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July 13, 2014

Half a Century and Happy: The Harberts

Tom and Joan Harbert said their 55 years together have flown by

Joan Gallea was a 28-year-old widow with two young children when Tom Harbert asked her to dance at Palm Gardens, a night club in Kokomo.

Her first husband was killed in a car accident, and Joan didn’t date for a year afterward. She never had any intention or thought of marrying again. It was hard raising her two youngsters by herself, but her mom helped out. In fact it was her mom who encouraged Joan to get out of the house every once in a while and do something.

“I decided that’s when I needed to make a life for myself,” Joan said.

Joan enrolled in Beauty School. She and the girls she met at school would go out occasionally, and on one night in November of 1958, they decided to all go to Palm Gardens for dinner, drinks and music.

It was also the night that 23-year-old Tom Harbert decided to check out that same night club.

Tom, who was from Iowa, was stationed at the Bunker Hill airbase during that time, and had just finished playing a fast pitch softball game at Foster Park earlier in the evening. Once he stepped foot into Palm Gardens, his eyes were immediately drawn to Joan.

“I just looked around and decided she was the one,” he said. “She just struck my eye. Her hair and smile; compared to the other ones, hers was a lot better.”

He watched as Joan danced with other people and thought she was a great dancer, so he made a move.

He asked her to dance with him.

“I looked up and I thought boy, he’s good looking,” Joan said. “So I said yes.”

While they swayed around the dance floor, Tom asked for Joan’s phone number. She gave it to him, thinking he would never remember it.

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