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Couple married on Valentine’s Day in Israel

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The Johnson County residents were married on Valentine’s Day while visiting Cana in 2012. Their wedding didn’t prominently feature wine or water, but both the bride and groom felt the miracle of finding love with each other.

This marriage was the second for both Barr, 77, and Rowland, 74.

Rowland’s husband, John, died in 2007. They had been married for 35 years. Barr had been married for 43 years to his wife, Dee, before she died in 2004.

Barr and Rowland met each other through a euchre game at the Morgantown Senior Center. The games led to pleasant conversations, and the two started looking forward to seeing each other every week.

Their games led to dinners and dates, just the two of them.

In their long conversations, Barr and Rowland voiced a desire to visit Israel.

Both were devout in their faith. Rowland had joined a Catholic order when she was 19, traveling to Tanzania, Africa, to work as a missionary for three years.

Barr is a Gideon, working with Christian pastors to arrange presentations to the congregation on the group’s evangelical mission.

The couple felt it would be a breathtaking way to bring their spirituality alive.

“From time to time, I’ve heard of people taking trips to Israel. I’d dreamed of something like this,” Barr said.

They made plans to take a guided trip to the country in February 2012, after Rowland had returned from her annual winter stay in Florida.

But when Barr went to pick her up at the airport, he had a surprise in mind. They went straight to her favorite restaurant, raising Rowland’s suspicions.

“I wondered what was going on at that point,” she said. “He said something like, ‘What do you think about getting married?’ I told him before I’ll think about getting married, you have to propose to me.”

With a proper proposal and a ring they purchased in Nashville, Barr and Rowland started planning the ceremony they wanted.

Knowing they’d be in Israel on Feb. 14, they thought that would be a fitting setting for a wedding. Rowland called the minister leading the travel group, and he worked out the details.

“He looked at the agenda, and said, ‘Guess what? We’re going to be in Cana that day. Would you want to do it in a chapel there?’” Rowland said. “We thought that was a good idea.”

On the day of the wedding, the 18-person tour group packed into a tiny chapel. They picked friends they had made on the trip to be their best man and maid of honor.

“It was very intimate, very cozy and very nice. It was a one-in-a-lifetime experience,” Rowland said.

The wedding was a surprise to both of their families. Neither Barr nor Rowland had told their children before leaving, and Rowland had made sure they didn’t see the engagement ring she picked out.

In an email after the ceremony, they broke the news.

“Everyone was shocked. They had all kind of comments. But this is how we wanted to do it,” Rowland said.

While the wedding was the centerpiece of the trip, Israel offered the spiritual epicenter that made their union even more special.

At the Garden of Gethsemane, they witnessed olive trees that had been growing since the time of Christ. They walked up steps that were more than 2,000 years old.

They sailed into the Sea of Galilee on a old fishing ship. Standing by the railing in the sun, with the mountains in the distance, they could envision the Bible stories they had read their entire lives.

“It was such a spiritual experience and was so powerful to be able to go to all of those places,” Rowland said. “When you read those passages again while you’re there, you can visualize that whole situation.”

Not only were Barr and Rowland married in Israel, but they took the opportunity to be baptized again. Their minister dipped their heads in the River Jordan, much like the first Christians had done.

Meeting up with another busload of pilgrims from the U.S., they took some time to sing hymns together.

“We had a lot of wonderful spiritual experiences,” Rowland said.

As they get ready to celebrate their second anniversary, Barr and Rowland have settled into a comfortable routine.

They still play euchre at the Morgantown Senior Center. Since Rowland lived so long in Brown County, the couple make regular trips to Bean Blossom and Nashville to visit friends.

In the winter, they travel to Sanibel Island, Fla., to take advantage of the mild temperatures and excellent beaches for shell collecting.

Barr has five grandchildren, and Rowland came into the marriage with nine grandchildren. That keeps them busy, visiting the ones who live nearby and attending football games, wrestling meets and other school activities.

Barr and Rowland don’t have any specific plans for the dual purpose of Valentine’s Day and their anniversary. But like their wedding, they prefer things to be unexpected and spontaneous, Barr said.

“I like to sneak up on you, without you expecting it. I’m sure we’ll do something special,” Barr said.

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