Letters bring gift of love to Fort Wayne widow

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) — The trio huddle over a stack of black-and-white photos, their edges curling with age.

“This was a brick porch,” Agnes McArdle recalls. “We’d have cookouts out there … .”

“Was the gazebo still there when you lived there?” asks Roger Summers.

“Which part of my house is this?” Judy Summers asks, pointing to one of the photos.

McArdle and the Summers, strangers until two months ago, were brought together by a building and its long-hidden treasure.

The attic of the 100 year-old Culbertson Carriage House in Williams Woodland Park neighborhood, recently purchased by the Summers, yielded a handful of postcards, letters bearing 3-cent stamps, a thank-you note, and a photo – all dating to the 1950s when newlyweds Jim and Agnes McArdle lived in the upstairs apartment, The News-Sentinel reported (http://bit.ly/1ci0TL5 ).

Most people would relegate such detritus to the trash can.

“I read the letter,” says Judy, “and it was obviously a love letter. Of course, that touched my heart, and I wondered if these people were anywhere around.”

She logged on to her computer to search for “James McArdle” — the name on the envelopes. The letters, postmarked in 1954 from Whiting, in northwestern Indiana, were signed simply “Ag.”

“The very first thing that came up was an obituary,” Judy says. “It (mentioned) ‘his beloved wife, Agnes.’ … I was on the right track!”

She discovered that Agnes still lived in Fort Wayne.

A mere 2.4 miles from my house, says Judy. “That was Oct. 1, and the obituary said they would have been married 59 years on Oct. 2. The timing was amazing.”

Judy and a friend found themselves on McArdle’s doorstep the next day — Oct. 2. Summers had prepared a letter, detailing the finding of the memorabilia, planning to tuck it in the mailbox if no one was home.

McArdle answered the door.

“All I saw was these two ladies that I didn’t know from nothing,” she recalls, thinking perhaps they were members of a religious group. “But she had an envelope in her hand that had my hame on it. … How could she know my name?”

Sensing it was safe, McArdle invited the strangers in to discover they were delivering letters written while she and her husband were courting.

Jim and Agnes McArdle were introduced by St. Joseph Hospital’s chaplain, when she was a student in the hospital’s nursing program.

“He said, ‘I’ve got somebody I want you to meet,'” she recalls. “Our acquaintance began at the Knights of Columbus. When I graduated from training, I went home to work in a clinic, and Jim and I maintained our courtship long distance.”

Thanks to the Pennsylvania Railroad, the couple was able to spend time together, and, in 1953, Jim traveled to Whiting to spend Christmas with Agnes and her family.

“It was Christmas Eve, and we were exchanging gifts — just he and I,” she says. “We had gone to midnight Mass, and everybody else had gone off to bed. When we came back, he proposed to me at the tree. I was just tickled to death … happier than a lark.”

“You went to midnight Mass?” interjects Roger Summers. “It was Christmas Day … 60 years ago!”

They married Oct. 2, 1954, and soon settled into the cozy, two-bedroom apartment in the Carriage House now owned by the Summerses. The McArdles called their apartment “The Silo.”

“We had French doors and a little, wrought-iron railing,” McArdle recalls. “We loved it! We called it our honeymoon apartment.”

“It is a cute little place,” Roger comments. “Even gutted, it’s still a cute little place.”

Jim McArdle spent 50 years as parts manager at Jim Kelly Buick while Agnes McArdle served as a pediatric nurse. They raised four children.

“He and I never had a fight,” she says. “We disagreed, but we had a policy that you never went to sleep at night until your disagreement was resolved. That made for wonderful years … .”

Jim McArdle had a successful mitral valve replacement 20 years ago, but in early 2013, the valve began failing.

He underwent surgery, and, for a while, the new valve functioned properly. But by August, a fungal infection had set in. On Aug. 16, with Agnes at his side, he lost the battle.

When two strangers appeared on her doorstep on her 59th wedding anniversary, she sensed Jim’s presence.

“I’m sure there had been many renters in that apartment, and the attic was used for storage,” she says. “I will never understand why those letters weren’t discovered. They were there all my life, just waiting for a certain date … .”

“I think your husband was responsible,” says Roger. “It was his way of saying he’s OK, and he’s thinking about you.”

“I treasure them,” she says. “They’re precious. My children have all read them and are as amazed as I was.”

“You could have taken those letters and pitched them in the garbage,” she continues, smiling at Roger and Judy. “But out of the kindness of your hearts, you went to all the trouble to find out where they came from.”

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Information from: The News-Sentinel, http://www.news-sentinel.com/ns

This is an AP Member Exchange shared by The News-Sentinel.

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