Lloyd and Winnie Flessner, both age 95, survived COVID-19 together in CHI Memorial Hospital. / Staff photo by Dave Flessner.

Lloyd and Winnie Flessner met in the 1940s at the Calvary Evangelical United Brethren Church in Lansing, Michigan.

Their first date was spent attending a Michigan State University basketball game together, and the two eventually tied the knot on Oct. 6, 1950.

If you do the math, that means their 70th wedding anniversary is just weeks away.

Yet, there was a time this summer when it appeared they might not make it to October to celebrate their big day.

Back in early June, the Flessners, who are now both 95 years old, tested positive for COVID-19 just days apart and found themselves occupying hospital beds at CHI Memorial Hospital, albeit in different rooms.

It was a scary time for the retired Midwesterners, who are the parents of Times Free Press business editor Dave Flessner. Their age made them particularly vulnerable to the virus.

"I was frightened beyond words," said Winnie, a retired administrative assistant.

"They said us old people don't live through it," said Lloyd, who sold restaurant equipment in Michigan before retiring about 30 years ago.

The Flessners are so-called "half-backs." They moved to Lakeland, Florida, from Michigan decades ago, and then relocated to Chattanooga — about halfway back — four years ago to be closer to their younger son, Dave. The Flessners have two children. Their older son, Bruce, lives in Minnesota.

Back in June, Lloyd thought his body aches were just soreness from washing the windows in his retirement-community apartment in East Brainerd. But after a couple of days, he began to feel worse and a doctor-administered COVID-19 test came back positive.

Two days later, Winnie tested positive, too, and both Flessners were soon being treated at CHI Memorial for COVID-19-related symptoms. Lloyd had respiratory symptoms, including a touch of pneumonia, while Winnie at first had mostly stomach distress, according to the family.

But even though they were in the same hospital for two weeks, the Flessners were able to see one another only occasionally when nurses brought Winnie to Lloyd's room in a wheelchair for visits.

Happily, both had relatively mild cases of the coronavirus and neither required a ventilator or a stay in the intensive care unit.

Still, the circumstances were scary enough to prompt some introspection from these sweet-spirited seniors.

Winnie remembers her father talking about America's last great pandemic, the 1918 flu.

"He would sit and cry thinking about how hard it was," she said. "He lost his job."

For his part, Lloyd remembers when his brother contracted polio as a child and the adults compared the growing spread of the crippling disease to the disastrous 1918 flu, which is thought to have killed about 675,000 Americans. His brother survived and went on to become a Christian minister.

"When polio came in, I remember them saying, 'Well, this might be worse than the [1918] flu,'" Lloyd said.

After both spending about two weeks in CHI Memorial, the Flessners were transferred to a rehabilitation facility in North Georgia before being released to go home.

As members of the so-called Greatest Generation, which includes Americans who were children during the Great Depression, the Flessners say there are lessons they've learned from their long lives that may help others stay strong during this stressful pandemic year.

"No matter how bad things get, you have to be positive and do the things you can," said Winnie.

"We have to go through this as a team," Lloyd added.

The Flessners say they feel blessed to have five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, and they're looking forward to spending more time with their family in coming years.

In fact, they have even begun to look ahead. In 2025, they would both turn 100 years old and reach their 75th wedding anniversary in the same year.

"Then, I think, we'd expect a party," Lloyd said.

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