GREENSBORO — At the downtown magistrate’s office, 83-year-old Bill Shaffstall and 82-year-old Shirley Archie were the first of four couples to sign up shortly before 10 a.m. Saturday for a judge to marry them.
The two octogenarians, holding hands in the waiting area of the Guilford County Detention Center complex, met earlier this year and had known each other for just three months when Bill proposed.
Shirley’s daughter, Shurrane Webb, had moments earlier pinned the corsage Bill had bought on her mother’s dress.
“If she loves him, I’ve got to be happy for her,” Webb said as they waited. “But at first, I was like ‘No, you are not getting married. You are 82 years old.’ But she’s feisty and made up her own mind. I prayed about it. And as we got to know him, he fit right in.
“Mr. Bill seems like a good man.”
The two met at the end of spring in front of the mailboxes at the entrance of their mobile home park.
She is a talker. He listens.
Her hands get ice cold.
“It gives me a chance to hold them,” he said with a grin.
They both have a special place in their hearts for the Good Book and grandchildren.
After hearing of the engagement, some people told them to take their time.
The two know that concerns about their nuptials are mostly wrapped in good intentions. But Bill knows how he felt the first time he laid eyes on Shirley.
“And at our age we don’t know how much time we have left,” he said with a chuckle.
The two might never have crossed paths.
Neither is originally from Greensboro. Both raised children with other spouses.
Bill, a widower and former Army guy, had moved from his native Ohio to Winston-Salem to be with his daughter and her grandchildren. A few years earlier, he had lost his high school sweetheart and wife of 54 years.
“I didn’t like being alone,” Bill said.
His daughter eventually moved from Winston-Salem to Greensboro and settled into a quiet mobile home park with tidy yards. She used to talk about a friendly woman who the neighborhood kids called “Grandma.”
Bill followed when the park had another opening.
Shirley, who had a mobile home there, had retired from the hospitality department at Moses Cone Hospital. She had grown up in Greenville, S.C., and moved to Richmond, Va., to be closer to her ailing mother as a young woman. It was there she met her first husband. They later followed family to Greensboro.
She became a widow in 2017 after 32 years of marriage. Her husband spent the last decade or so of his life confined to a nursing home after a stroke.
“I didn’t have a boyfriend,” she said, “and didn’t want one.”
The day they met at the mailbox, Bill said “Hello.”
“I talk to just about everybody,” Shirley would later say, with a wink and a smile.
The kids might call her “Grandma,” but they call her “a grouch, too,” she added with a laugh, because she keeps an eye on what they do and is not afraid to chastise them as well.
Bill says he “saw right through that,” as they playfully banter back and forth.
They realized they lived a few houses and a turn down a street away from each other.
Soon, he was joining her on walks when she came past his yard.
She dropped off plates of food.
“We just got closer and closer as friends,” he said.
She told him that she was a Randy Travis fan.
Also a fan of the country music superstar, he went out and bought a bunch of concert DVDs and they spent hours watching them.
Although she had been afraid of dogs since one bit her as a child, she no longer tenses up around his lapdog Leela.
While he is allergic to cats, he doesn’t sneeze and his eyes don’t water around her Bailey.
She is a morning person, sometimes going to bed early and waking up at 2 a.m. “I’ve been known to sleep till 11 a.m.,” he said.
“I like to stay busy,” she said, “and if I wake up, I like to get up and do something.”
One day they shared a friendly hug.
“I didn’t want to hold her too long because I didn’t want her to think I was too forward and she might not want to talk to me anymore,” he said, blushing. “I knew I was in love with her.”
She looks at him and smiles.
He goes on doctor visits with her.
“If she wants to go shopping, I’ll go with her,” he said. “We just like to be together.”
He couldn’t get out of his mind that she was “the one.”
“Some people would just live together,” he said, “but that’s not right.”
Shirley nods her head.
One day in early September, they were sitting in his living room.
“I said, ‘What if I asked you to marry me?’” he recalled.
She sat there, speechless for once.
“Oh, I’m not sure,” she said.
“I said, ‘I’m asking you,’” he continued.
She said, “Yes.”
“I know he cares for me,” Shirley said. “I like that and I feel the same way.”
He wanted to get a marriage license the next day.
“He’s scared I’ll change my mind,” she said with a laugh.
They settled on Oct. 19 so friends and family could be there.
That night, she sat in her bed wondering what she had done.
“I talked to the Lord about it,” she said. “I felt like God had sent me to him.”
They see the way some people stare at them — “That black lady and that white man,” she said, with faux indignation and a laugh.
They see each other in the way they say is pleasing to God — as the children of God.
“The rest of them don’t matter,” he says as they look at each other across the room.
Her 13-year-old granddaughter helped pick out the off-white dress from Roses, a department store.
It fits just below the knees.
He decided on a blazer and church slacks that were hanging in the closet.
“It’s her favorite,” he said of the jacket.
They picked out wedding rings at Walmart.
The white-gold ring in the display case had caught her eye.
After he paid for them, they sat in the car in the parking lot — the bag in between them.
He was wondering if she thought she had made a mistake.
“I said, ‘It’s typical when you get engaged to put on the ring,’” he recalled telling her. Then he slipped it on her finger.
On Saturday morning, the two were joined by Shirley’s daughter, Shurrane Webb, and granddaughter, Miyoshi Webb, as they stood before a judge, ready to say their vows.
They decided on marrying before the justice of the peace because the preacher they chose was busy and they had already committed to the date.
Earlier that morning, Shirley had painted her fingernails pink and put on makeup, which she doesn’t normally wear.
“I just put on a little bit,” she said as friend Delores Bennett stood nearby.
At times, the mobile home roared with their laughter.
Shirley would roll her eyes at Bennett pulling out a wedding night negligee she had picked up for her.
At his house, Bill grasped their marriage license and tucked their wedding bands in a pocket of his blazer.
He carried an overnight bag out the door.
After hours of trying in vain to book a hotel room locally for their wedding night — it’s the week of the High Point Market — they had finally found a hotel room for the night near the airport.
“Just a little honeymoon,” he said.
And in the next hour, before the judge, in a nondescript room for privacy, the two octogenarians promised to take care of each other.
There was a long pause and then laughter when the judge asked Bill if he took Shirley as his bride and he hadn’t realized it was time to speak up because he was gazing into her eyes.
“I do,” he said.
Her “I do” came with tears.
“William,” the judge said to him, “you may now kiss your bride.”
Which he did to the delight of those surrounding them.
As they left the courthouse, those they passed realized what had taken placed and yelled their congratulations.
It was on to the Waffle House for breakfast.
Later, a reception in a private room at the Golden Corral on Lawndale with their friends and family. Some brought gifts and flowers.
“I made these for you,” Bill’s 8-year-old granddaughter, Izzy Baker, said before handing the two hand-drawn portraits with a heart over Shirley’s skirt.
At times, the newlyweds held hands.
And then they were off, on their honeymoon.
The Syllabus: A billion-dollar milestone for Wake Forest University arrives ahead of schedule. Page A2
GREENSBORO — UNCG will use a new multimillion dollar federal grant to recruit new teachers into the profession and bring high-tech thinking to two rural school districts.
The university’s School of Education will create the Piedmont Teacher Residency Partnership with a five-year, $6.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education. The program will train new teachers and bring problem-solving lessons to some public schools in Rockingham and Surry counties.
“The idea is to meet mutual needs,” said Christina O’Connor, the director of this new program as well as the director of professional education preparation, policy and accountability at UNCG’s education school.
UNCG will recruit 80 prospective teachers — 20 a year for the next four years — for its new education program. The first class will start their UNCG coursework next summer and will work in schools during the 2020-21 school year.
Teaching prospects must have a bachelor’s degree but no teaching credential and be interested in working in one of several areas: elementary grades, middle grades, special education or high school English, math or science. The UNCG program runs for 14 months, and students will spend most of that time working in schools. These UNCG students will be paid $35,000 from the grant for the year they teach.
Students who complete the program will earn a master of arts in teaching and a teaching certificate. There’s one key condition: Graduates must stay on in a designated school in either Rockingham or Surry county for three years after they get their master’s degree. UNCG will continue to provide training and other support for new program graduates during this three-year span.
UNCG, working with the two school districts, will place these teaching prospects in 11 high-poverty schools — seven in Rockingham and four in Surry.
“It’s not just about UNCG,” O’Connor said of the new partnership. “It’s about UNCG working with Surry and Rockingham to find innovative ways to make sure these teachers are prepared to meet the needs of the students in these schools.”
The two school districts need teachers, for instance, and the program will set up a new pipeline to provide educators in both counties.
The teachers coming out of the UNCG program will be versed in what’s known as computational literacy. It’s not computer coding. Rather, computational literacy is a way to collect and analyze information — much like a computer might — and use it to solve a variety of real-world problems in this digital age.
The UNCG teachers-in-training will set up makerspaces in their assigned schools. The workshops will have tools and equipment to let students design and create things and carry out some of the lessons they’re learning in class.
Computational literacy, O’Connor said, is “something we believe is very important in our emerging tech environment. Our students need to be able to think computationally, not just do computing.”
The grant funding, which UNCG announced last week, comes from the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher Quality Partnership grant program. UNCG received a $7.7 million grant from the same program in 2014 to recruit and train teachers for STEM fields and set up makerspaces at several schools in Guilford and Forsyth counties.
RALEIGH — The North Carolina General Assembly could soon be done wrestling with legislation this year, but that doesn’t mean they’ll pin down a broad budget law or path forward on Medicaid expansion.
Lawmakers return today following a roughly 10-day break. Senate leader Phil Berger said his chamber will be done with regular business by Oct. 31. House Speaker Tim Moore hasn’t committed publicly to that date, but it’s clear the end is near.
This year’s session began nine months ago and by tradition was supposed to finish in July.
Now a budget stalemate between Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper lasted all summer and into fall. GOP lawmakers lack veto-proof majorities but wouldn’t concede. Republicans still have decisions on several other bills or vetoes unrelated to the budget.
Cooper vetoed the legislature’s two-year state budget in June because it lacked Medicaid coverage for hundreds of thousands of additional low-income residents. He also disliked lower business tax rates while he said proposed teacher pay raises remain tepid.
Republicans have been unwilling to concede, blaming Cooper for derailing true negotiations by insisting on expansion. Cooper has said it needs to be on the table but rejects that he’s unwilling to compromise.
House Republicans managed to approve a veto override during an unexpected vote last month when dozens of Democrats were absent — a move that’s made interparty relations in the chamber even more toxic. Senate Republicans only need one Democrat to join them to complete the override, but Democrats there say they’re united.
Berger and Moore sound willing to adjourn without a budget because Republicans have passed several narrow spending bills mimicking popular sections of the two-year budget. Cooper has signed all but one of those bills into law, whittling down his negotiating leverage to pass a broader budget to his liking.
Berger said more consensus “mini-budgets” are possible, with top priorities including pay raises for teachers and higher-education system workers. “Once you get beyond that, I don’t know that there’s anything that there is ... a must-do,” he said. A revenue surplus could sweeten those salary increases.
Medicaid expansion is a complicated proposition among Republicans.
Senators led by Berger oppose the idea largely on fiscal grounds, even as proposals by both parties would require hospitals to pay the state’s 10% match to match federal funds. Rural hospitals and residents — many in Republican-leaning areas — could benefit the most from expansion.
Enough House Republicans support expansion that Moore allowed them to run a measure last month that includes premiums and work mandates for recipients. But it’s not yet reached the floor.
Cooper has dismissed Berger and Moore’s pitch of allowing a special session soon to discuss health care access, including expansion. Should expansion fizzle, Cooper has a campaign issue in the 2020 elections against Republicans who won’t vote for it.
Republicans have been unable to override any of Cooper’s other vetoes this year given Democratic seat gains in 2018.
Among the seven nonbudget bills vetoed, GOP leaders are most keen on overriding the one to require county sheriffs to recognize requests by U.S. immigration agents to hold jail inmates believed to be in the country illegally. An unsuccessful override on the immigration bill, however, may turn out to be a winning campaign issue next year for Republicans.
Another veto remains intact on a bill laying out funds to run the existing Medicaid program for the next two years as it shifts to managed-care treatment. The managed-care shift likely can’t begin on time without it.
House and Senate members have approved competing versions of bills on more than a dozen topics, and they’d like to approve consensus compromises on several of them before going home. But there are no promises all will be welcomed by Cooper or outside groups.
Cooper, through his state environmental secretary, has indicated he’s likely to veto a measure that would give Duke Energy and other utilities the option to seek multiyear electric rates from state regulators.
And whatever measure agreed to on a regulatory framework to expand industrial hemp farming in North Carolina could end up in court if or when the bill directs that smokable hemp be banned from use in the state.
Lawmakers also have yet to reach agreement on bills tightening mail-in absentee balloting laws, giving child abuse victims more time to sue their assailants and offering loans to struggling rural hospitals.