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Originally published June 29, 2010 at 9:15 PM | Page modified June 30, 2010 at 5:19 AM

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Couple who met, and fell in love, on South Park Bridge 66 years ago sad to see it go

A couple who met more than 66 years ago on the South Park Bridge and fell in love are sad about Wednesday's bridge closure.

Seattle Times staff reporter

South Park Bridge

The deteriorating 79-year-old bridge, which crosses the Duwamish River, will close permanently at 7 p.m. Wednesday. The closure worries many South Park residents and businesses, who fear they'll become isolated.

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It was love at first sight that day in September 1943 when Vern Landry spotted a girl walking home across the South Park Bridge.

This Thanksgiving, the couple will celebrate their 66th wedding anniversary.

It's with a mixture of sadness and happy memories that the couple, who now live in Yuma, Ariz., face Wednesday's closure of the 79-year-old bridge.

"If it's ever rebuilt, it won't be the same, said Landry, 83. "It was really important to us, a real start."

His wife, Ardis, 83, agreed. "I used to walk over the bridge all the time."

It was that September day when Vern Landry, his brother Eugene and two friends were driving across the bridge and saw the 17-year-old girl walking alone, heading home from her job at Boeing's Shelter Cafe. Was she cute? "She was a girl," said Vern Landry.

His brother was driving his '41 Chevy and stopped the car in the middle of the bridge and offered her a ride home. Ardis wasn't about to get into a car with a bunch of strangers, even though she thought Vern was pretty darned handsome.

So they asked her if they could follow her home across the bridge. She agreed, knowing she had her parents and eight brothers and sisters waiting for her. Lots of protection if these guys turned out to be hellions.

Vern hit it off with her father right away. It seems they had both lived in Madison, Minn. Ardis had moved from there to Seattle the year before, and Vern had worked there when he didn't have enough money to take the bus to South Dakota.

Ardis was a junior at Cleveland High School and walked every day the three miles from her school to her job and then home to South Park. Vern had left school and soon joined the Army. He later went to work for, and retired from, the Union Pacific Railroad.

Vern's first date was actually with Ardis' older sister Ellen, a woman his brother Eugene eventually married. Ardis was jealous, but it didn't take long for Vern to find the love of his life.

Both still say their encounter on the South Park Bridge was love at first sight. They married in 1944, and Ardis' father helped them buy their first house in White Center. It cost $2,080 and required a $300 down payment and a mortgage payment of $12 a month. Vern didn't have the down payment, so Ardis' father paid it.

Vern Landry says he's not sure what his life would have been had his brother not stopped the car on the South Park Bridge that September day, but he and Ardis have cherished the story for more than six decades.

"This story has been with us forever," he said.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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