Images of Robert and Nora Viands, of Rockford, Ill., on their wedding day and on their 50th wedding anniversary. After 71 years of marriage the couple died 16 hours apart Wednedsay, Aug. 28, 2013, while in the care of Northern Illinois Hospice and Grief Center Rockford. (AP Photo/Rockford Register Star, Amy J. Correnti)
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CHICAGO — A husband and wife who eloped in 1942 and were married for more than seven decades died hours apart this week at a hospice in northern Illinois.
Family members say Robert and Nora Viands were inseparable during their marriage, which included three separate wedding ceremonies. Together, they raised five children.
“They were really never apart,” said one of their daughters, Barb Milton. “They would hold hands in the dining room.”
The two lived together in their home until moving to a Rockford retirement center earlier this year as their health deteriorated.
Robert Viands, who had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease, was 92 when he died around 12:45 a.m. Wednesday. Nora Viands, 88, died at 4:45 p.m. She’d been hospitalized with pneumonia in December.
Milton said that whenever the couple would go anywhere throughout their marriage, when their father decided it was time to leave he would tell his wife and be out the door. Robert would wait in the car while Nora would linger, saying her goodbyes.
“We joked (after Nora died) that he was tugging on her, saying ‘Come on Nora,’ and she said ‘No, I have to say goodbye to the kids,’” Milton said.
The couple, who were originally from Ashland in central Illinois, met on a blind date. But family members say Nora wasn’t initially smitten, and vowed not to go out with him again.
Robert, who was later drafted during World War II, persisted and the two went on a second date. They eventually eloped to Missouri because at 17, Nora was too young to legally wed in Illinois. To appease their families — she was Catholic, he was Methodist — they had two more ceremonies in their respective churches.
The couple marked their 71st anniversary in June.
Robert Viands spent 30 years working at a distributor company and retired as a rural postal carrier. He enjoyed fishing and gardening. Nora “loved a little flavor of the casinos,” according to an obituary, and was a teacher as well as a cheerleading coach.
They also had 18 grandchildren.
Milton said she and her siblings had worried about what would happen to their surviving parent when the other one died. And though they are sad to lose them, “in our hearts we’re glad.”
“All of us children have said this is the only way they would have wanted it,” she said.
A joint funeral will be held Sunday in Rockford, about 80 miles northwest of Chicago.