The wedding vow "Until death do us part" took on new meaning when Esther Hunt collapsed and died at the funeral of her late husband, Harold "Jack" Hunt. The couple had been married for more than 66 years and were together virtually their entire lives - a never-ending love story.
|Lifelong friends Jack and Esther Hunt were married for more than 66 years. (Photos provided)
"My mom and dad were inseparable and even death couldn't separate them," said Rev. Harry Hunt. "She did not want to live without my dad."
Harry is the fourth of the couple's five sons and one of four pastors among them.
In 1927, the couple were born in southeast rural Wood County just one month apart and three miles away as the crow flies. Esther McClish was born in June in Wayne, while Jack Hunt was born in July just down the road in what was then the Hatton community. Their families were friends and young Esther and Jack first met as toddlers.
They grew up knowing each other and when it came time for dating, neither ever went out with anyone else. They fell in love and married just shy of their 20th birthdays.
During their marriage they were nearly inseparable until the last few days of his life and then death on Dec. 26. She followed just four days later while at the church greeting mourners.
The service, already running late due to the volume of family and friends, was further delayed as they attended to the widow.
When Mrs. Hunt collapsed there was a doctor and some nurses in attendance who all assisted until the paramedics arrived.
"I knew regardless of what they did, that she had breathed her last," said Harry Hunt.
The service was being held at Word of Truth Christian Center in Bowling Green, whose pastor is the youngest son, Rev. Jerry Hunt. Calling his parents "faithful," he said he was blessed to have them in his congregation since the church was founded. The four clergymen, the Hunt sons, decided to proceed.
|Jack and Esther Hunt are pictured in this family photo, above, estimated to be from the mid 1940s.
"We knew we had to finish the service," said Rev. Terry Hunt, the middle son from Bluffton. "That's what she prayed for."
Harry Hunt concurred adding they held the service as their mother had planned it.
"I had a hard time believing that she had just passed, but we all knew we needed to lead the people in prayer and sing something," Harry Hunt said.
"What I did was get up and I began to sing," Jerry Hunt said recalling the a capella song being "Sing Praises to Your Name Most High."
Garry Hunt, of Cambridge, the second eldest, accompanied their mother to the hospital where she was pronounced dead. Terry learned of his mother's passing just prior to his time to speak at his father's funeral.
"It was sorrowful, but we also knew what a testimony (the situation) was to their lives. This was how this love story was to be complete," Terry Hunt said.
Though interviewed separately on different days, the brothers were unanimous in crediting their faith and devotion to Christ, their Lord.
"We all have the strength in us through Christ. It was not a sorrow for our mom because we knew she's with dad. They loved each other first and because of that we pressed on in that service," Terry Hunt said.
Jerry Hunt concurred, "There is only one explanation of getting through that, it is the strength of the Lord."
"This is all by the grace of God," said Harry Hunt, who pastors in Port Clinton.
He noted how many people like to say that God does not give people more than they can handle.
"That's not what the Bible says. Life throws things at us that we can't handle," the pastor explained. "It's at the moment of need that God's grace overwhelms you. As a pastor you talk about it, but until that moment hits you, you don't know it. (God) just takes you through it without having to think about it."
The last to speak was the eldest brother, Rev. Dr. Larry Hunt, who lives in Texas. After all four of the pastors spoke to honor their father, the brothers joined forces and announced the death of their mother to those gathered.
|The Hunt brothers (from left) Larry, Garry, Terry, Harry and Jerry, recently lost both their parents.
"It was amazing," Terry Hunt said of the reaction. "Our hearts were not devastated, it was not unfeeling, but there was strength."
Doug Barndt, the funeral director handling the service, said those attending were "very vocal," and almost celebratory of the reuniting of this beloved couple.
Barndt recalls hearing more than one person crying out, "Praise the Lord."
Harry Hunt phrased it, "Jesus is the only one who can make it bearable when life is anything but bearable."
Terry Hunt added: "There is strength and resilience because our hope is in Christ."
In the obituaries, the sons stressed the role of God, Christ and their faith for their family.
"As a son, we were very blessed to have parents like that," Harry Hunt summarized. "They demonstrated what love is about between a husband and wife. They also showed us what a family is about and how to live their lives centered around Christ. We just want to carry on the legacy they left for us."
Jerry Hunt concurred: "It's a story of love, they fell in love with someone else, that being Jesus, and because of their love for Jesus, their love stood the test of time."