OKEECHOBEE — Beth Jennings fell in love with her husband, Ed, when she was only 3 years old. Of course, he was 12 and had no idea, she said. Their parents were friends, and Mr. Jennings got to go hunting with the men, but they never let her go, because she was too young. Mr. and Mrs. Jennings are both originally from Ohio.
Mr. Jennings was in the service during the Vietnam War and served two years active duty and two years inactive. He spent one year in Vietnam and a year in Okinawa.
After he got out of the service, he worked construction for a couple of years, but his parents had moved to Florida and he followed them down here. While doing construction work, he became friends with a firefighter, and since he already had fire training through the Navy, he decided to go to work for the Palm Beach Fire Department. Mr. Jennings was awarded Humanitarian of the Year while he was working as a firefighter. He gave mouth to mouth resuscitation to three dogs that had been trapped in a fire. He was able to save them all.
It wasn’t until he was a firefighter that he and Beth became a couple. He went back up to Ohio to visit, and she had just graduated from high school. He went back home to Florida and told his friends he had just met the girl he was going to marry. It wasn’t long before he persuaded her to move to Florida, and they were married when she was 20.
He was with the fire department for 25 years before retiring and going back into construction until his wife was able to retire from her job for the clerk of court. At that time, they moved to Okeechobee.
Mr. and Mrs. Jennings have always been avid fishermen, and their walls are covered with mounted fish. For five years in a row, they made it to nationals in the Guys and Dolls fishing tournament. In 1999, they were “Couple of the Year” in Florida which is the number one place in the Guys and Dolls competition.
Mr. Jennings was a prankster and was known for his practical jokes. They have a mounted rattlesnake, and he kept it in a cooler. “I think everybody that knew Ed was gotten by that snake,” she laughed. “And those firemen, the bigger they were, the faster they ran. Ed would think for hours about how he was gonna trick somebody.”
One of his proudest moments was when he was awarded a medal for his service to the country by Gov. Rick Scott. He was so excited to meet the governor, she said Mr. Jennings was 100% disabled, and then they discovered he had ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease). Normally the progression of this disease takes some time, but in his case, it was fast. He was diagnosed in June of last year and he passed away this month. His problems began in January of last year, when he started losing the use of his left hand. They did a lot of testing and finally diagnosed him with ALS. “I can’t say enough wonderful things about the VA. They were very good to us and got him anything he needed,” said Mrs. Jennings
After he passed away, Mrs. Jennings decided she would like to give some of the medical equipment they had to another veteran who might need it. Okeechobee County Commissioner Bryant Culpepper is a friend of the family. They have known each other for many years, as he and Mr. Jennings worked together as firefighters in Palm Beach. When he heard she wanted to donate some things to a veteran, he knew just who to call, and soon, Gregg Maynard was on the job. It did not take him long to find a veteran in need, and he and Commissioner Culpepper loaded it all up, ramp, wheelchair, Hoyer Lift, shower chair, etc., and took everything to the veteran’s home. She said she knew her husband would be happy about that.
Her granddaughters Lexie and Taylor live with her. “We’re the Three Musketeers now,” said Mrs. Jennings. The girls’ father passed away last year, so it has been a rough year for the family. She said it has been difficult. She and her husband were married for 50 years, and she is no longer a “we,” but an “I.”
“I told Ed not to worry, though,” she said. “I told him I would be all right, and I will.”