Couple Prove Down Syndrome, Autism No Barrier To Marriage
ANAHEIM, Calif. — As a child, Erica Davis talked constantly about how one day she would marry the perfect guy.
“I told her, ‘You know, honey, marriage isn’t for everybody,'” recalled her mom, Kathy Davis. “I did not expect it to happen.”
Contrary to the old adage, mothers are not always right. Erica Davis just celebrated her 10-year anniversary with husband Ben Popely.
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“We have a good friendship and she’s beautiful,” Popely gushed.
“I love him like the whole world,” Davis chimed in.
Both 41, Davis has Down syndrome and Popely has autism. They met in 2007 at a dance for people with disabilities and married three years later.
Their parents, who live around the corner from each other in Mission Viejo envisioned a big celebration to mark the mid-May milestone. But the coronavirus outbreak meant tempering those plans.
Instead, the families hosted those now-familiar substitutes: a small dinner party, a crowded Zoom chat and a drive-by car parade.
Popely grew up in Corona in a houseful of kids. His parents, Steve and Cherie Popely, adopted their eight children, most of whom have special needs. After Ben got married, his parents moved to live near him.
Both sets of parents were oblivious when Popely and Davis first started snuggling at social gatherings. The events were organized by Vocational Visions, a nonprofit that provides support for adults with developmental disabilities.
“Erica would come home and say, ‘Mom, I have a boyfriend! We held hands!'” Kathy Davis recalled. “She’s always had a good imagination, so I wasn’t sure he existed. I asked what his name was, and she said, ‘I don’t know.'”
But indeed, her beau was very real. And when the two families got to know their future children-in-law, they enthusiastically approved.
“They’re a couple of little cuties,” Cherie Popely said.
At a winter formal in 2009, Popely got down on one knee and proposed — into a microphone so all could hear. His sweetheart’s response: “Oh yeah, baby!”
They married in front of 110 guests at the OC Sailing and Event Center in Dana Point, and honeymooned at Disneyland.
The couple live with Larry and Kathy Davis, who created a two-room suite for them upstairs.
Before the stay-at-home orders, Popely worked restocking shelves at a T.J. Maxx. Vocational Visions helped place Erica Davis in warehouse jobs.
Even after 10 years, the lovebirds constantly flirt and nuzzle. “You’re cute!” Davis giggled as her husband kissed her cheek. “You’re perfect!” he responded.
“It’s pretty sappy,” Steve Popely laughed, rolling his eyes. “They have never stopped the dating mentality.”
Observed his wife: “Everybody should know the love they have for each other.”
Kathy Davis suggested their secret to a happy marriage is that “they are alike, but also different.”
“Ben is charming and sweet and laid back,” she said. “Erica is a schedule-follower: ‘Hey, Ben, put on your clothes and brush your teeth.’ They complete each other.”
Ben Popely offered a simple but, perhaps, underutilized formula for martial bliss:
“We listen to each other,” he said, “and I love her just how she is.”
© 2020 The Orange County Register
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