For 43 years, Mary Bell sold shoes at Brubacher Shoes in Elmira. With her patient smile and calming demeanor, Bell would help shoppers navigate the myriad styles and variations, and the ever-changing fashions that seemed to come and go and come again like the tide.
For Mary, the job was a welcome way to earn a living and provide for her daughters. But during that time, in the friendships made and family discovered, living in Elmira first and more recently in Waterloo, she found something that fit her too: peace in her life, contentment and joy with her peers, a deeper connection with her faith – and new love.
After a career of four decades at the Elmira store, the septuagenarian is hanging up her custom monogrammed shoehorn – a parting gift from her long-time employer – and moving down the road to Tillsonburg with her new husband, Doug Way.
“I said ‘I’m going on my Mary Way,’” laughs the newlywed bride, who tied the knot this weekend at Creekside Church at a ceremony attended by close family. “Mary Bell is going along her Mary Way.”
At 70 years of age, Way notes she did not ever expect to be walking down the aisle again. She’d been married before, previously to Clinton Bell with whom she shared a fulfilling 20 years until his passing nine years ago.
“When Doug came into my life I said, ‘God, if you have someone for me, you must bring him to my door, because I will not seek anyone out,’” recalls Way. And soon enough, her husband-to-be was knocking at her door.
“When he invited me out, I said, ‘I’m working that day, but I’ll meet you in half-an-hour anywhere in the city,’” says Way. “And he said, ‘Well actually Mary, I’d like to pick you up at your house.’ So he came to my house, to my door.’
“And so for two years we’ve been dating. Yes, he started getting serious six months ago and I was afraid of change. I thought ‘I have a very rich, full life,’” says Way. Her family too was afraid of the change at first, but Way decided take to the plunge.
“I’m only an hour and 15 minutes away,” she told her family and friends in Elmira. “So you’re not losing me; you’re gaining Doug.”
That confidence to pursue her own happiness was something Way had to learn for herself. When Way first began working at Brubacher Shoes, back when the footwear was arranged in tight, narrow shelves in the storefront, she recalls a much more troubled woman in her place. She’d had a difficult marriage, and struggled to find that serenity she has since acquired.
“I would say I was fearful,” she says of her younger self. “I was still married to my first husband. I built a wall around myself of protection, so I would show the world that everything was fine. Now I have the confidence and the freedom.”
Way found her strength through her faith, and credits her former boss and previous owner of Brubacher Shoes, Harvey Gingrich, whom she affectionately refers to as her “brother in the Lord,” with introducing her to a supportive community at the Woodside Christian Church.
“God has replaced my tears with words,” she says. “And now I have peace and confidence and I just have grown more and more in my relationships with people, and God, and He guides my every step. And his plan for me is far better than anything that I could ever plan.”
Way’s presence will undoubtedly be missed, at her workplace at Brubacher Shoes, and in the community at large; but she is leaving with a lot of warm wishes behind her.
“Mary was a faithful and responsible employee, [with] a positive upbeat disposition,” says Gingrich. “We’re happy for her and we wish her the best. I guess the fact that she was there for 43 years must mean that she was pretty good,” he adds with a laugh.