'A good 53 years'
Ralph and Dot McNutt Egli met about 60 years ago after each started working in Oak Ridge. She came from Alabama as a teacher after graduating from Auburn University. He came from Indiana and worked as an engineer after graduating from Purdue.
They met at church and, as they attended the same events for their age group, it seemed the two just kept pairing up, Dot said as she sat beside her husband of now 53 years as of last November. Valentine's Day is just another reason to express their love and devotion to each other.
"She was somebody I wanted to know," Ralph said he thought after first noticing Dot at church. "I was really impressed with him," Dot said of her first thoughts of Ralph.
Their first date was at C'est Bon in Knoxville.
"It was a really nice restaurant," Dot said. She admitted to being a little nervous on that first date.
"I remember when we got up on the dance floor and he held my hand, something just tingled," Dot said. "I thought, 'Well, this is it.'"
But it would be a long while before they would get married.
"It took him a while to make up his mind, after about six years of dating," Dot said of how long it took her husband to pop the question.
"I wasn't old enough to get married," Ralph joked.
An avid hiker, Ralph got Dot interested in the activity. "I'm a hiker by marriage," Dot said.
It was during a hiking trip up to Mount LeConte when Ralph decided to pop the question.
"My family was up here on a vacation and a whole bunch of my family hiked to LeConte, and Ralph came from Oak Ridge and hiked with us, and that's when he proposed to me," Dot said.
"We were actually ready to leave Myrtle Point and we lagged behind and that's when he asked me," Dot said.
"It wasn't Myrtle Point," Ralph said. "Clifftop," Dot corrected herself. "Sorry, sorry."
"Get it right," Ralph said. "This is historical."
"I was excited," Dot said of her reaction to the proposal. "I'd been waiting for it long enough. Of course I told my family coming down the trail. They planned the wedding all the way down the trail."
They married Friday, Nov. 27, 1959, in Haleyville, Ala., at Dot's home church. Her original plan was to have the wedding on Nov. 28, which is Ralph's birthday. Her family's love of Auburn football, however, kicked the wedding back a day.
"That was the weekend of the Auburn-Alabama game and they said, we're not coming to your wedding," Dot said.
"Can't interfere with football," Ralph added. "There won't be anyone there to throw the rice."
They spent a brief honeymoon in Atlanta before the real honeymoon began in a new home on Wiley Oakley Drive in Gatlinburg. They agreed to house-sit for their friend Pauline Huff as she went on an extended trip. A year and half later, they moved into their own home behind hers, around the same time they welcomed the first of their three children: Randy, Susan and Carol.
They now have 12 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
From the time they met and throughout their marriage, God has been at the center of their relationship and home, Dot said.
"We've made God the central thing in our home, which helped us with our children," she said. Dinner was always preceded by saying grace and they held regular family devotionals. "They just grew up like that and now they're carrying that on in their own homes."
"Our children behaved and were well-mannered," Ralph added. "They are a joy and a gift."
In 1972, Dot and Ralph gave up their teaching and engineering jobs and became owners of Mountain Laurel Chalets.
"There again it was the direction of the Lord," Dot said. "Because I had no knowledge of business, I just always taught. It just kind of evolved."
The business has grown from five to six vacation rental properties to more than 150.
Along with being members of the business community, the couple are also civic and church leaders. They're involved with the University of Tennessee's Campus Crusade for Christ, where her youngest daughter and son-in-law are on staff. They attend First United Methodist of Gatlinburg, are on the board of Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries and are involved with Friends of the Smokies.
Ralph is a volunteer in Boy Scouts, is a Gideon and is a member of Rotary, "with 50-plus years of perfect attendance," he noted. Dot is involved with the Garlands of Grace Bible study group and is a 55-year member of Delta Kappa Gamma teacher's organization.
"I can't say there haven't been some bumps in the road," said Dot, with the latest bump being her diagnosis of B-cell lymphoma. She was diagnosed on Dec. 11, 2012, but just two months later after chemotherapy treatments, she was declared cancer free on Monday. Again, she credits God and all the prayers family and friends sent up in her support.
"It's been a good 53 years," Dot said, patting her husband's hand.