He was a square dance caller. She was a ventriloquist.
But their greatest performance always has been a tandem act on life’s stage.
Sunday marks the 75th anniversary of Dixon and Nadine Waite accepting each other’s hand in marriage. The day before, the Benner Township couple celebrated their milestone with a picnic at their home in the company of their four children and some of their eight grandchildren and 12-great-grandchildren.
“It’s a long time, I tell you that,” Dixon said.
Though he’s 96, she a year younger, the decades haven’t diminished their love. Each morning she kisses her hubby, grateful he survived a bout of pneumonia this spring. Every evening she does the same before retiring.
Her eyesight has dimmed, but she can still see the “handsome devil” who stood beside her in a Milesburg church on a summer day in 1938.
“He takes care of me,” she said.
How they met they can’t recall, but it might have been at a square dance. She taught him the polka, and they enjoyed Saturday night dancing for years. Many a dance he called with his band, Dick Waite and the Nittany Mountaineers.
They also shared potato farming near Pleasant Gap, where a log cabin was their first home together. In 1958, four years after he went to work for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission as a mechanic, they bought one of his childhood homes.
They’re still there, not far from where, as a boy, he used to get paid a dime to shepherd his neighbor’s cows across Benner Pike and down to Spring Creek twice daily.
As their trees and shrubs grew taller like their children, they led full lives.
During the 1960s, Dixon owned a service station in Bellefonte at the corner of Allegheny and Bishop streets. After retiring from the state in 1979, he took up carpentry and made lamps, bowls and other keepsakes for his children. He took the wheel of their recreational vehicle on cross-country tours.
Nadine held the arduous jobs of keeping house, cooking, canning, baking and sewing for her family. But she still found time to volunteer at the Logan Grange in Pleasant Gap, paint landscapes — and plunge into show business.
Inspired by Edgar Bergen and his famous dummy Charlie McCarthy, she sent away for a ventriloquism book, taught herself and began writing skits. With her mischievous partner Dexter on her lap, she performed at fire halls, granges and at the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts.
At home, they both gardened, sharing their produce with friends and neighbors. He faithfully mowed the lawn, a labor of love only stopped by the pneumonia. She planted beautiful flowers around the property.
Now, they live with assistance from their children — Jim and Bob Waite, Barbara Tice and Jean Brickley — and the companionship of a parakeet who often freely flies through the house.
Each day they continue a rare feat, one future generations might seldom see.
“A lot of marriages these days don’t last 50 days, let alone 50 years,” Jim Waite said.
Dixon and Nadine, with a great-great grandchild now, stood the test of time. Patience and forgiveness, they said, carried them.
“You put up with a lot,” Nadine said.
And when they argued, they resolved their differences.
“We’d have little squabbles once in a while, but we’d just end it,” he said. “That was it.”
Brickley knows one of her parents’ secrets to longevity: “They still have humor. They can still laugh about things.”
Take her proposal, for instance. An associate pastor, she wanted to re-marry her parents at their anniversary celebration.
Her father scoffed at the idea.
“We don’t have to do it over, do we Mom?” he said to his wife, chuckling. “We learned how.”
Don’t be fooled, though. Underneath his skin still beats a romantic’s heart. When Brickley had her mother write “I love you” on a small whiteboard and then gave it to her father, he scrawled underneath “I love you, too.”
“We were good together,” he said. “I liked her. I still do.”