Nurses Throw Surprise Dinner for Hospitalized Couple Celebrating Their 71st Anniversary: 'They Were Smiling from Ear to Ear,' Says Daughter

"The nurse said it's very special for anyone to be married this long," the couple's daughter, Julie Gottula, tells PEOPLE

Photo: Courtesy Julie Gottula

After learning that an Omaha, Nebraska, couple would be spending their 71st wedding anniversary in the hospital, a group of nurses went out of their way to make it special.

On June 1, Julie Gottula took her 93-year-old mom, Phyllis, to , Phyllis, to CHI Bergan Mercy Medical Center to be treated for pneumonia – the same hospital where her father, Gerard, was being treated for the same illness. She told her mother’s nurse that her parents would be celebrating 71 years of marriage from separate hospital beds.

“The nurse said it’s very special for anyone to be married this long, so she pulled every string she could to pull something together for them,” Julie tells PEOPLE.

Later that evening, Julie wheeled her father down to her mother’s hospital room where the nurses had set up a gourmet meal and a bouquet of roses. Julie says the surprise brought “smiles from ear to ear,” to both her parents’ faces.

“It was awesome. My dad ate like it was his last supper because he’s been eating hospital food for so long and my mom couldn t stop thanking the nurses,” Julie says. “They really enjoyed every last bite and you could tell they really appreciated it.”

Gerard and Phyllis first met at a dance hall in Omaha in 1944. They’ve been inseparable ever since.

“My dad is quiet and my mom loves to talk, so they’re total opposites but somehow they’ve made it work,” Julie says.

The pair lived together in their hometown of Steinauer, Nebraska, until moving to an assisted living facility in Omaha last year. Julie says her parents credit their marriage’s longevity to determination.

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“They say after you’ve been married for so long there’s no reason to get a divorce,” Julie explains with a laugh. “Once you hit 50 years, you might as well stay married.”

The couple was apart for four months after Gerard fell and broke his femur in February. He was then moved from a rehab facility to the hospital to be treated for pneumonia. Julie says she was saddened when her mom came down with the same ailment, but glad that it meant that her parents could be together.

“It made it really special that they could celebrate together because they’d been apart for so long,” she says.

Phyllis is still hospitalized, while Gerard returned to his rehab facility. Phyllis plans to reunite with her husband at the facility once she is released from the hospital.

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