‘Wonderful Story of Love’
He served as a deacon, led singing and oversaw the…
Sixteen-year-old Fern Kerbo didn’t know she was being watched. But as she walked across the Centralvue High School gym in Oklahoma one afternoon in 1945, she caught the eye of fellow student Dale Doyle, who was perched in the bleachers with a friend.
“Who is that?” Dale asked.
“That’s Fern, and she’s my cousin,” the friend replied.
Now that he had her name, Doyle had the confidence to approach Fern at her locker and ask her to go with him to a show. They don’t remember the show now.
“It was probably Bing Crosby or Bob Hope,” Dale said.
From then on, Fern said, “We dated.”
They still are. The couple, members of the Sunset Church of Christ in Miami, will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary on April 27.
Both 93 now, they still go everywhere together, including making the rounds at the church as the building and grounds caretakers. They have worked in this role since long before lead minister Jim Holway arrived at the church 15 years ago. The congregation rents its building to a school during the week, and the Doyles take their job very seriously.
“They live on the property and have always been very conscientious about their responsibilities, which include locking up the building every night,” Holway said. “They are rarely apart and truly united into one flesh.”
Bob Perkins, a former longtime Sunset elder, quipped: “Fern was always the ultimate church secretary. I’ve forgotten how many ministers she trained.” Of Dale, Perkins said, “Having grown up on a farm, he was perfectly suited for the job of groundskeeper.”
Perkins added: “We’ve all been so enriched by their love, friendship and counsel over all these years.”
Sunset elder Jeff Hinson spoke in similarly glowing terms about the couple.
“Fern and Dale are such a beautiful example of how putting God first in your life blesses every aspect of your life,” Hinson said. “They are so sweet and have so much love for each other as well as everyone in our church family. They are a wonderful example of a loving couple who are totally committed to God and to each other. As a team, they are dedicated in service to the Lord and his work. When I grow up, I want to be just like them.”
The Doyles have lived in Florida’s largest metro area for 62 years, but their story began in rural Oklahoma. Having grown up just 10 miles from each other, Fern and Dale didn’t meet until high school, when Dale began attending Fern’s school because his small farming community had no school beyond eighth grade.
The autumn after their first date, Fern and Dale — both basketball players — were sitting on a bus together on the way to a game when Dale asked, “If I buy you a ring, will you wear it?” Fern said yes, so that Christmas, they got engaged. Not wanting to bother with waiting until after graduation, the couple set an April date.
“There were several couples in our class that got married before we graduated,” Dale said. “We were in the country, and country customs were different from town customs.”
The big day came on April 27, 1946. At the time, Oklahoma required a blood test and a waiting period of several days. But in Texas, you could get married right away. So the couple drove to Wellington, Texas, to the home of a Church of Christ preacher they knew about. But no one was home. They also knew about a Baptist preacher in town, so they drove to his house. Again, no one was home.
“We ended up going to a JP,” Fern said, referring to a justice of the peace.
The couple’s “honeymoon” was a senior trip to Hot Springs, Ark., with the rest of their graduating class. Then they returned home to finish high school and begin their lives together. They needed jobs, and Fern’s aunt and uncle asked them to help with their custom combine business.
“People didn’t have their combines to harvest with, and my aunt and uncle had customers from years past,” Fern said. “So they asked us to do the wheat harvest with them.”
Dale drove one of the trucks while Fern helped her aunt cook for the crew.
“We spent that whole first summer harvesting wheat from Texas up to South Dakota,” she said.
The couple eventually moved to Mangum, Okla., where they started their family when daughter Cheryl was born. Dale did everything from driving a school bus to working at a brick plant to working at the county creamery.
By 1959, sons Larry and Jimmy had rounded the Doyles out to a family of five, and at the encouragement of a friend who thought Dale had worked for the creamery too long, Dale decided to attend airline school. He graduated and accepted a job in Miami as a ticket agent and passenger service representative. Fern and Doyle packed up their three children and left Oklahoma, the only home they had known.
Once in Miami, it was Fern’s turn to go to school to brush up on her typing and shorthand. She and Dale were attending Central Church of Christ, and an elder approached Fern about working in the office as the church secretary. She accepted and served as the secretary at Central, and then Sunset after Central and South Miami Church of Christ merged in 1991, for almost 29 years.
One summer, the church hosted a young intern named Max Lucado, who wrote bulletin articles every week. After his internship ended, he called Fern and asked if she would type those articles into one document and send it to him. She did, and that document later became “On the Anvil,” Lucado’s first book. Lucado still remembers the Doyles, their work with the church and their commitment to each other.
“I’m offering resounding applause for Fern and Dale Doyle,” Lucado said in a written statement. “What an accomplishment! 75 years of marriage. Fern and I served on the staff at the Central Church of Christ. I was there from 1979 to 1982. She typed some of my writings which later became my first published book. … What a special memory, and what a special couple!”
A year after Central and South Miami merged as Sunset, Hurricane Andrew devastated south Florida in August 1992. The newly formed congregation became a center for relief efforts in the area, and Fern and Dale threw themselves into the exhausting work of helping to organize necessities for the community.
“Churches across the country sent groceries and money and volunteers,” Dale said.
For a year, the fellowship hall was filled with donations and building materials.
“We had stacks of every dimension of lumber you could ever need,” he said. “The crews would load up with whatever they would need for that day.”
Eventually, the community rebuilt, and Sunset ceased operations as a relief center. A few years after Andrew, Fern decided to retire from the church and considered writing a book about all 29 ministers she had worked with.
“One of the elders said, ‘I will pay you $1,000 NOT to write that book,’” Fern said.
Dale had already retired in 1988, and together they began taking care of the church building, which they still do together. The couple makes the rounds through the building to lock up with Fern on her walker as they move up and down the hallways. When asked the secret for staying married so long, Fern and Dale — who now have six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren — think the answer is pretty simple.
“We just went into it thinking, ‘This is it,’” Fern said. “There was no reason to be apart anymore. The fact that I think God put us together made a big difference.
“It’s been quite a trip these 75 years,” she said, “and 76 if you count the year we dated.”
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