The 50th: Bring on Family - Forget the Gifts

Millions of couples may be celebrating their 50th anniversaries, but many more children and grandchildren are fretting over the best way to fete these golden duos. For advice on planning a successful anniversary celebration, we turned to some veterans and found two lessons: Lots of family involvement is key, and lavish parties or presents aren't necessarily needed.

Take Edwin and Lillian Gorak of Elmwood Park, Ill. For their 50th-anniversary party in 1995, family members came from Virginia, Hawaii, Missouri, and Wisconsin. At an Italian banquet hall, 168 people - family and friends - dined on chicken Vesuvio and wedding cake. They danced to mostly '40s tunes - and a little hokey-pokey.

But more than the glitter of the evening, Mrs. Gorak was clearly most thrilled by speeches her daughters gave. One spoke about three themes: faith, family, and forgiveness.

Lillian explains that she showed a "deep faith" in waiting for Edwin for 2-1/2 years when he was overseas in the Army during World War II. Family has been the major focus of their lives together. And, "during 50 years," she quips, "there has been a lot of forgiveness."

But for Roland and Frances Massie, who live in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., a big banquet hall celebration just wouldn't do. "We didn't want any hullabaloo," says Mrs. Massie of their golden anniversary last year. The focus of their big day was renewing their vows at a Roman Catholic mass. Tim Massie, one of their four sons, says that, like many in their generation, his parents are "simple folks." They even chose the 8 a.m. mass - rather than the 11 a.m. service - so their many friends and acquaintances were less likely to show up and make a big deal of the event.

As for presents, most couples insisted they really didn't want anything much. Tim Massie says he and his brothers didn't even have to ask. "We knew they wouldn't want anything," he says, "just some quiet time at home." It was enough that most of the family was at their house for a barbecue.

Mrs. Gorak says the best present they got wasn't a thing, but time together - a gift certificate for a dinner cruise.

And not one couple we talked to gave presents to each other. Perhaps Lillian Mandelbaum of Long Island, N.Y., says it best: "After so many years, what do you really need?"

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