The Sumblins: ‘I believe God brought us together’

Published 5:46 pm Wednesday, February 14, 2024

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Valentine’s Day 2024 serves as a fitting occasion to tell the love story of a prominent couple in the Franklin community — Dennis and Mona Sumblin.

They have long been a team in the realm of athletics; it has been about the same amount of time that they have been a team in life.

They officially donned the same jerseys 36 years ago when they were married on Oct. 24, 1987.

It was with great joy that Mona and Dennis recently recounted their story, which began in 1981 at Franklin High School.

Mona, who is from Emporia, came to Franklin in September 1981 to teach.

For a couple whose lives have been so thoroughly entwined with athletics, it was fitting that the first time Mona noticed Dennis was at a basketball game at FHS.

“I would work the basketball games at the high school,” she said. “Dennis and his guys came in, and mind you, I didn’t know anybody from Franklin, I’m just here teaching and whatnot. So he came in with his crew. Now this is what he had on: cowboy boots, jeans and a white cashmere jacket. 

“And in my mind, I’m like, ‘Who comes to a basketball game in a white cashmere jacket? A basketball game?’ This is what I was thinking.”

Dennis also noticed Mona, and she made a significant impression on him, so he approached her.

However, Mona recalled that she did want to talk to anybody from Franklin because she wanted to separate her personal life from her professional life.

“So anyway, Dennis came over, and I tell him, ‘You look nice,’” Mona said. “Straight off the bat, I said, ‘You look nice, but I really don’t want to talk to anybody from Franklin,’ and I told him why. And so that was that.”

That was around December of 1981.

The next chapter in their story came in May 1982.

“We passed each other on the street, and he said, ‘Hi, how are you doing?’” Mona recalled, and she said he asked her where she was headed. “I was headed to the Charles Street Gym, old gym over by J.P. King (Jr. Middle School). I was going over there because Larry Blunt and I would go over and work out, you know, weight training and whatnot.

“So he told me to ask Larry if he could come too, so that’s kind of how we got started actually talking and what have you — weight training,” she added with a laugh. “Everything’s athletic.”

Mona eventually learned that Dennis’ niece was in her class in Franklin. 

“And she was my softball manager at that,” Mona said, “and so his sister-in-law used to run bus trips to the state fair and all that kind of stuff, and so he had asked his niece to ask me to go to the state fair, and I couldn’t go that year because I was going back to Indiana — that’s where I went to grad school.”

But learning about Dennis’ niece led to a pivotal development in Dennis’ and Mona’s relationship.

“I think after she found out my niece was in her class and she made that connection, that’s when she gave me a call,” Dennis said.

Mona indicated that one of the major things that attracted her to Dennis manifested itself during that first phone call.

“At the end of the call, he said, ‘Thanks for calling,’” she said. “I’m like, ‘Thanks for calling? Guys don’t say that!’ So already that to me is like, this is a gentleman. ‘Thanks for calling’ — oh, wow!”

And the conversations continued.

Dennis shared what attracted him to Mona.

“When I met her, she was just different,” he said. “Even in conversation, she was different than anybody I had ever met. So I said to myself, ‘This is a keeper.’

“He kept me!” Mona said.

“And I kept her then, yeah,” he said. “She was very attractive, no doubt.”

He noted that she did not go clubbing, or to dances or house parties, so he realized she had to be a good girl.

It was in May 1982 that they started dating. Their relationship was not a public one at first.

“We would just be in the house, just talking,” Mona said. “I lived on Washington Street at that time. As a teacher, I boarded with an older lady, and so we’d just be talking and whatnot.”

Mona and Dennis described when they went public as a couple.

“Our first outing in Franklin was we walked up to, um, where was the game at, Dennis?” Mona said, a moment before remembering.

“A softball game at Hayden Field,” he said.

“Everything, again, is athletic,” Mona said. “So we walked over to the game, and it went from there.”

Dennis and Mona dated for six years before they got married.

“He would always come to Emporia to see me, come to Petersburg,” Mona said. “Wherever I was he would come, because I never stayed in Franklin over the weekends. I would go back home.”

In time, Mona introduced Dennis to her family.

“Everybody liked him immediately,” she said. “He connected with my dad right off. He connected with all my family really, and right now, to this day, they consider him more a brother than just an in-law. He’s a brother, period.”

Advancing on the timeline to 1987 reveals the time in Dennis’ and Mona’s relationship when momentum toward marriage was picking up in a major way.

Mona said an unofficial engagement came in March when Dennis was visiting her at the place she was living at the time in Franklin.

“I boarded with a lady on Gardner Street, because the other lady stopped keeping teachers,” Mona said. 

Mona said Dennis simply asked her, “You want to get married?”

She replied, “Yeah, let’s get married.”

“This is how it went,” she said. “I said, ‘When do you want to get married?’”

They decided that June was too soon.

“So we literally went to October and just put my finger on the calendar,” she said. “‘OK, Oct. 24. You want to get married Oct. 24?’ ‘Yeah, we’ll get married Oct. 24.’”

Dennis said, “And also I said I didn’t want to get married until I was 30, and I turned 30 October the 8th.”

But he had been busy making plans to allow for a marriage that could follow shortly thereafter.

“He bought the ring two years in advance, and he had already started buying furniture,” Mona said, noting that he had it in storage. “So he was preparing, so I give him a lot of credit. He knew what he wanted to do, and he was getting prepared to do it.”

While Mona knew nothing of the ring, she was involved in another key aspect of planning that clearly had the eventual marriage in mind.

“We actually bought our house before we got married,” she said. “I lived here during the school year with a roommate, and then when I went home for the summer, he moved in, because we already knew we were getting married.”

They did not live together before marriage but rather took turns staying at the residence.

However, they both visited there together sometimes, and so it made a fitting location for Dennis to ultimately propose.

After attending a family reunion in July 1987, they both went to the house, and Dennis had the ring with him.

“She had gone outside for something, and I set it on the table,” Dennis said. “Is that the way you remember it, Mona?”

“Yeah, the ring was on the table,” she said.

“And when she came back in the house, I don’t know if I told her to look, and she started to ‘Ahhhhh!’ — you know how they do,” Dennis said, as Mona reacted to his commentary with a laugh.

“He goes, ‘Mona, can you bring me that thing off the table?’” Mona recalled. “I’m thinking he wanted a knee pad or something, because we played sports. Everything is sports-oriented, if you noticed. We played volleyball and softball and basketball at the family reunion, so he had come home afterwards to shower, which was not that far away, and so he goes, ‘Can you bring me that thing off the table?’ And then when I looked to the table, there was my ring.”

When asked if she was surprised, Mona said, “Yes. A double-yes!”

In the process of planning for the wedding, Mona said someone confronted her with some Scripture that ultimately prompted her to backtrack a little and go through a time of serious spiritual reflection to make sure that she was making the right decision.

“I had another person to throw Scripture at me, and the Scripture was, ‘Be ye not unequally yoked with unbelievers,’” Mona said, “but he didn’t know that Dennis actually received the Lord at work at the shipyard, and I was already saved when I came to Franklin.”

Mona had made it clear to Dennis during their dating relationship that she was a Christian and that she showed her love for God by obeying His commandments.

“I said, ‘Look, I’m saved. I’m not going to do certain things. You know what those certain things are,’” she recalled. “And (Dennis) honored that. He honored that, and I appreciate that.”

After the confrontation with Scripture, though, she, the Rev. Mildred Harris and the Rev. William Saunders prayed fervently to discern if Dennis was the person God had for her.

“And so I put myself on a seven-day fast and prayed,” Mona said. “I’ve got to be for sure. And so long story short, we all three got the same answer and went from there, and (Dennis and I have) been together ever since.”

Their wedding took place in Emporia on Oct. 24, 1987.

Mona said, “I believe God brought us together,” and Dennis noted that he shares that belief.

Mona affirmed that honoring the Lord has been the key to their successful marriage.

“It absolutely has been,” she said. “That’s been our whole foundation is the fact that we both believe in God, we both believe in Jesus.”

And 36 years later, the joy they take in each other’s company has not waned.

“We still enjoy being around each other, don’t we?” Mona asked Dennis.

“Yes,” Dennis replied. “We do everything together.”

“We’re still coaches together,” Mona said, noting their teamwork as coaches has been a constant part of their lives from 1987 to now. “I coached the basketball team, he was the assistant. He did golf, I assisted him there. He does track now, and I still assist him there. We’ve been doing stuff together for the whole duration, and I think that matters too.”

“And I coached football, and you were the athletic director,” Dennis said.

Mona said, “I was the AD, and he had to help me with that. It ain’t like I did it by myself.”

They met at FHS, “and we’ve been at Franklin High School ever since,” Mona said.

And they have maintained the qualities that they found attractive in each other at the beginning.

“He was a gentleman then, and he’s still a gentleman now,” Mona said of Dennis. “He opens the door for me. He pulls the chair out. I don’t take trash out, I don’t wash cars. I can do all of that because I was a Daddy’s child, I was a tomboy growing up, and my dad had all girls, so he taught us everything we needed to do, change oil in the car when we need to, but I don’t any of that because I’ve got a gentleman husband.”

For people looking to have a long, successful, loving marriage, Dennis and Mona gave some helpful advice.

“Communication is key,” Dennis said.

Mona highlighted consideration and ultimately saw it as entwined with communication.

“We always consider each other,” she said, noting they don’t make decisions without thinking of each other first. “Even down to things like if he wants to go play golf, he’ll consider me first, (thinking) ‘Do we have anything we want to do’ before he even tells his buddies he’s going to go play golf. So that matters. And that was my No. 1 thing is the consideration. Don’t ever take each other for granted.”