By Amy Geiszler-Jones
Casey and Larry Furnish often refer to the first 32 years of their 38-year marriage as “BS” – short for before stroke.
Late on the evening of July 31, 2013 – their 32nd wedding anniversary — Larry suffered the first of two strokes, the second of which left him primarily confined to a wheelchair.
With love, faith and a big dose of determination, the Furnishes persevered through Larry’s difficult rehabilitation to return to doing many of their favorite things: attending professional rodeos, camping at the Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival, spending time with family and friends and dancing.
“We try not to let grass grow under our feet,” Casey said during an interview at their south Wichita home, which friends from New Life Covenant Church helped modify and make handicap accessible following Larry’s rehabilitation.
If anything, the pair has grown more active on Wichita’s senior center social dance circuit.
“We go to two or three dances a week,” Casey, 73, said as she ticked off the centers they frequent. There’s Goldenrod on Wednesday, Minisa on Thursday, Orchard on Friday and Linwood on Saturday.
Orchard’s dances get top billing because for the past two years, Larry, 71, has been in charge of telling at least three new jokes there during intermission.
“I rely on my R&D (research and development) person right here to keep it fresh,” Larry said as he patted Carol’s hand.
Because Larry lost the use of his left arm, hand and leg following his second stroke, Carol holds cue cards for him when he takes the stage to tell the jokes.
For the first few months after Larry returned home from his hospital and rehabilitation stays, the pair stayed home from the dances. But they missed seeing friends and listening to live bands. And they missed dancing in each other’s arms.
Music has always been important to the pair, who have missed only two of the Walnut Valley festivals since they started going in 1992. After Larry’s stroke, they switched from pitching a tent to renting a trailer for the weeklong festival in Winfield. Larry, who earned an undergraduate degree in Bible studies and music, has been involved in music ministries in some form since 1966.
When Larry returned home after his first stroke in July 2013, one of the first things he did was see if he could still play the guitar and ukulele. He could. But his second, much more significant stroke a few days later took away that ability. The second stroke was caused by a clot on the right side of his brain that hadn’t been picked up on scans following the first stroke.
A bass instrument sits in the corner of the Furnishes’ living room, a reminder of Larry’s goal to play stringed instruments again.
After Larry’s second stroke, he spent most of the rest of 2013 in hospitals — a nine-day stay in ICU when doctors didn’t know if he’d make it, eight days in the hospital and then several months in two rehabilitation facilities. Casey rarely left his side.
When he started outpatient rehab, Larry told his therapist his two goals were to walk without a cane and to dance again with Casey. While he still can’t walk unaided, Larry can leave his wheelchair to dance with Casey. They’ve learned to lean on each other to make it possible.
That’s, after all, how their marriage started. Both had been married before and were raising children when they got married in 1981. They had a blended family of five kids ages 6 to 11.
“It was like a real Brady bunch,” said Larry, who had careers in the counseling and ministry fields, working with substance abusers and prison inmates. He was serving as the associate pastor at New Life Covenant Church when he suffered his strokes.
In 1990, Casey returned to college to finish her teaching certification. She taught physical education in the Goddard school district until 2006.
Larry jokes that “it helps to be married to a PE woman” now that he requires physical help to get around. Casey learned to move him in and out of their minivan. He always thanks her with a quick kiss before settling into the passenger seat.
The Furnishes have 17 grandchildren, most of whom are school-age with a full roster of activities.
“We can’t go to everybody’s activity, but we try to make what we can,” said Casey.
Just recently, the pair returned from visiting one of their daughters in California and made a stop in Las Vegas to take in a professional rodeo.
“We are just both thrilled to have been married for nearly 39 years,” Larry said.
“And I want to be with him,” Casey said. “That’s my main thing in life.”