Back left, Peter Tompkins, Alan Sturtevant, Troy Frost, Ron Bickford, Dan L’Heureux , Skip Tompkins. Bottom left, Ellen Tompkins, Bette Sturtevant, Stephanie Frost, Carlene Bickford, June L’Heureux, and Sherry Tompkins gather for their 18th surprise Valentine’s Day celebration before heading to the Muddy Rudder in Freeport for a special”Valentine’s soiree.” Photo courtesy of Dan L’Heureux

FREEPORT — The six other couples gathered at Peter and Ellen Tompkins’ house in Waterville as they had for every Valentine’s Day for the last 18 years. There, they exchanged boutonnieres, corsages and roses and headed to their next destination, a secret to all the women. 

The Valentine’s Day tradition was born nearly 20 years ago when Ellen Tompkins and Carlene Bickford wanted an excuse to wear their mother-of-the-groom gowns again.
“We thought, we’re not going to be able to go out to McDonald’s in a long formal gown,” Ellen Tompkins said. So she and Bickford scooted their husbands out of the house, hired a gourmet chef, brought out the good china and silver, and made it a night to remember. 

The next year, Peter Tompkins and Ron Bickford were in charge of Valentine’s Day plans, and the soirees have only grown over the years, both in size and scheme, and the same core group have been meeting for well-over a decade. 

Since then, there have been trips to the symphony, the theater, bed and breakfasts, a capella serenades and even a mystery dinner, always a surprise to the other party until the night of. 

This year, for an evening organized by the husbands, the Tompkins and Bickfords, along with Dan and June L’Heureux, Alan and Better Sturtevant, Skip and Sherry Tompkins and Troy and Stephanie Frost headed to Freeport’s Muddy Rudder for a semi-formal “Valentine’s Soiree.” 

“I think it’s the idea of celebrating love among couples who have been married for (a long time),” Ellen Tompkins said. In July, she and her husband will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary. “I think things like this need to be celebrated more,” she said, “and we want to set a good example for our children and other people.” 

As for next year, the wives have already started planning.

Peter Tompkins pins a flower to his wife, Ellen’s lapel on Valentine’s Day.

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