By Rachel Noel/Freelance Writer, OND
The Diocese of Crookston will hold its 24th annual Marriage Celebration Day on Oct. 6 at Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Crookston. The purpose of Marriage Celebration Day is to highlight the Sacrament of Matrimony and to recognize couples who strengthen the faith community through their holy union. All married couples, widows and widowers who attend receive a special blessing from Bishop Michael J. Hoeppner, a gift from the Office of Formation in Discipleship and are treated to dinner at a reception following Mass. Please RSVP for the reception before Sept. 30 by clicking HERE.
Joyce and Ray Stocker of Sacred Heart, East Grand Forks will be recognized as the Honorary Couple. They were nominated by their pastor, Msgr. Mike Foltz, for being an exemplary illustration of living the virtues of faith, love, and charity. This year the couple celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary.
Joyce describes that she and Ray met when she was living with her two sisters in an apartment next door to where Ray was staying when they were in high school.
“He and his friend used to come over every now and then and play cards with us, but we were just friends for a while," Joyce recounted.
“Our first date was the prom,” Ray said.
Ray and Joyce were both raised Catholic.
Joyce said, “I was so happy to find a good Catholic man.”
Ray and Joyce (Bridgeford) Stocker were joined together in Holy Matrimony on June 27, 1949 at Sacred Heart, and they both credit their Catholic faith for the success of their seven-decade union.
"Our wedding was a really big day. We were married on a Monday morning in the old Sacred Heart church. We had a small reception with little fancy sandwiches, and a big beautiful cake, and we opened our gifts right there,” Joyce reminisced. “To me, it just doesn’t feel like a wedding unless it is held in a church.”
"Throughout our marriage, we have always followed the rules of the church,” Ray said.
The couple tried to avoid doing chores and unnecessary work on Sundays.
“You know, that is one of the commandments. We would never mow the lawn or do a load of wash,” Joyce said.
“The only time I worked on Sunday was when we were harvesting and needed to get the crop off,” Ray said.
“Sunday is really a holy day for us. Well, every day is truly a holy day now that we are older," Joyce explained.
The Catholic faith has also played an imperative role in how the Stockers raised their seven children.
"All of our children had 12 years of Catholic education at Sacred Heart. We had five teenagers in the house at one time,” Joyce said.
Ray said, "And we didn't have much money ..."
"We didn't have any money!" Joyce interjected with a smile.
"But I worked three jobs for a while in the beginning to be sure I could provide for us,” Ray said.
"I was always so thankful that he was such a hard worker for our family,” Joyce stated. “There have been many times that I have thanked Ray for providing the good life for me and our children. And I know he feels the same way toward me for staying home and raising them. Being a stay at home mom was a fulltime job. It wasn’t easy, but it was so fulfilling,” Joyce stated.
It is evident that the Stockers’ marriage has revolved around their dedication and involvement in their parish and community. Joyce began the prayer request program at Sacred Heart Parish. She also started a meal delivery program in the community, and she and Ray were a big part of it for decades.
“I can’t go to daily Mass anymore, but I try to go at least once a week. There are times that Ray attends three masses a day, since he often serves at funerals.” Joyce said.
Ray said, "I mentioned that, instead of children having to leave school and help with serving at funeral masses, why don't we retired church members do it so that the kids don't have to miss school?”
In addition to being generous with their time, the Stockers have also been good stewards of their treasure.
Ray said, "When my parents died, they left us some money. We decided to give it to the church. It was over $100,000. And we still get letters from parents that are sending their kids to Sacred Heart on that money."
Joyce added, "And they are always addressed: ‘The Stocker Estate.’ I get such a kick out of that. We get handwritten thank you notes from grade school kids in their little handwriting who are just starting out their education there. They are all so appreciative of the donation. It was over $130,000, but Ray talked to his brothers, and none of us families were desperate. Ray always said, 'that was mom and dad's money, and that is what they would have wanted.’ And we are not wealthy people, but we know it is as important to give back as it is to volunteer.”
Joyce said being courteous and having a sense of humor are important for a marriage.
While holding hands, Joyce explained, "Our love has definitely changed over the 70 years we have been married, but one thing that has not changed is that I want to be near Ray all the time. I am so happy when he comes home, and I don't like to go to bed without him. I am content just to be near him, and whenever I am near him, I am always holding his hand.”
Ray squeezed her hand and added, "I'd be lost without her."
Editor's Note: An RSVP deadline was added on Sept. 11, 2019.