John and Nancy met in 1956 as first graders in Miss Potter's class at Seventh Avenue Elementary School in Haddon Heights.
"Nancy held my hand as I joined her reading group, because I was really shy," John remembers.
They saw each other nearly every school day until high school graduation. In sixth grade, they won a silver dollar in a local ballroom dancing competition. Senior year, they were chemistry lab partners.
"I really had a crush on her since first grade," John said.
"He didn't let me know this!" said Nancy.
Both dated other people in high school, but John, too shy to ask out the girl he really liked, never had a steady girlfriend.
As graduation 1968 approached, John prepared for Princeton University and Nancy for Douglass College at Rutgers in New Brunswick. John drew a map of the two schools in her yearbook to show how close they would be. Both spent the summer in a special advanced mathematics course. One day after class, after weeks of practicing with his mother, John asked Nancy on a date: dinner and the movie Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Nancy agreed to what she saw as a night out with a friend. John learned she had a boyfriend, and no intention of breaking up with him.
Nancy and John saw each other only once - at a high school reunion - during the next 30 years. In those decades, both had short first marriages and began long second marriages.
In 1975, Nancy became an administrative assistant at Rutgers, where she later earned an MBA and is now an assistant dean of academic advising. She married her second husband, Charlie, in 1983, and she has five children and stepchildren.
After Princeton, John left for Minneapolis. He earned an MBA and a doctorate in educational leadership. In 1980, he married his second wife, Maureen. He has two adult stepchildren. John began his management consulting firm, the Drozdal Company, in 1991.
Maureen died in 2002. John moved to Albuquerque, N.M., to try out another part of the country.
In 2008, Lin, an old friend of both John's and Nancy's, found John in the alumni directory. She and her husband were vacationing out west, and John agreed to meet them for brunch.
Lin persuaded John to come to their 40th high school reunion. John and his date had dinner with Lin and her husband, his old crush Nancy, and Nancy's husband, Charlie. It was so much fun that John, Nancy, and Lin began exchanging e-mails a few times a year.
Nancy didn't quickly respond to an e-mail John sent in early 2010. Lin wrote to John to explain that Charlie had just died. John wrote again to Nancy, saying that his wife had died seven years earlier, and that he understood the pain Nancy was feeling. "If you want to talk about anything, or e-mail me, just let me know. Otherwise, I'll touch base in a few months, to see how you are doing," he wrote.
Nancy and John began e-mailing again that spring. Nancy didn't know that in the months that followed, Lin told John she thought he and Nancy would be perfect together, and John confessed that whenever Nancy was ready, he was certainly interested.
Nancy texted John from a Phillies game. Text messages flew back and forth for six weeks. Finally Nancy, feeling the first glimmer of romantic feelings, called John. The sound of her voice brought the shy boy he used to be right back to the surface. John ordered himself to keep it together.
That August, more than 40 years after their first date, the two went to dinner in Minnesota, where John was again living.
It made the couple, both now 61, feel giddy as teenagers.
How does forever sound?
They flew to visit each other as often as possible. In late 2010, John was bursting to tell Nancy exactly how he felt. He rehearsed his lines, but when the time came, eloquence failed him. "I want to be with you until I croak," he said.
A work commitment meant John would spend Valentines Day in Minnesota, so he and Nancy celebrated early, with a Feb. 9 dinner in Philadelphia. He gave Nancy the four-diamond ring his father had given his mother for their 20th anniversary, and they began making wedding plans.
In May 2011, John moved back to South Jersey.
It was so them
The couple whose relationship bloomed through text messages opted for electronic invitations. They were cool-looking and environmentally sound, and the service compiled the RSVP results.
Other than that, they went pretty traditional. "Some people our age might live together and not get married," Nancy said. But that was not for them.
Lin, their matchmaker, was matron of honor.
"We had friends from high school and college, and family members who had not seen each other in a long time," Nancy said. "It really became a reunion of family and friends - it transcended us."
The couple vowed to love each other until they croak.
Everybody partied to music from the '60s and '70s. The couple's two wedding cakes were decorated with images of their first-grade school pictures.
Nancy's parents, Wendell and Dorothy, were among the 110 guests. John's late parents, John Sr. and Alice, and the couple's late spouses were honored in the wedding program.
This didn't happen at the rehearsal
During her toast, Lin gave John a hat proclaiming him Nancy's oldest friend, and hung a sign on Nancy as a warning to John. "Boss," it read.
John and Nancy met in the middle of the aisle before walking to the front of the church together. As they walked toward each other, John was transfixed by the same enormous smile she had worn even when they were children. "I thought, 'I get to see this smile every day now,'" John said.
Watching John walk toward her, Nancy could only think, "I can't believe it's you! You from so long ago are going to be my husband!" When they met, they paused for "massive amounts of kissing" before walking to the front of the church together, Nancy said.
A bargain: The digital wedding invitation package cost about $130, saving them hundreds of dollars and the time of addressing envelopes.
The splurge: The food cost more than the couple had budgeted, but once they tasted the work of their caterer, they were hooked. Plus, he gave avid cook John some priceless tips on sauce-making.
The honeymoon: A week at Lake George in New York.
BEHIND THE SCENES
Rev. Dr. Wayne Zschech of the Lutheran Church of Our Savior, Haddonfield
Lutheran Church of Our Savior and Haddon Fortnightly, Haddonfield
Matt Hanley, Culinary Express, Voorhees
Sweet Eats Bakery, Haddonfield
Daniel Leong, Focus Photography, Cherry Hill
DJ and karaoke by Marc Rose Productions, Haddonfield
Fashions by Penina, Marlton
Haddonfield Floral Company, Haddonfield