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Celebrating Forty-Five Years of Marriage: The Engagement

bruce polly gerencser midwestern baptist college 1977
Bruce Gerencser, Polly Shope 1977

In late August 1976, Polly Shope and Bruce Gerencser moved into the Midwestern Baptist College dormitory. Polly planned to catch her a preacher boy and I planned to prepare for the ministry. Polly hailed from Bay City, Michigan, but had spent the previous four years in Pontiac while her father completed his education. After graduation, Polly’s father moved his family to Newark, Ohio so he could begin a new job as the assistant pastor of the Newark Baptist Temple. The Baptist Temple was pastored by Polly’s uncle James “Jim” Dennis, a 1960s graduate of Midwestern. Polly’s parents moved into an apartment after moving to Newark, and it was from here that Polly packed up her meager belongings in a 1972 AMC Hornet and drove four and a half hours north to Midwestern’s dormitory.

I was living at the time with my mother and her drunkard husband near Edgerton, Ohio. The previous year, after a tumultuous break-up with my girlfriend, I moved from Sierra Vista, Arizona to Bryan, Ohio. I spent the next year working as the dairy manager for Foodland, with the intent of going off to college in August 1976.

On the appointed day, I packed my belongings into a late-1960s Plymouth and drove two hours and thirty minutes northeast to Pontiac. I had two goals: study for the ministry and date lots of girls. As this story unfolds, you shall see that the latter goal never came to fruition.

The flirting between Polly and I began almost immediately. I was nineteen, and she was seventeen. While I had dated a lot before college, Polly had no dating experience. Both of us dated someone else for a week or two before our flirtations turned into me asking her out on a date.

Midwestern had strict rules about dating and physical contact between couples. (Please see Thou Shalt Not Touch: The Six-Inch Rule.) We had been dating for almost four months before we kissed for the first time.

It was not long before our relationship took a serious turn. “I love you” first came from my lips, but Polly quickly reciprocated. I had no doubt that Polly was the one for me, and Polly believed the same about that fiery redheaded country boy from Ohio. We spent as much time as we could with each other. Polly learned I loved to talk, and I discovered that she was quiet, shy, and reserved — traits both of us have to this day.

Six months in, we talked about getting married, knowing we would have to wait until the summer of 1978 to tie the knot. (Midwestern forbade freshmen from marrying.) I bought Polly a 1/4-carat diamond engagement ring at Sears and Roebuck for $225. I decided I would ask Polly to marry me on Valentine’s Day. Dating students were required to double date, so I asked fellow rule breakers John and Sandy to go out on a date with us. We planned to seal our engagement with a kiss, so we didn’t want to choose the wrong dating partners lest we end up getting campused or expelled for breaking the six-inch rule.

On the second Saturday night in February, we ate at a now-forgotten restaurant and then drove to a multi-story parking garage in Birmingham — a place frequented by dorm couples due to its dim, secluded environment. We drove to the top of the garage, and it was there that I asked Polly to marry me. She said yes! and we embraced and kissed, sealing our commitment to one another.

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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