CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN
Ephraim Aham and Sussie Uzo Aham Okoro, parishioners of St. Bernard Parish in Riverdale, recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
CS PHOTOS BY JACLYN LIPPELMANN Ephraim Aham and Sussie Uzo Aham Okoro, parishioners of St. Bernard Parish in Riverdale, recently celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary.
Ephraim Aham and Sussie Uzo Aham Okoro, parishioners at St. Bernard Parish in Riverdale, said the main things that have sustained them through 25 years of marriage are the love they have for each other and the faith they have in God.

“Marriage is a union of two great forgivers. You don’t internalize anything; you just deal with it, let it go, and move on. That is the way we’ve operated,” Sussie said. “But the most important thing that has sustained us is our faith in God… We don’t get out of bed without praying. We put God first in everything that we do.”

The Okoros met in Nigeria in December of 1991, when Ephraim was visiting his family. Six hours after meeting, they were discussing marriage.

“I had no plans for marriage, but when I met Sussie, it was very exciting for me,” Ephraim explained. “…I think it was the way God planned it, because I had no plans myself.”

In Nigeria, marriage is seen not just as a union between two individuals; rather, it is between two families and two communities, the couple said.

“It is not something that happens in Vegas,” joked Sussie, because the family is consulted and very involved in the process. As a result, it is very difficult to dissolve a marriage, she added.

“You have to deal with it, you have to live with it, you have to learn, and grow in it,” Sussie said.

After they started dating, Sussie’s mom gave them a time limit before they got married, because to her, dating someone for more than four months was “out of the question,” Sussie said. At the time, Ephraim was in the process of getting his Ph.D. at Howard University in Washington, and didn’t have much money. But to Sussie, that humility is what impressed her.

“He did not come with that air of importance,” she said, recalling how her family would call him “doctor” and he would say “not yet!” She appreciated his honesty, and said it was “really the driving force” in why she decided to marry him.

“He is very truthful, he is very honest, and he is the type of person I would really like to spend the rest of my life with,” Sussie remembered thinking.

On April 25, 1992, Sussie and Ephraim were married in Nigeria. Ephraim had to return to the United States to continue studying, but Sussie wasn’t able to join him yet. After having their first son, Tobenna Ephraim Okoro II, while in Nigeria, Sussie joined him in the United States in 1995. Soon afterward, they had two more children, Kelechi Charles and Nneka Stephanie Okoro.

One ingredient that Ephraim said has been important in their marriage is “openness.” Sussie agreed, saying, “We are each other’s best friends. We talk a lot. We can’t wait to get back and share what happened during the day.”

Especially in the beginning of their marriage, when Ephraim was working long hours and not making much money, they said it was sometimes difficult but very important to be open with each other. 

“We haven’t gone on our honeymoon yet,” Sussie joked. At first they couldn’t afford it, then they had kids, and they used the money that could have been spent on a honeymoon to send all three of them to Catholic schools. “It is going to happen one day,” she added.

Another joy they have shared over the years is sharing the profession of teaching. Sussie had originally been working in publishing and planned to go into the field of business, but “having a baby changed me completely,” she said.

“The plan I had for myself was completely different from what I ended up becoming,” she said.

Soon after Sussie came to the United States, she started working as a substitute teacher with the hope of learning about the American school system before her son began school. Then, she got a job at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic School in Silver Spring, where her three children later joined her to attend school.

Now, she is a professor at the University of Maryland, Baltimore College, and Ephraim is a professor at Howard University. As a result, they said they are able to learn from each other and share their passion for the field. 

Over the years, several couples have asked the Okoros to sponsor them while getting married, which Ephraim said was very fulfilling. Ephraim has also served as a mediator for friends who are having marital problems, which he says is almost always a result of miscommunication or misunderstanding. 

Ephraim described his own marriage as “a lifetime experience of joy and happiness.”

On June 25, the Okoros were among hundreds of couples who attended the Jubilarian Mass celebrated by Cardinal Donald Wuerl at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. During the Mass, they renewed their wedding vows.

“The Mass I saw on Sunday was so amazing… It was such an incredible display of happy people,” Ephraim said, adding that he wished he had invited his friends to the Mass so they could see a new perspective of marriage.

When they arrived at the basilica, they tried to sit at the front of the church, but soon learned that the front was reserved for the couples that have been married the longest. As they walked back, they passed couples of all different ages, starting with those who have been married for 75 years, then 70 years, 60 years, 50 years, and so on, until they reached the back of the church. Now, they are looking forward to the day when they get to sit up front.

“I’ll keep moving until I get all the way to the front,” Sussie said. “That is our hope and our prayer.”