A walk in the park 50 years ago, their wedding was the 1st ever at Fargo's iconic Island Park gazebo
Ruth and Ernie Ford will return to the site of their wedding to mark their 50th anniversary. The former Fargo couple, now living in Elk River, Minnesota, was the first to wed in Fargo's Island Park gazebo in 1972.
FARGO — When Ruth and Ernie Ford said their vows in 1972, church weddings were the standard.
But having attended her older sisters’ weddings, Ruth wasn't interested in that kind of formality.
Ruth, then 18, and Ernie, 21, would have an outdoor wedding in the gazebo at Island Park in downtown Fargo.
She remembers well what her mother, Virginia Josund, said when the couple revealed their plans.
“'If you want to get married outdoors, then you've got to take care of all of the arrangements yourself.' And it's like, ‘Okay, because that's what I’m doing,’” Ruth said.
The Fords were the first couple ever married at the Island Park Gazebo on Friday, Aug. 4, 1972. Their wedding was the subject of a news story published in The Forum two days later.
Now living in Elk River, Minnesota, the couple is returning to Fargo and the gazebo to mark their 50th wedding anniversary with a reception and reunion on Saturday, Aug. 6.
The gazebo has since been booked for countless weddings, gatherings, protests, celebrations, festivals and dance lessons.
Marcy Brush, administrative specialist with the Fargo Park District, said the number of weddings booked there varies, but this year nine weddings have either taken place or are scheduled for the Island Park Gazebo.
But the Fords were the first, a reflection of their generation as confirmed by Rev. Douglas Lindgren, then assistant pastor of Elim Lutheran Church of Fargo, who presided over their ceremony.
“It’s the young movement. They want to be more original,” Lindgren told The Forum at the time.
Like Elvis and Priscilla
Ruth, now 68, and Ernie, 71, first met when she lived in Carrington, North Dakota, and he lived in Fargo.
While visiting her married sister in Fargo, Ruth found some friends to hang out with one night and was introduced to Ernie.
They shared a kiss, but when he learned the next day she was only 13, he backed off.
“I was too young for him to date,” Ruth said.
A few years later, when he returned from serving in the U.S. Marine Corps, they reconnected.
“I worked at Mexican Village in Fargo and he came walking in and … Whoa, he was good looking,” she said.
Within two weeks, they were engaged and shared the news with Walt and Virginia Josund, Ruth’s parents.
“Her dad didn't like me that well because I had let my hair grow out a little bit more after getting out of the Marine Corps,” Ernie said.
Ruth requested permission from the Fargo Park District to hold the ceremony at the Island Park gazebo, and the only stipulation was that they clean it up when they were done.
They were a striking couple on their wedding day, she in a white and lavender dress sewn by her sister, Vera, and he dressed in a dark suit and tie with a white carnation. Her sister also made the grape-toned bridesmaids’ dresses.
Some people said the couple reminded them of Elvis and Priscilla Presley.
“I never saw that,” Ruth said of her being compared to the woman who married the “King of Rock and Roll” in 1967.
Concerns about rain and 'hippie' onlookers
While certain wedding details were fine-tuned, including dresses, cake and flowers, others came together only at the last minute.
There were few tables for guests, so the sit-down reception turned out to be more buffet-style.
A local funeral home allowed them to borrow chairs, but again, there weren’t enough, so Ernie secured more from the nearby YMCA.
The only photos of the ceremony were taken by The Forum, Ruth said, as part of the news story.
Graffiti marked parts of the gazebo, which the wedding party covered up with purple and white streamers.
The couple’s biggest concerns were whether it would rain and whether onlookers in the park would “heckle” during the ceremony.
Neither turned out to be a problem.
Ernie and Ruth said with the “hippie revolution” happening at the time, "young people with long hair" liked to hang out in parks, but they were very respectful.
“I was impressed with that,” Ernie said. “I think they were more in awe than anything else.”
After their iconic wedding, Ruth's father got over her husband's “long hair,” and they became good friends before he died about a year later.
The couple went on to raise two daughters and have seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
They’ve retired from their jobs — she from working for the old Northwestern Bell and he from working as a security guard driving an armored vehicle.
They renewed their marriage vows 10 years after the wedding date, this time in a church.
“I tried talking him into a third time, but he said, ‘Enough,’" Ruth said with a laugh.
The invitations to their 50th anniversary reception Saturday ask friends and family to celebrate at the gazebo “where it began,” noting, “we are looking forward to sharing this day.”