Sunday Assembly

Couple in assisted living facility finds way to celebrate anniversary amid COVID-19

By Dan Russo

Witness Editor

DUBUQUE — Visitors have been unable to enter assisted living facilities and nursing homes for months now because of the coronavirus pandemic, causing many seniors to miss face-to-face contact with loved ones and the ability to mark important occasions in traditional ways.

The obstacles didn’t stop Norbert and Millie Tressel, residents of Bethany Home in Dubuque, from recently finding a way to celebrate 63 years of marriage. Since they and their fellow residents at Bethany are in a high risk category if they contract COVID-19 due to age, the couple used an online meeting program to allow their family and friends to witness a special anniversary blessing.

Norbert and Millie (Brimeyer) Tressel are seen on their wedding day in 1957. (contributed photo)

On June 22 at 9 a.m., Norbert and Millie connected to a Zoom call that allowed them to see and talk to their children, other guests and Father Dwayne Thoman, a priest of the Archdiocese of Dubuque.

As the Tressels sat together in Bethany Home, those in attendance watched remotely as Father Thoman led the blessing.

Norbert Tressel and Mildred (Millie) Brimeyer were married at Immaculate Conception Church in North Buena Vista, Iowa, on June 22, 1957. Meeting at a dance at Melody Mill outside Dubuque, a romance blossomed after Norbert asked his future bride if she needed a ride home.

During their marriage, the couple raised six children. They have 13 grandchildren, three great-grandchildren, and one on the way. In the days leading up to the event, the Tressels reflected on their coming anniversary

“I hope my wife will be around,” joked Norbert.

Norbert and Mille (Brimeyer) Tressel are seen in a recent photo. They have been married 63 years. (contributed photo)

“I hope we make it to 100 because I am just getting him broke in,” responded his wife.

Millie Tressel enjoys writing about her life and included a section on preparing for her wedding day in her memoirs. The plans were going fairly well, until about 10 days before the sacrament. Tressel found out her mother had to have a major surgery. Hilda Brimeyer’s doctor insisted she have the procedure immediately, making it possible that the couple would postpone the wedding. Millie Tressel recalled that her mother would not go through with the surgery unless she went ahead with the wedding.

The young bride agreed.

“I was instructed many times — no crying,” wrote Tressel. “After Mass, the reception line formed in the back of the church for congratulations. I did fine and at no time cried until my dad came out of the church with with my grandmother by his side. That was too much.”

The bride didn’t find out until after the ceremony how serious her mother’s condition was, learning later that the surgery was done to treat cancer.

The coronavirus has added some additional drama to the couple’s life lately.

Millie Tressel reflected that “she has never had an experience like this.” Her husband said that “Bethany Home is a good place to be during this pandemic. They take good care of us.”

The couple was happy to be able to celebrate their anniversary. For young couples today, they offered simple advice —

“Agree with your wife,” said Norbert with a laugh.

“Pray, pray, pray,” added Millie.


Cover photo: A screen shot from the Zoom call during which Millie and Norbert Tressel received a blessing on their marriage of 63 years from Father Dwayne Thoman. Family members and other guests were able to take part through the online meeting program. (contributed photo)