Bob and Ethel Sawyer met on the dance floor. “I asked her to dance right in that corner,” Bob said, pointing. “I was by myself that night, sitting at the end of the third table. I saw her dancing with several people. I was waiting for a slow one.”
He was 76, she was 66. Both had been married before — Bob, for 54 years before his wife died, and Ethel for 39. She met Bob at dancing lessons at the Central Activities Center in Phenix City one year and one week after her husband’s death.
“I told her about the third time (we danced), I said ‘You’re gonna like me.’ ” Bob said.
“He didn’t say it like a question. It was ‘You’re gonna like me.’” Ethel said, smiling. “I kind of liked him.”
Two years later, Bob got down on one knee during a Sunday School class at Philadelphia Baptist Church and proposed. The couple got married in January.
“You get older, and to meet somebody is really a blessing,” Bob said.
There are others like the Sawyers who come to ballroom dancing Tuesday nights at the center. Most of the dancers are elderly. Some come looking for exercise; others come for a chance to make new friends.
Many come every Tuesday night, arriving early to talk over plates of sandwiches and chips and cups of punch. At 7:30 p.m., the lights dim, the music starts and couples move onto the floor to show off their jitterbug or their waltz.
Long-time partners Jeanette Lumpkins and Clarence Greer prefer the waltz.
“It’s just a pretty dance. It’s a romantic dance,” Lumpkins said.
Lumpkins and Greer met 10 years ago while dancing at the center.
“I just went and asked her to dance,” Greer said. “She said, ‘I’ll try.’ ”
They’ve been coming regularly to dances ever since.
“It’s a good excuse to see each other every week,” Lumpkins said.
Tom George had to try a little harder to get his dance partner and now wife, Dorothy, to notice him. They met at the Gallops Senior Center, when Tom asked her to dance.
“When I met her, she said ‘I’ve buried two husbands,’ ” Tom said. “I said ‘How about a boyfriend?’ ”
Two months later, Dorothy popped the question.
“I said ‘Are we going to get married?’” she said.
“I’m glad she did,” Tom said. “At 75, you can’t wait forever.”
They got married on Valentine’s Day — “We had to have something we could remember,” Tom said — and at 82, still dance regularly at the Central Activities Center and at VFW Post 665 on Victory Drive. Their favorite dance is the jitterbug.
“It’s good exercise,” Tom said. “I went to the heart doctor for my checkup and he said my heart is better this year than it was last year.”
Bob and Ethel also remain avid dancers — square dancing on Monday nights and dancing at nursing homes on Wednesdays in addition to their weekly visits to the activities center. It’s a safe place to come, Ethel said, with a good group of people.
At the first dance after they were married, the couple waltzed to a song dedicated to them by their fellow dancers — Tracy Byrd’s “Keeper of the Stars”: It was no accident, me finding you. Someone had a hand in it, long before we ever knew.
“The Lord put us together,” Bob said. “We know that.”