Decades of Love and Marriage

Ray and Mary Jane Ross when they first started dating in the late ‘60s…
…and today.
Photo by Samantha Lambert.

By Samantha Lambert


According to, love is a feeling of warm personal attachment or deep affection for another. According to the Bible, marriage is a covenant, a sacred bond between a man and a woman instituted by and publicly entered into before God.


Love and marriage may have changed in meaning to various people over the years, but to three local couples love and marriage have remained strong and steadfast.


Fort Walton Beach City Councilman Dick Rynearson and his wife Janey will celebrate 51 years of marriage in July. They first met through Janey’s cousin when Dick was in the sixth grade and Janey was in fourth. Even though they lived in different towns, they dated some in high school. “I knew early on that I was going to marry Dick one day,” says Janey.


They were reunited at Kent State University when Dick ran into Janey’s mother at freshman orientation. He and Janey began dating again and were married in 1966. Dick entered the Air Force, trained as a pilot, and was sent to Vietnam. He completed two tours and was awarded the Silver Star for Valor.


In his 11 years in the Air Force, Dick was sent to many locations and Janey followed with their growing family. He came back to Eglin in 1981 after leaving the Air Force to work for the Hughes Aircraft Corporation. Janey opened P.S. Gifts in Fort Walton Beach in 1995, and Dick officially retired in 2005.


The Rynearsons have four children and 11 grandchildren. Their ingredients to a long and happy marriage? “Be flexible,” says Dick.


“Always expect the unexpected, never quit holding hands, and keep God as the center of the family,” adds Janey.


Ross and Jenny Hamilton have been married for 51 years as of February 4. They first met at William Carey College in Hattiesburg, Mississippi in the mid-1960s. On their first date, Ross and Jenny talked the whole time about their families.


They were engaged a year later, with Ross asking Jenny’s father for her hand in marriage. They were married in 1966 and shortly after moved to Monroe, Louisiana, where Ross had a fellowship teaching science. They moved to Fort Walton Beach in the fall of 1968, and Ross began teaching at Okaloosa-Walton Junior College.


He is in his 49th year with what is now Northwest Florida State College as the director of the Fort Walton Beach campus. Jenny taught at Choctawhatchee High School for 35 years. They have two children and five grandchildren.


Ross and Jenny believe that L-O-V-E is the key to a long marriage. “L for love means to live that love with your mate,” says Ross. “The O represents keeping your marriage whole through integrity. The V is having the vitality, the energy, and the perseverance to live in the marriage everyday. The E represents eternity, meaning death does not have to separate us for eternity.”


“Divorce is not an option,” says Jenny. “We both agree that faith is at the center of our marriage. Plus, our relationship is an example to our children and their friends and those we have taught.”


Ray and Mary Jane Ross first met in the fall of 1967 at Norwood High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. Mary Jane taught English and Ray was the basketball coach.  He asked her out on a date after a PTA meeting, and they then would meet up during their planning periods at the Coke machine to talk.


They dated for a year and a half and were engaged in fall 1968. They were married the following June. This June, they’ll celebrate the 48-year milestone.


The Rosses moved to Fort Walton Beach in 1969. Ray began coaching at Okaloosa-Walton Junior College, and Mary Jane began teaching at Crestview High School. She would later become a media specialist at both Fort Walton Beach and Choctawhatchee high schools.


In 1978, the family moved to Starkville, Mississippi where Ray was an assistant coach at Mississippi State and Mary Jane worked as a librarian at the college. They came back to Fort Walton Beach in 1981 when Ray took a coaching job at Fort Walton Beach High School through 1994. He then was an assistant coach at OW when the team won the national championship during the 1994-95 season.


“In coaching, you go through a normal workday, and then you start coaching your team after that,” says Ray. “It puts a burden on your wife with raising kids. Mary Jane understood that, and she was a real trooper. We both had a lot of passion for our careers and we gave each other latitude and room to grow.”


The Rosses have two sons, Ryan and Ramsey, and two granddaughters. They both agree on what makes a long and happy marriage: “Commitment. Compromise. Support. Love and lots of understanding.”

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