WEDDING SERIES: Young Wildcat made the move of a lifetime
One bold move sparked a relationship that would carry into 48 years of marriage between Nenia and Joe Thompson.
Joe, who had a huge crush on Nenia, noticed that two guys were fighting over her during an Andrews High School dance. He said Nenia retreated from the altercation, looking embarrassed.
Joe walked up to Nenia, who was at the concession stand, and leaned over like he needed to ask her a question.
“I don’t know where I got the guts to do this,” Joe said. “She leaned over and I kissed her on the cheek. She jumped back and looked furious.
“It could’ve been a tragedy, but it ended up being the best thing I did in my life.”
Nenia remembers reacting to the kiss by saying, “Why did you do that?”
Joe said he replied with, “You just looked like you needed a kiss.”
The two danced the rest of the night together, and soon afterwards decided to become boyfriend and girlfriend.
High school sweethearts
Joe recollects his first memory of Nenia in High School. He was a sophomore, and Nenia was a freshmen. He said when he first saw her she was standing on a desk and everybody was laughing at her.
Later in the year, he saw her again during cheerleading tryouts. Back then tryouts took place in front of the entire school.
“It was really cute and funny, and I thought she (Nenia) was the cutest person I’d ever seen in my life,” Joe said. “I thought right then that I’d like to try to date her.”
During Nenia’s junior year in high school she proudly wore Joe’s letterman jacket and class ring.
When Nenia entered into her freshman year of college at the same university as Joe, he proposed to her. Nenia said yes, but felt “scared to death.”
She said she was unsure whether a marriage could work in college, but the two managed to stay afloat.
Taking the marriage plunge
Nenia and Joe married on June 7, 1970, in the old Andrews First Baptist Church, which is now the Valleytown Cultural Arts Center.
While Nenia walked down the aisle, Joe said he remembers thinking that she was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen.
Nenia said she recollects being super nervous as she walked towards Joe.
“I remember my bouquet was shaking,” she said. “My dad looked down and said, ‘Quit that.’”
Once the reception ended, the two drove off in Joe’s red Mustang, bound for their honeymoon in Caryville, Tenn. They said the town was along their route to Michigan, where Joe had planned to perform tunnel construction work.
After earning their degrees, the two moved back to Andrews from Western Carolina University. Throughout the course of 26 years Joe had many jobs including working as an alcohol and drug abuse counselor, Andrews High School teacher, real estate agent and parole officer.
Nenia started off as a registered nurse with District Memorial Hospital, working in all the facility’s departments. After two years she began working at a health department, then seven years later became a health occupations teacher at Hayesville High.
She later moved on to become the health occupations education teacher at Murphy High School, where she remained for 25 years until retirement.
“There have been a lot of good teachers, but Nenia is the best,” Joe said. “Everywhere we go in this county, people come out of the woodwork and hug her, and tell her how she changed their life.”
Together through thick and thin
Nenia and Joe had their first child, Micah in 1978. For three months the two drove back and forth from Emory Hospital, to be with their son while he battled a deadly heart condition. Joe said the doctors did everything they could to keep their infant son, but the illness took his life.
Two years later they had their second child Rebekah. Joe said their daughter struggled with drugs as early as her teens, and later had a son named Kylan. Because of Rebekah’s addiction, Joe and Nenia raised Kylan as their own. They later adopted him when he turned four.
“He’s just the best kid,” Nenia said with a smile.
She said Kylan became an Eagle Scout and is now majoring in environmental science at NC State University.
Although Nenia and Joe can be seen holding hands wherever they go, the two have experienced highs and lows in their relationship. Nenia said the key to staying together is their willingness to give as much as they take.
Joe said they both come from families with marriages that have remained intact until death.
“When we got married it was our intention to stay together forever,” he said. “You have to work at it. If people would work as hard at staying together as they work at splitting up, I think they can stay together.”
This article is a part of a wedding feature series that will lead up to the town’s first Bridal Fashion Show and Expo at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 15 at the Valleytown Cultural Arts Center. Hosted by the Friends of the Library, brides of all ages in Andrews will have the opportunity to walk the catwalk wearing their wedding dresses. The event will also provide high tea for all attendees. Those interested in showing off their dresses at the fashion show contact Evalyn Hopkins at 224-221-3562 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.