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How a Couple in Their 90s Found the Gospel and Each Other

by | May 07, 2019

When Bud and Shirley Anderson were recently sealed in the Dallas Texas Temple, the sealer remarked that it was rare for him to have the opportunity to seal a couple that was older than him. 

The sealer was 82 years old.

Bud Anderson is 92 years old, and his wife, Shirley, is 90 years old. Bud recently returned to the Church after years of inactivity while Shirley is a recent convert. Their bishop, Lynn Gregson, says they are proof that it is never too late to make changes in one’s life.

“They’ve been such an example of enduring to the end, of looking at life way beyond just what we have here but beyond the grave. At 92 years young and 90 years young, they don’t look at it as, ‘Okay, well I’m done.’ They just keep going. They admit saying, ‘Well, I don’t know how long I have, but you know what, while I’m here, I’m going to keep improving, I’m going to keep treating people nice, I’m going to try to get better,’” Bishop Gregson says, becoming emotional. “They are an incredible example to me of what I hope I can have—that kind of desire at that time in my life.”

A Romance 90 Years in the Making

Bud and Shirley have known each other since they were first graders in a small Oregon town. The two never dated, but they did attend the same school and the same Methodist church, and in the eighth grade they were even voted “Most Outstanding Boy” and “Most Outstanding Girl.” 

But around Christmastime of his junior year, Bud hitchhiked to San Francisco to get away from his stepfather and live with his aunt. He and Shirley didn’t see each other again for more than 70 years—a lifetime by most standards. During that time they both married, Bud traveled everywhere from California to Korea to New Mexico before settling in Arkansas, and Shirley never left her home state.

Bud had been living in Arkansas for more than 50 years when he came to see Shirley at a Lake Oswego retirement center in 2017. He was in town visiting and had been told where she was living. Both were now widowed after 50+ years of marriage. During that visit, the two talked for hours over lunch. But when he left, Shirley thought, “It was wonderful to see him, but he lives in Arkansas, and that’s too far for me. I’m not getting involved or anything like that.” So, when Bud called another day during his trip to ask her to dinner, she declined.

“I hadn’t been out with a man for 10 years,” she says with a laugh. But Shirley’s adult children said that declining Bud’s invitation was very unlike her.

“They said, ‘Mother, that’s not you. You are always nice. You always do nice things. Why did you just do that?’” Shirley recalls. Their reprimand led Shirley to call Bud and apologize. Bud, who was heading back to Arkansas, was quick to accept the apology and asked if he could call Shirley. Soon the two were talking every night.

“I really have to admit that there was something God had to do with it all because there was a force, and he felt it and I felt it, that was just pushing us together. We’d back off and then pretty soon, it’d be back again,” Shirley says.

Shirley feels tremendous gratitude for her children, who saw how happy she was and encouraged her to pursue a relationship with Bud despite the fact that it meant leaving her four children behind, three of whom still live with their families in Oregon.

The two felt like they needed to move quickly because, at their age, they weren’t sure how much time they would have together and they wanted to savor it. “We started out and thought we’d be modern and live together and travel,” Shirley says. “But with me and my background, that just did not go, and all of the sudden when the time came I said, ‘I can’t do this. You’re going to have to marry me.’ But he was feeling the same way.”

“I wasn’t ever going to get married again, but Shirley just seemed like the person when I met her [again] that we could have fun,” Bud says.

Joining the Church

It wasn’t until Shirley found Bud that her life was turned upside down again by Latter-day Saint missionaries. But that part of their story begins many years before.

While under heavy mortar fire while serving as a young medic in Korea, one of Bud Anderson’s friends, who was a Latter-day Saint and badly injured, asked Bud if they could say a prayer.

“And he said, ‘We’ll get out of this,’” Bud recalls. “And I said, ‘Okay.’ so we did [pray]. We got out, and I believe that prayer took us out.”

Upon returning home from the war, Bud ended up joining the Church. He remained an active member for five years before falling away, but after his wife died, Bud had begun returning to activity, and missionaries began visiting his home. For Shirley, however, missionaries were new. She had no intention of joining the Church, and Bud never pushed her, but the more she learned, the more impressed she became. When she attended church, she felt the Spirit and the love of the people there.

And so it is that at the ripe old age of 89, Shirley began to feel a desire to be baptized.

“I had been searching for more depth in my faith because as a child, I was very, very, very faithful,” she says. Later in life, however, she says, “I made a few choices that weren’t bad choices, but they just weren’t the right choices, and I wanted to get back to where I had been. [But] no matter what I did, I really couldn’t find it.”

It was while watching general conference with Bud that Shirley turned to him and said, “That is what I want. That is what I’ve been waiting for.”

So the couple married on October 6, 2017. Shirley was baptized five days later on October 11.

Shirley says she would recommend getting baptized at an older age to anyone.

“I had made other choices that were not the right choices, and I really came to appreciate what God has done for me,” she said. “I just feel that by being baptized, I have been forgiven and I feel free again. I feel it was something that washed away all of those other things that had been troubling me. I don’t worry about them. I don’t think about them anymore. I am happy.”

Shirley isn’t the only one who is happier, though. The gospel has helped the Andersons discover more cohesion in bringing their new life together.

“We both lived two different lives—very different,” Bud says. “And there were some real changes, and [the gospel] seemed to bring that all together. It made it easier to adjust to all of those different changes that had to be made.”

All Roads Lead to the Temple

As Bishop Gregson and his wife, Gretchen, drove the Andersons to be sealed in Dallas in March of this year, they were touched by something Shirley said as they rode together, “Everything in my life has led me to this point—to join this church and to go to the temple.”

“Everything in her life?” they thought. That’s 90 years of experiences. Ninety years of people, places, and things. But Bud and Shirley say it’s true.

“For me, it was a necessity,” Bud says. “I think that [the sealing] completes everything. We’re actually together now, and not being sealed, you don’t feel any longevity to the marriage. When one of us is gone, that’s it, and you can’t live your lives to the fulfillment.”

That day, as they were sealed together for time and all eternity, the temple president told Bud and Shirley that their lives reminded him of the parable of the laborers in the vineyard. He explained that just as in the parable, the pay isn’t dependent on the hour at which you arrive and begin to work.

“Eternal life is our pay, whether you start at 90 years young or you start at birth—we agreed to the same pay,” Bishop Gregson says in reference to the parable, adding that there is a lesson in the Anderson’s story that applies to anyone. “People can change at whatever season in life.”

Life Left to Live

The Andersons know they aren’t going to live forever, but they also don’t feel or act 90. Bud recently took Shirley driving over 100 MPH in one of the antique automobiles he collects. They traveled through 14 states last summer and are already making plans for their future travels. They are also still seeking to learn everything they can about their faith.

“She’s really become a student of the gospel,” Gretchen Gregson, who served as their temple prep teacher, says of Shirley. “I just am so impressed that you can never stop learning. It’s just neat to see life being lived to the fullest.”

Just before her 90th birthday last summer, Shirley approached Bishop Gregson and asked what she needed to do to receive her patriarchal blessing.

With a huge grin on his face, Bishop Gregson recalls that conversation. “I’m like, ‘Your patriarchal blessing is about your future.' She’s 90 years old. What great faith!”

Recently, Shirley’s hairdresser told Shirley that Latter-day Saints weren’t Christians. After trying to convince her hairdresser herself that they were, Shirley asked Bishop Gregson if he would write a letter to share with her friend.

In a letter addressed to Shirley, Bishop Gregson wrote, “You and I recently had a conversation about people questioning if we are Christians and if we believe in Jesus Christ. As you know, the answer to the question is 100% YES! If the definition of a Christian is someone who believes that Jesus Christ is their Savior and follows His teachings then, yes, we are indeed Christians.”

Bishop Gregson added some other information to help Shirley before concluding, “I hope as you have conversations with others that the Light of Christ which shines in you will help witness to others our belief in Jesus Christ as our Savior.”

Shirley returned to beauty shop and asked her hairdresser to read the letter.

“She read it and said, ‘Thank you very much. I am so glad to know that Mormons are Christians. I am now going to tell all my friends,’” Shirley recalls with a huge smile. “I felt like a little missionary.”

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Morgan Jones

Morgan Jones comes to LDS Living after writing for the Deseret News since 2014. She published more than 480 stories and served as Senior Web Producer prior to her departure from Deseret News. Jones is a passionate storyteller and loves having the opportunity to share stories that deserve to be told. She is the host of the All In podcast. 

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