For their 60th wedding anniversary, they went to Bora Bora.
For their 61st, Niagara Falls.
For their 62nd, Nashville, their 63rd Dallas.
They had a staycation in a Kauai Hilton last year.
And for this, their 65th anniversary, Joanne told Jim to surprise her.
Even a couple of hours before her anniversary dinner at the Hotel where it all began, she still didn’t know why they had traveled all the way from Kauai. Jim had arranged to have them renew their vows among family and friends, including two of their three children and Joanne’s brother, who lives in town and whom she hadn’t seen for about five years. He had scheduled a late morning appointment for her at the WELL Spa + Salon, so, of course, she was suspicious, but Jim and the associates at The Pfister had done an excellent job of keeping the secret.
Colleen Maxwell, our Social Media Manager, and I got a chance to sit down with Jim before the big night to hear about his sly plotting and planning, but more importantly, for me at least, about his answer to this question: What is your secret for staying married for so long?
Answer: Start planning in junior high.
As Jim told it, “I spotted her when she was twelve, when I was in 7th grade.” Well, that’s an early start. “I was part of the CYO, the Catholic Youth Organization. They would let the 6th graders take a look to see what was in store for them. And one day I pointed to my friend Bill and said, ‘That girl in the white shirt and black and white checkered shirt–she is beautiful.’” Needless to say, Bill reminded Jim that she was “only twelve.” That didn’t stop Jim, though, from watching and waiting.
His mother had wanted, as many Catholic mothers in his era did, her son to become a priest. He attended Marquette University High School, doing his mother proud. From afar, however, he watched Joanne grow up. Then, about two months from his sixteenth birthday, in the year of our Lord 1947, the phone rang: it was Joanne. They agreed to go on a date to a Saturday party, but not before Joanne laid down some “ground rules.” (She knew about the crazy house party he’d been at a few weeks earlier at his cousin’s place while the parents were gone: “I was a victim,” Jim insists.) Even though she was dating other people at the time, Jim couldn’t refuse such a bold offer. And neither could her parents welcome strapping young (and Catholic) Jim into their lives.
Answer: Remind them how beautiful they are.
Jim’s voice crackled with sheer disbelief that anyone so beautiful could have come into his life. “She was and still is very beautiful.” He said this several dozen times (and wouldn’t tire, I’m sure, of saying it again.) People used to come up to her and ask for her autograph, because she was the spitting image of Dorothy McGuire, a star of radio, stage, and screen, especially in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Just the other day,” he adds, jumping ahead many decades, “we were having brunch at a hotel after Sunday Mass. Two women came up to us and told my wife, ‘We can’t get over how beautiful you look.’ This has happened so many times when we’re out to eat. I always want to tell these women that I’m sitting right there, too. Whatever happened,” he joked, “to saying, ‘Hey, this fellow doesn’t look that bad either’? What am I? Chopped liver?”
Five years later, they were married. Jim referred to The Pfister Hotel as the “first place we ever shacked up in Milwaukee after we got married.” As we all know, of course, The Pfister is far from a “shack.”
Answer: Tolerate each other and accept each others’ individual talents.
They started what he kept calling an “interesting” and “supportive” life together. One of the keys to their marriage, it seems, was allowing each other to be their own persons, to follow their own paths–but together. He called it “tolerance,” but it seems much more than that. A very early indication of their acceptance of each other was when she had to practice her tennis game to defend her CYO championship at the resort on their honeymoon, something that got their friends wondering whether Jim and Joanne understood what was supposed to happen on a honeymoon. But play she did, and Jim, in love with his new partner, didn’t think twice about it.
They would go on to adopt three children in their early years, two sons and a daughter.
He eventually opened his own office supply company, with three employees. For someone who didn’t even know how to use Liquid Paper, this was a risk. But they made things work, with Joann helping in the store, too. But it took Jim a while to realize that she possessed a not-so-hidden talent. “She was always bitching about salesmen who didn’t know anything about sales,” he says. She was a fierce critic who knew how things should be run, so he got her set up with her own office furniture business, which is still successful, now run by their daughter, with Joanne as chairperson of the board.
Jim talked at length about his other career choices, all of which Joanne supported. He once worked for the Texas Rangers selling season tickets to businesses, traveling once a year with the ball club because his sales were so good. He worked for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in charge of state-wide distribution. But most interesting to me was his three-week-a-year stint as Santa Claus for twenty-five years. Jim was no mall Santa; instead, he dressed up for friends, especially friends with children, and Joanne would accompany him as an elf. Free of charge. He did it out of pure joy, making sure that his friends got at least one gift from their children’s wish lists–and to let him know what they had gotten. That way, he would know that a boy had gotten, say, a G.I. Joe for Christmas, and armed with this knowledge, the following year “Santa” could tell that boy, “Remember when you wanted that G.I. Joe last year.” Kid’s mind blown. Jaw dropped. Santa is real.
Answer (the most important one): Enjoy life and be nice.
Jim’s philosophy of life? “When I die, I don’t want people to stand at my casket and say, ‘That poor guy didn’t enjoy life. He didn’t use enjoy every minute that God gave him.” He added, “It doesn’t cost a lot of money to be nice to people,” he told us.
Originally, I was going to title this post “Giddy as a Frickin’ High Schooler,” a phrase Jim repeated to me numerous times on the phone and during our interview. Giddy. Young. Enjoying every minute that God gave him.
However, in the wake of the senseless tragedy in Orlando this past weekend, I’ve decided to use Jim’s more relevant and ridiculously simple words as my title:
“It Doesn’t Cost a Lot of Money to Be Nice.”