- Associated Press - Friday, February 13, 2015

CHELSEA, Ala. (AP) - Sara Kornegay can clearly remember the day in 1942 when she was a 14-year-old sophomore at West Blocton High School in Bibb County and spotted the boy who would become her husband.

“I saw him when he walked in the door of the auditorium. It was at a basketball game. I thought he was the best looking boy I had ever seen — and he still is to me,” the 88-year-old with a soft voice said. “I knew that one was for me when I saw him.”

James Kornegay, who’s 91 years old, recalled how one of his best friends at the time was talking about a pretty girl and pointed to her. “I found her at the basketball game,” he said about meeting his future wife when he was a senior at Bibb County High School.

When Kornegay returned to Bibb County while on leave from the U.S. Navy during World War II, the couple — he was 20 years old and she had just turned 17 — got married at the local Justice of the Peace’s home on Jan. 29, 1944.

Sara Kornegay pointed out a bit of humor about the Justice of the Peace’s involvement: “It was his son who pointed me out,” she said with a smile.

Their marriage spanning 71 years has earned the Kornegays the recognition as Alabama’s longest married couple for 2015 through a contest held by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, which describes itself as “the original faith-based marriage enrichment program in this country.”

The organization received nominations from throughout the country to pick winners in various states, including this year’s national winner at 81 years coming from Kansas. Bob Hernandez, who represents the group from the Atlanta area with his wife, Joy, said the honor does not mean the Kornegays are the longest-married couple in all of Alabama, just for this year’s contest.

“Anytime you can find couples that have been married for more than 70 years, we want to publicize that,” he said, noting a study that showed more than half of marriages in the United States end in divorce.

The recognition that included a presentation of certificates to the couple at their Chelsea home arrived as marriages became a focal point of many discussions in Alabama this week with the state’s legalization of same-sex marriages. “We just try to stay away from it, stay out of it,” Sara Kornegay said when asked about the issue that’s recently dominated headlines in Alabama.

But as Toni Vaughn of Chelsea, one of the couple’s four children, pointed out, her parents’ lengthy marriage carries an important message. “I think it’s evidence that love can prevail,” Vaughn said.

The Kornegays sat on a loveseat in their living room, the wife doing most of the talking while the husband occasionally provided a response to questions about their marriage.

“That’s a good question,” he said when asked about the key to their marriage. “I guess I let her have her way. … She knows when to stop taking advantage of me. I put my foot down and say, ‘Enough.’”

His wife gave him a gentle pat on the arm at the response that showed his humorous side. She said their marriage has lasted decades from a simple reason.

“We stay together because we love each and like each other,” she said. “We’re good friends. We’re best friends. We’ve always done things together.”

The couple started dating in high school, but he was whisked away to boot camp after graduating from high school while she remained in school. “He came back one time but then he went overseas and was gone almost two years,” she said.

It was several days after her 17th birthday on Jan. 10, 1944, that her then-boyfriend presented her with a gift — an engagement ring. “He wanted to give me a ring before then but I told him I wasn’t ready, I wasn’t old enough,” she said.

Back in Bibb County on military leave, “he gave me the ring but he didn’t tell me we’re getting married until a week later,” she recalled.

“I didn’t give her a chance to say no,” he added.

After their small wedding, Kornegay traveled back to San Francisco with the expectation that he would ship off to fight in the war. When a delay allowed him to remain in San Francisco, his young bride boarded a train and traveled to the California city to spend time with him.

After the war, the couple lived in Clarke County for 14 years and Bibb County for 15 years. Times were tough at first. “They had some rough financial times,” Vaughn said.

“When he first started coaching we did. Money wasn’t plentiful then,” Sara Kornegay said.

James Kornegay developed a career in education, serving as a sports coach and educator before becoming a high school principal and eventually superintendent of schools for Bibb County. The couple even worked together at one point when she got a job as a school bookkeeper secretary in Bibb County.

The couple retired and moved to Millbrook in 1979 and they lived there until moving to Chelsea to be closer to Vaughn a few years ago. Vaughn said her siblings have followed in the steps of their parents with their own marriages.

Her oldest brother has been married since 1968, her sister since 1971 and her other brother since 1979. “I’ve been married 34 years,” she said. The Kornegays have 10 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

The Kornegays’ framed marriage certificate has a place on the wall of their home in their living room. The couple renewed their vows during a church service for their 50th anniversary in Millbrook.

“There are always some ups and downs of any marriage, but you have to learn to get over it,” Sara Kornegay said.

This Valentine’s Day, the couple will relax in each other’s company — just as they have enjoyed for more than seven decades. “We haven’t made any plans,” she said, quickly adding, “Every day is a holiday with us.”

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