From a friendship born of a cheeky wink at the Baptist Student Union at Stephen F. Austin State University to a 55-year marriage, Darrel and Martha Owens, of Mt. Enterprise, are living a life well-loved.
Martha, a Texas City native, enrolled at SFA to pursue a career in coaching. A life-long softball player, she came to Nacogdoches prepared to blaze a fastball’s path through ladies’ sports education, never suspecting that a basketball game and a lanky East Texas boy would change the course of her life.
“The first time I ever noticed her was at a basketball game,” said Darrel Owens, retired pastor of Landmark Baptist Church in Mt. Enterprise and long-time Instructor at Henderson’s Texas Baptist Institute, recounting the moment she walked into his life. He too was attending SFA pursuing a coaching career.
Martha, the delightfully tiny consummate preacher’s wife, a seamstress beyond measure, the most efficient and organized Mary Kay salesperson known to man, and never one to leave out the best details took over the story and said, “Well, he was engaged. Not to me.”
“I went to the BSU and I just walked in at the back door and he was going in for a lay-up and I could have sworn he winked at me.” He did not deny the wink.
Throughout his engagement to the woman that was not Martha, a friendship blossomed between the two. “She worked in the BSU office. We were just friends. I’d go in and we’d sit and talk, for however long.”
Martha, always with the most joyous smile, agreed, “We were really good friends.”
Long before their college careers came to their natural conclusion, the Vietnam war began and like most young men his age, Darrel was drafted. Martha dropped everything and broke the news to her mother that she was going to quit school and follow him.
His previous engagement having ended Darrel proposed to Martha and in his dress uniform and her in her Easter Sunday dress they were married.
She packed everything she thought she’d need to start a life she didn’t know how to live and moved into a one-room apartment with a shared bathroom.
“He didn’t really love me when got married,” said Martha. “I was a rebound but we were really good friends.” While the expectation of a disagreement with this statement lingered in the air, throwing caution to the wind he simply said, “She’s right.”
“She’s been a great wife,” he continued. “I say that because one of the two has got to be determined and in our case it was her. I’m determined now but I still had to grow up. I grew up during that time and she stayed with me, I don’t know why but she did.”
Always complimentary of his adoring wife, Darrel said, “We really like each other. Well, it’s impossible not to like her. Her makeup is such that I probably wouldn’t have stayed married to anybody else. She was fun, Christian, high morales, higher than mine, actually.”
Darrel received a shoulder injury during a pick-up game on base and once again his beloved basketball changed his life. The extent of the injury meant no deployment to Vietnam.
During the next few years, he finally gave in to God’s steady encouragement and submitted to his call to preach and they were blessed with their beloved brood, Angie, Andy, and Michael.
“As a Pastor in Ohio, I was gone a lot. I’d leave early in the morning, I taught seminary, I’d come in and have a bite to eat and I’d be back out again. Sometimes it would be at night before I’d be back but she kept things going.”
Ever the doting wife to her old-fashioned husband, Martha managed the household, raised the children, and still found time to make Darrel’s favorite meals. As the world has moved beyond that mindset Darrel has been dragged along but gladly admits that he does counsel new husbands to be a bit more helpful to their future brides.
“After a while, I repented and realized my kids were growing up and I didn’t know them. So I cut way back on visiting. The church still grew at the same rate without me being out there all night.”
In 1986, the family moved to Mt. Enterprise where Darrel took over as the Pastor at Landmark Missionary Baptist Church and his family became a part of a community that still adores them. Angie went off to college in pursuit of greatness, Andy, a Junior at the time of their arrival became the heartthrob of most every girl in Rusk County, and Michael became Possum, the well-loved football player, big lug, and one of the most genuinely nice people you could know.
Having survived a lifetime’s worth of struggle in their 55 years and come out not only unscathed but presenting to the world the ideal image of a God-filled marriage, the long-happy couple offered a few tools for a solid marriage.
As a Christian family, the most important message they could offer was keeping God the center of your family.
“Don’t ever quit talking,” said Darrel, offering another common sense tip for all couples. Secrets are poisonous to joy so it’s always best to talk. Air your grievances, consult your Bible, discuss your days, and take interest in the thoughts and feelings of your other half.
Create a budget and stick to it. In his long years as Pastor, Darrel has counseled many new couples on the joys and rigors of a fresh marriage and has born witness to the demise of quite a few of those unions. His experience has taught him that either finances or sex are the things that most typically bring about a premature end to these marriages. “Live by the budget,” said Darrel.
“The last few years, I’ve really encouraged the husbands to help their wives more,” he said but continued to jokingly add that he hasn’t gotten to the point where he tells the husbands to mop the floors or wash the dishes.
Marriage is not about self and no union can flourish without some level of devotion to your spouse. The commitment and determination needed to overcome the struggles and relish in the good times can only come from fulfilling the promises made to God in those ever-important vows. Love, honor, obey.
Ever the ideal, Darrel and Martha Owens continue to grow together as their family of five now includes a much-loved son-in-law and daughters-in-law that are close to their hearts, and the truest loves of their lives their grandchildren, and now great-grandchildren. God is still the center of their home and they still really like each other.
“If I had it to do all over again I’d do with her. I’d do it better.”