AYER -- Tens of thousands have come to call Ayer home as loved ones served on the former Fort Devens U.S. Army post. But the media spotlight has come to shine on Roland and Lena Davis, who lived in Ayer and on base for several years in the 1960s and 1970s.
The two now live in the limelight following their Aug. 4 wedding ceremony. Following their divorce nearly 50 years ago, the two rekindled their relationship and remarried in upstate New York.
The two met in Tennessee through Roland's cousin, who, like Lena, was studying cosmetology fresh out of high school. Lena and Roland married in a small ceremony before a justice of the peace in Georgia in 1944. They were 19.
On May 3, 1945, Roland was drafted to serve in World War II and eventually transferred to Fort Devens. Roland was a personnel sergeant at the general's headquarters by Verbeck Gate off West Main Street in Ayer.
Lena followed and set up house at Devens Manor off West Main Street (the site of the present day Shriver Job Corps Center off Jackson Road). The couple had four children -- eldest son Roland Davis Jr., eldest daughter Johnnie Mae (current married surname Funderbirk), son Bernard Davis and daughter Renita (current married surname Shadwick).
Lena and the kids followed when Roland was transferred to Germany, but it didn't work out. Lena returned stateside with the children, moving into the yellow house at the corner of Columbia and Cambridge Streets in downtown Ayer. All four
After 20 years of marriage, Lena and Roland divorced in 1964. Roland's service in the Army stretched for 20 years, followed by four more years in the Army Reserves. Roland eventually retired in 1971 at Fort Carson, Colorado.
Lena remarried and had another child, Valerie Henderson Odell (who now resides in Worcester). While Lena relocated to Buffalo, New York, Roland remarried and lived with his wife in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Nonetheless, Lena and Roland remained civil following their divorce. Lena said she was always mindful of her children.
"I never talked down about him to the kids. That was their father," said Lena. Citing one of the Ten Commandments, Lena said she did well to remember, "The Bible says 'Honor your mother and father...' I think having that kind of mindset has kept me here this long."
The congenial relationship between Lena and Roland extended to their new spouses, too, though the couples lived 1,600 miles apart. Lena and Roland didn't see each other again until Roland Davis Jr. died in 1996. Roland would call to check on Lena to see how she was coping with the loss of her eldest child. The two remained friendly.
Eldest daughter Johnnie remained in touch with her father over the years. "She'd let me know how Lena and the children were doing in Ayer, and then Buffalo," said Roland.
Lena's husband died several years ago. Roland's second wife died in January in Colorado. Johnnie didn't like the idea of her father living out west alone.
"I was encouraging him to come back to the east coast rather than stay out in Colorado," said Johnnie. "I've always had a special relationship with my dad all that time." Johnnie was 18 years old when her parents divorced in 1964.
But what Johnnie did not know was "what was lurking under the surface. It was surprising."
"He told me on several occasions that he still loved my mother," recalled Johnnie. "I just kind of kept that in the back of my head."
Reach out and touch
Lena and Roland were not only directly kept in touch over the phone, but their affections reignited. Meanwhile, their kids were unaware of the long-distance romance.
At Easter, Roland called Lena to pop the big question -- again. And Lena accepted -- again.
Though she's about to turn 66 years old, hearing the news that her parents would wed made Johnnie "a little bit giddy" and "as happy as a little kid."
"It's funny. You just never know what's buried down deep in your heart until the situation comes up," said Johnnie. "Each day I see them growing closer and closer and that just makes me feel really good."
Surrounded by their offspring, Roland and Lena Davis married on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the Elim Christian Fellowship Center in Buffalo.
Christine Anderson of Maple Street in Ayer was in attendance. Anderson was married to the late Roland Davis Jr.
Anderson attended the wedding with three of her four daughters -- Tamara Salmon and Sonia Hardgraves of Ayer and Karen Hachey of Fitchburg. Her fourth daughter, Janet Davis of Norfolk, Virginia, was waylaid by flight delays and didn't make it to the ceremony. All four of Anderson's girls are likewise Ayer High School graduates.
Anderson said the ceremony was "very nice and very well-attended."
Anderson said the minister had never married a couple in their 80s before, so he shortened the nuptial ceremony and allowed the bride and groom to sit. He'd also never remarried a couple who had previously divorced.
"It was very touching and everybody had tears in their eyes," said Anderson. "It was very emotional."
Lena's three daughters served as bridesmaids, grandchildren were groomsmen, and great-grandchildren served as ring-bearers and flower girls.
Johnnie noted that it was a joyous day that brought the family "together for a happy occasion. It's so often that what brings the family together is a funeral or grave sickness of a loved one. But this was a happy occasion. I really do think the Lord is looking out for us."
After the wedding there was a big reception. "There were about 100 people there," said Anderson. "The state senator attended and gave them a proclamation declaring Aug. 4 as Roland and Lena Davis Day in New York state."
And, "of course, the press was there," said Anderson. Lena and Roland's story of rekindled love has garnered national attention from USA Today, ABC News, NPR News, and the Huffington Post, among other media outlets.
Johnnie said there was no honeymoon. "I think it's more a getting re-acquainted period." The couple is living in West Seneca, New York.
Lena said one should "never say never."
"You never know what's going to happen from one day to the next," said Lena. "I think the best thing is that you take what you get and make the best of it. Down the road -- you never know, because I never thought this was going to happen again. I thought that when we got divorced, that was it."
"It was quite a surprise. Nobody expected that," said Roland. "I think it's wonderful really to think this could happen at our age."
Roland turns 86 in October and Lena turns 86 in November.
"God has been good to both of us," said Roland.