Catherine and Ben Sofka of Maynard hold their wedding photo in their Maynard home Sept. 27. Pilot photo/Donis Tracy
MAYNARD -- Though Ben and Catherine Sofka were unable to join other couples celebrating significant anniversaries for the special Mass and renewal of vows at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross Sept. 25, the couple still has great reason to celebrate. This year they will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary.
"He's 100, so walking is not very easy for him, and I'm just 90, but I don't get around as much as before either," Catherine said.
Speaking to The Pilot in their Maynard home Sept. 27, the couple shared the story of their long life together and the secret to a marriage that has lasted longer than many people have been alive.
It all started in 1944. Two sisters, walking home from school in their Holland town were approached by two American soldiers. One of them was Ben Sofka, a B25 Engineer Gunner from Maynard.
"He asked me where we were going, and I told him we were going home. He asked if he could walk me home, and I said no," smiled Catherine Sofka. "He walked me home anyway, which I guess was the beginning of our life together."
Sitting in their Maynard home, the couple reminisced about a life shared -- stories of raising their three children, moving from country to country while Ben was in the Army, anecdotes of their five grandchildren and the wisdom they have garnered from a lifetime together.
And at the center of it all -- their faith.
"The secret to a happy life together" Ben said thoughtfully, "is to stay close to your religion. If you have God, then you have it all."
Faith was very important to Catherine and Ben as they were growing up. Ben, one of five children born to Polish-born Americans, attended St. Casimir Parish in Maynard as a child.
"That was the Polish church," he explained with pride.
Catherine, the fourth of 10 children, was raised in Holland. She recounted how her father asked Ben's parish priest to submit a letter or recommendation to see if Ben was "worthy" of his daughter.
"That was really the only reason my father finally approved of him," she admitted. "The war had ended. Ben had returned home, and for about a year and a half all we had was correspondences by mail."
"But he was so handsome, and he looked like a nice guy," she continued, glancing at him, "and I think it worked out well, no?"
According to Catherine, at the age of 20, she said goodbye to her family, boarded a plane in Amsterdam, and arrived in Maynard to marry Ben.
"I remember sitting on the airplane thinking to myself, 'What have I done?' Those first years were a bit tough -- I had a new family to get used to, and I hadn't even met them once before the wedding!" she said.
After one year of marriage, the couple welcomed twins Rita and Richard. Having finished 5 years in the Army, Ben reenlisted, and thus began 15 years of moving from place to place -- first Staten Island, then Panama, Niagara Falls, Taiwan and lastly North Carolina.
It was while they were living in Niagara Falls that their third child, Roberta, was born.
Together with Catherine, they recounted stories of a pet dog running amuck in Taiwan; a difficult journey made by Catherine and the children as they transferred from Niagara Falls to Taiwan, their first experience with segregation in the South.
"There were so many adventures we lived through," laughed Ben.
In 1963, Ben retired from the Army and the couple moved into their Maynard home -- the home they still live in today.
When asked about the secret to the longevity of their marriage, the two shrugged.
"I guess we have always talked things over with one another and come to an agreement," Catherine said humbly.
"You don't always agree," he added. "But you have to be satisfied and thankful with what you have."
"We've never had resentment or jealousy or any of that. We haven't gotten to that point yet," Ben added with a laugh.