Wanting to surprise her husband Kelly Gay on their milestone anniversary with a photo session that closely mirrored their wedding day, Carolyn put her plan into action and dusted off her old wedding dress, which in 1971 cost her less than $50.
Over the past five decades, the beautiful couple built a family, had children and were tested by time and health. And, if it hadn’t been for a lifesaving kidney transplant, Carolyn–a cancer survivor–would have lost Kelly after less than 35 years together.
In 2021, three years before their milestone anniversary, Carolyn Gay hatched a plan to recreate photos from the day in 1971 when she married her lifelong love, Kelly Gay.
“At one point in time, I thought, ‘Oh it’s just 50 years. Let’s just go out and eat dinner and call it a day,’” Carolyn explained to ABC affiliate WQAD. “Then I thought, ‘Really, for the number of people that got married the last 50 years, there aren’t that many people that are still with the same original person.”
Carolyn wasn’t wrong. According to the US Census Bureau, the national average length of a marriage is 8.2 years.
It was then she decided to celebrate by putting on their wedding attire and recreating the photos they took on their special day.
To make it happen, Carolyn first contacted her photographer friend, Sam Holye, and then secured the venue, DSM Church in Des Moines Iowa, where they had their first ceremony. Then she spent the next three years growing her hair out to the length it was in their original images.
And on the day in 2021, she surprised her unsuspecting husband with the grand gesture.
“We’ve been married 50 years and she’s probably kept one secret from me, and this was it,” Kelly said.
In the photos, Kelly and Carolyn, who wore her old wedding dress and veil, that along with alterations cost less than $100, posed exactly as they had 50 years before. All the little details, like the candles, Carolyn’s garter belt and ballet-like shoes, were also in place.
“People are looking for good news and something to aspire to,” Hoyle said in 2021. “What better to aspire to than a happy couple 50 years on from their original wedding date lovingly looking at each other again like it was their first day? Hopefully, that comes through in the pictures.”
The loving glances shared between the two are–in part–from overcoming decades of struggles, which includes Carolyn surviving breast cancer and Kelly almost dying.
Recalling the day from 17 years ago when he learned he needed a new kidney to live, Kelly said, “I went to the doctor’s office and they did a blood test and the doctor came back and said, ‘I wouldn’t touch you with a 10-foot pole.’” Explaining that he needed a kidney specialist, Kelly continued, “‘You need to go find a kidney doctor.’ So, I did and they did some more tests and a week or so later the doctor came back and said you need a kidney transplant.”
Fortunately, his son was a match, and the transplant was successful.
“I had my husband getting a kidney and my son giving the kidney both at the same time,” Carolyn said.
Without that gift from their son, Kelly said he wouldn’t have made it to see his lovely bride on their 50th anniversary.
“You really don’t realize how important this is,” Kelly said, encouraging people to become organ donors. “You don’t realize how life-changing an organ transplant would be. I would not be here.”
This year, Carolyn and Kelly Gay celebrated their 52nd anniversary! We wish them many more years of love, happiness and health, and thank them for sharing their beautiful story with the world!
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