Wilmore couple find marriage paperwork not filed
September 26, 2009 11:39 pm
WILMORE — In a few weeks, Frank and Betty Skrout should be celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary.
Instead, they are in search of documentation to prove they ever tied the knot on a warm autumn day when Dwight Eisenhower was president and the Pirates were closing in on a dramatic World Series win over the New York Yankees.
“All these years we’ve been living in sin,” the good-natured Frank Skrout said jokingly in an interview on the front porch of the their longtime Wilmore
“I thought I was married, and I was a single guy all this time,” he said.
The couple declared their love for one another in front of God and the late Rev. James Feehley at St. Bartholomew Catholic Church in Wilmore on Oct. 6, 1960. In attendance at that ceremony were Betty’s 5-year-old daughter and two witnesses.
Frank and Betty settled into a contented life, with Frank working for Bethlehem Steel and Betty at sewing factories in Johnstown, Windber and Portage.
All was well.
A son, Scott, came along, and the couple helped raise a grandson.
Now – well into retirement with five grandchildren and five great-grandchildren – the Skrouts have learned that the ceremony they based their life on was never registered at the Cambria County Courthouse as required by Pennsylvania law.
“I guess we’re not married, I don’t know,” said Betty Skrout.
“We went through everything. We did the whole thing.”
Frank interjected: “I might as well play the field. What the heck.”
‘We were married’
The problem surfaced recently when Betty learned of pension benefits she was eligible to receive from her days in the needle industry through the International Ladies Garment Workers Union.
But she needed documents to reflect her status change and her married name.
The certified license for the Skrouts does not exist at the office of the Cambria County Register of Wills/Clerk of Orphans Court.
What the Skrouts learned was that the “return of marriage” document completed by the priest performing the wedding ceremony was never returned to the courthouse as required by law.
Word of the couple’s situation spread quickly through the community and the joking followed.
“We’ve had a lot of fun with this,” Betty said. “But it’s like the priest told us: We were married. The records are there – somewhere.”
The Skrouts wonder how many other couples married at St. Bartholomew’s during that era may be in the same boat.
Meanwhile, they have discussed going through the process again with a small private ceremony at the church.
‘A big problem’
Patty Sharbaugh, the elected Cambria County official in charge of the records, said that while similar problems have arisen in her 33 years in the office, this is the first one she has heard of from the Wilmore church.
“Boy, that’s bad. That does cause a big problem,” Sharbaugh said.
She requires the return of marriage certificate be back to her office within 10 days of the ceremony. But if the Skrouts can locate the information from the church, she will record it, back-dating the marriage to Oct. 6, 1960.
“If the priest is still around or if they can locate those church records, we’ll complete them,” she said.
Sharbaugh said she will do the same for any other couples married at the Wilmore church and in the same situation.
But as for now, Frank and Betty as the Skrouts do not exist as a married couple in the public record.
“Not according to us, not according to our records,” Sharbaugh said. “They’re not married.”
‘Property of the parish’
During the past several years, Sharbaugh has instituted a procedure reminding people to get the certificates returned.
“Now if we don’t get a return, we call the people and write them letters. We bug them,” she said.
“If they called off the marriage, then we attach a letter to show we tried.”
The procedure is too late to help the Skrouts, but Tony DeGol, secretary for communications of the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese, said the marriage certificate should be available.
“Those records are the property of the parish and they can be found,” he said late last week.
Meanwhile, the Skrouts continue to be good natured about their strange situation.
“I guess I still don’t have my freedom,” Frank Skrout said.