Iowa City couple, 75 and 82, say ‘I do’ during COVID-19

When social distancing became the new normal, Warren Paris and Jerri MacConnell tied the knot to ensure they’d be closer than ever before.


Kate Heston

Warren Paris (left) and Jerri MacConnell (right) pose for a portrait with their dog, Ginger, at their Iowa City apartment on Feb 8, 2021. The pair got married in September after quarantining together during the COVID-19 pandemic. They met at a “Write Your Life Story” class at the Senior Center.

Grace Hamilton, News Reporter

Jerri MacConnell, 75, knew she’d marry Warren Paris, 82, once her apartment’s new management began enforcing COVID-19 guidelines that cut short the number of days another person could stay with her.

“Their guidelines were that you could only have a visitor for two weeks, and only 60 days during the year,” MacConnell said. “And I was like, ‘That won’t work; let’s get married.’ And so, we did.”

On the big day, Paris wore a Mexican wedding shirt to match his son — who attended as a witness — and MacConnell adorned her hair with a crown of flowers. The couple shared personally written vows in a flower-lined walkway leading to the city park as they were officially declared man and wife on Sept. 19.

Paris’ and MacConnell’s marriage is an outlier among the country’s current marriage rates. A Bowling Green State University study of COVID-19’s effect on marital relationships showed that recorded state trends reflect a significant decline in U.S. marriages, amounting to nearly a 350,000 drop off from 2019’s 2.2 million marriages.

Nonetheless, the drive of Paris and MacConnell to get married during the pandemic reflects desires of many other couples. A Brides survey published in October 2020 of 4,000 engaged respondents showed that 82 percent reported living together during the pandemic has made them more eager to marry and weather life’s storms together.

MacConnell’s daughter, Jennifer Kauder, was moved by MacConnell and Paris’ wedding, which she attended as a witness.

But, Kauder said she wasn’t entirely shocked when her mother told her of the pair’s marriage plans.

“They are best friends. They like to tease each other, and he makes her laugh,” Kauder said. “I can imagine how isolating it is with this whole pandemic. It would be so lonely for older adults, and they’re both in a high-risk population. Now, she has someone there with her that she can count on.”

Although the pandemic’s implications encouraged MacConnell and Paris to tie the knot, their love took shape a year before COVID-19 began spreading across the globe.

MacConnell and Paris met each other in a class at the Iowa City Senior Center four years ago, where participants wrote and discussed their life stories.

A few years after forming a friendship in class, Paris said the two started having lunch together to talk about their interests.

“One of the things I noticed is that she has such a breadth of knowledge about so much,” Paris said. “I remember that she had the Constitution on her coffee table in her apartment. And I thought, ‘Wow, that’s different and unique.’ She started questioning me about my intentions, and apparently, I must have passed the test.”

Paris also credits his chihuahua, Ginger, with sparking his romance with MacConnell.

MacConnell dog-sat for Paris while he was out of town in October 2019. When Paris returned to pick up Ginger, MacConnell said he continued to stick around.

“He never really left,” MacConnell said. “We’ve called Ginger ‘the matchmaker’ ever since.”

Ginger can’t take all of the credit, however. Paris and MacConnell’s blossoming relationship and marriage amid a pandemic have led them to cherish each other all the more, Paris said.

“One of the things that happened is that as we were spending time with each other, all of a sudden, it seemed like everything just melded together,” Paris said. “We’re able to be honest with each other about our concerns, joys, and plans.”

MacConnell admitted that before meeting Paris, she never thought a romance would unfold in her life.

“I wasn’t looking to be in a relationship — I was OK by myself,” she said. “But then Warren came along, and other elderly people have told me that our marriage gives them hope.”