The Way We Were: Nina and John Searcy

The Way We Were: Nina and John Searcy
Searcy engagement, 1956

Over the summer, Nina and John Searcy, Jacksonville natives, celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. Their secret to staying together for over six decades was summed up in one four-letter word: love.

Both were born and raised in the north end of town. Nina Lincoln was from Springfield. Her family knew of John’s from the time Nina was four years old. She had known John’s younger brother because he was closer to Nina’s age.

John Searcy was raised north of Springfield in North Shore. He grew up as a Boy Scout during WWII. He attended Andrew Jackson High School a few years ahead of Nina and had a strong interest in physics. John’s science teacher had a hand in getting him into the University of Florida where he earned a four-year degree in electrical engineering. He was not drafted but was obliged to spend two years in active Army duty, which he fulfilled after college.

Searcy 50th anniversary, 2006
Searcy 50th anniversary, 2006

During the summer after Nina’s high school graduation from Andrew Jackson, when she was only 17, just prior to her attending St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing, Nina joined a city-wide summer youth group called The Disciples of Christ that met in a Christian church in Riverside. John, who had already been attending college for three years by that time, also belonged. He would pick Nina up every week so that they could attend the meetings together. Nina had been dating another boy, and she said of John, “I had no interest in him whatsoever. None. Zero.” She had plans to finish college and start a career in nursing, never intending on falling in love or getting married anytime soon. But life and love derailed Nina’s plans for a while. “It just happened,” she said.

Searcy wedding, 1956
Searcy wedding, 1956

At the end of that summer, John asked Nina for a date. She accepted. They went to the Florida Theatre to see Seven Brides for Seven Brothers—the same theatre and the same movie she had attended the night before with her boyfriend. The young lady in the ticket booth recognized Nina and looked perplexed. “I just put my finger to my mouth, and she didn’t mention it,” Nina said. When she returned home that night, Nina told her mother, “That’s the man I’ll marry.” Two years and four days later, she did, at Central Christian Church on 9th Street in Springfield on August 24, 1956. Nina was 19 and John 24.

John’s military duty as an officer with the Army Signal Corps brought the couple to Augusta, Georgia at the beginning of their marriage. In late December 1956, John was sent to what Nina called “the swamps of Louisiana” for several months. Rather than follow him there, Nina put their belongings in temporary storage and came back to stay with her parents in Springfield until, together, she and John could return to Augusta in 1957.

It was October of the same year that they bought a house in Jacksonville, which they moved into a couple of months later once John was released from duty with the Army before he joined the Florida Air National Guard in 1960, prior to the Cuban Missile Crisis. When asked if they still live in that same first house, Nina replied, “Oh, heavens no!” So much has happened in their lives since then.

From 1959 to 1964, Nina had given birth to three children—Kevin, David, and Jill. When her youngest was two years old, Nina completed a two-year program at Florida Junior College before earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing at the University of North Florida in 1969. She worked at Memorial Hospital for a time. “Nurses never retire,” Nina said. She still nurses, though not for income, taking care of John and one of their sons and friends who come to her for help. She has always considered the field a calling and maintains her Florida license.

John retired as a major after seven years with the National Guard and continued in his career as an electrical engineer in Jacksonville. “Technology has changed so much. Early on, I used to design computer rooms, and now they don’t even have computer rooms,” John said. He had become a partner in Van Wagenen and Searcy, Inc., and when his partner died, John continued the business solo well into Jacksonville’s boom through the 70s and into the 80s and worked on a lot of the buildings along the river.

Searcy family, 1976
Searcy family, 1976

In the mid-1980s, John closed the practice. “I got tired of being the boss, running all the administration, and I wanted to get back to engineering,” he said. So, he then opened John Searcy Engineers and Associates where he designed and supervised electrical and mechanical work until he retired at 81 years old, when he sold the business to one of his engineers. “He loved what he did. And he’s a little modest about telling all that he did,” Nina said of her husband and his engineering career.

During John’s career, he had designed the mechanical and electrical engineering work to be done on the Wells Fargo Center, a skyscraper downtown, which was previously called Independent Life Building. The remodeling of Jacksonville City Hall was another of his projects. He had been chosen by an international group to go to Korea for two weeks and study a set of drawings in order to guide other engineers. “It was quite an honor to be chosen to do that,” Nina said on John’s behalf.

For 30 years, the Searcys lived in Mandarin in a house they had built on the river in 1970. When asked to share memories of their family life as the children were growing, “We stayed in the car, taking them places all the time,” Nina said as she and John both laughed recalling it. They did a lot with the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour, and John was very active in Scouts with the boys. “Our house was full of kids all the time. You never knew how many would be there,” Nina said.

After the children were grown, Nina and John downsized. They spent two years at The Villages of San Jose before finding the house they’re in now in Colonial Manor, just outside of San Marco. They did a complete remodel of the 1939 structure before moving in and have been there for two decades now.

Both are members of the San Marco Preservation Society. Nina has been a Garden Club member, off and on, since 1970 and of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America. At St. John’s Cathedral, where they are members now, Nina has worked in the archives room and tended the gardens. In addition to being involved with the Boy Scouts all his life, John has been a member of several professional engineering societies. For over 45 years, he has been a Kiwanian and for nearly 20 years, a member of the Men’s Garden Club.

Searcy with grandchildren, 2017
Searcy with grandchildren, 2017

When not working on her third book about genealogy, Nina, and John too, enjoy spending time with family. “Our lives have always been busy with kids,” Nina said. All three of their children live within a five-minute drive. They have five grandchildren, including one with a spouse. “We’ve always been family oriented,” Nina said.

When asked the secret to reaching a 65th wedding anniversary, what they might tell young couples, “The first one is love,” John said. Nina agreed. They love each other, their children, and other people. Another important component of their relationship has been their involvement with church. Further, “Maintain a positive outlook on life, no matter what happens,” John said.

By Mary Wanser
Resident Community News

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