What’s so romantic about alphabetical order? Not much. But in the case of Vernon Mook and Mary Alice Momyer, it provided a context for true love to blossom and grow.
Vernon, from Girard, PA, and Mary Alice, from Smithton, PA, were classmates at Slippery Rock State Teachers College from 1948 to 1952.
“At that time,” Mary Alice said, “you didn’t go into the classroom and just pick your seat. You had to sit in alphabetical order. So he always sat either right in front of me or behind me.”
For the first couple of years, they knew each other, but that was about all. What they needed was a spark to light the fire.
“One time he asked me to go out on a blind date with a friend who was coming for the weekend from Girard,” Mary Alice said. “I said sure. So we all went out together. Vern told me later that after that night he saw me in a different way. He thought, ‘I’m going to ask her out.’ So that’s how it started. We dated pretty steadily through our Junior and Senior years.”
Vern had joined the Marine Corps Reserve before he started college. During the summers he went to Quantico, Virginia, for training, and through his four years in Slippery Rock, he completed the Reserve Officers Training Program. Upon graduation, he went on active duty as a Marine Corps Second Lieutenant. The summer active duty had taken care of his basic training, so he was assigned to Pensacola, Florida, for flight training. Unfortunately, he was disqualified because of his eyesight. He was reassigned to the Naval Air Station in Cherry Point, North Carolina, where he served in the east coast radar surveillance.
Meanwhile, Mary Alice got a teaching job in Jamestown, PA, but the separation didn’t last very long. They got married in Smithton on December 22, 1952. Mary Alice finished out her year of teaching, then joined Vernon at Cherry Point.
Vern really loved the Marine Corps, but he had to face the question that most married military personnel have to face: Which is more important, a military career or marriage and family? Vern chose the latter. He resigned his commission and started teaching high school in Conneaut Lake, PA. After one year there, the Mooks moved to Hermitage, where he taught high school math for 33 years. During this time, he earned a Master’s Degree in Education at Westminster College.
After leaving the Marine Corps, Vern wanted to continue to serve with it in some way. Unfortunately, the military was downsizing after the Korean War, so they had more officers than they needed.
But Vern continued to be active in many ways that you might expect from a Marine who no longer wears a uniform. While teaching, he coached and assisted with the football and track and field programs. He also loved to travel, camp, hike, backpack, and ski cross-country. He would include his whole family whenever possible – Mary Alice, daughters Karen and Robin, and son Wesley.
“Vernon wanted to circumnavigate the United States,” Mary Alice said, “and we did. We had a Nimrod pop-up camper at that time. He would have it ready for wherever we were going to. The kids would get out of school, grab whatever last minute stuff they needed, get into the car, and we were off, usually to the East Coast – the Outer Banks. After the kids were gone, the two of us would travel, often with Robin.”
Vern continued to serve his community through the Shenango Valley Conservancy, ARC of Mercer County, YMCA, and Meals on Wheels. He and his family were faithful, active members of the New Virginia Methodist Church, and he regularly participated in the Sharpsville Men’s Prayer Breakfast.
. As was written in his obituary after he passed away on May 6, 2015, his deep faith in the Lord Jesus Christ defined and touched every area of his life.
Vern and Mary Alice were committed to serve the youth of the church and community through the international non-denominational Christian organization called Youth with a Mission.
“We went to Germany, Switzerland, Panama, and Hawaii,” Mary Alice said. “We did a lot of stuff. He would trim bushes and trees. I did laundry and set beds up for the people who were coming. On weekends we were free to travel to see what was around us, and to see what the rest of the world was doing “
Vern also continued be a student of history and the military through the Civil War Roundtable in Youngstown.
“When he was in the hospital, a couple of the guys came to visit him on their way to the Round Table,” Mary Alice said. “After they left, he said, ‘Boy, I wish I could have gone with them.’”
Vern passed away on May 6, 2015. He is interred among the flags near the War on Terror Veterans Memorial in America’s Cemetery, a fitting place for a man who never doubted that “once a Marine, always a Marine.”