. That night, when Don got ready to leave, he surprised Jeanine with, as he describes it, “a kiss on the lips.”

Their Easter Sunday wedding a few days ago was almost as unpredictable.

“We just decided a couple of weeks ago. Because of the circumstances that are going on in society, we just felt that we should legalize our relationship, so we would be protected,” Don said, explaining that he realized neither would have any legal rights to be with the other if one were hospitalized.

So, in a time of social distancing, they shopped for rings online. She wore the outfit from the New Year’s Eve date. And the guest list for the wedding, set to take place on her birthday in their pastor’s St. Pete Beach backyard, had to be small.

But the announcement wasn’t. It went out with a photograph of the happy couple accompanied by a recording of Don’s enthusiastic rendition of, I’m getting married in the morning, from My Fair Lady. They emailed it to more than 200 people.

“He sang it to me the morning of our wedding,” Jeanine said.

“I had been singing it ever since we decided we would get married," her new husband said. "We got it on tape, so that became part of our official ceremony.”

Why were they convinced they were right for each other? “I think for me, we laughed a lot,” he said. "Being the same age makes it very special.”

“It’s a very easy relationship,” she said. ”We have the same stories. We lived in the same time.”

And importantly, they are on the same spiritual path, agreed the couple, who attend First Unity Spiritual Campus, a New Thought center in St. Petersburg.

Don and Jeanine Sandin on their wedding day, Easter Sunday 2020, in St. Pete Beach. They are with their pastor, the Rev. Temple Hayes, spiritual leader of First Unity Spiritual Campus, St. Petersburg. [ Barbara Bertucci ]

“To me, they reflect the modeling of love and aging that is so necessary in our culture and our society today,” said their pastor, the Rev. Temple Hayes. “We are created to live longer than we do, and we have yet to understand the difference between aging, which is natural, and being old, which is not natural. And Don and Jeanine reflect that love is everlasting and ageless and that you can never out-give or outlive it.”

He is a retired minister and businessman, who was married for 68 years to his wife, Peggy, who died two years ago. Jeanine became a widow in 1970. She was left to bring up seven boys. Three of her sons are still alive: Lowell lives in Michigan, Peter in Dunedin and Paul in Georgia. Only Peter was able to attend the wedding. She has 11 grandchildren. Don has no children but lots nieces and nephews. A niece, Dr. Sally Smith, a St. Petersburg pediatrician, attended the wedding.

Each day, they go to North Shore Park.

“We just watch the birds and bees and water and watch the people, ” Jeanine said.

“When we actually began our formal relationship in July last year, I said to Jeanine that I don’t know how many days we have, but we have today," Don said. “And we are grateful for today.”