Some say togetherness. Others suggest compromise. Most couples, when asked for their recipe for a successful marriage, have a pretty quick answer.
Ask Charlie and Betty Pierce of Long Beach and you’re liable to see a couple of shrugs.
“Ask Betty,” says Charlie, with a grin that borders on the mischievous. “I don’t know how or why she’s put up with me!”
His wife pauses, then gazes at her man.
“Seventy years? I never really counted or anything,” she says, surprised by the question.
At the second asking, however, there is more.
“He is a good person. He worked hard. Our kids were OK,” Betty says, adding that a long, happy marriage is attainable. “I think many people could do the same thing,” she says. “We have worked for what we have.”
The Pierces are celebrating their exact 70th wedding anniversary today while inviting friends to join them at an open house Dec. 3 to mark their milestone.
If their names seem familiar to longtime Peninsula residents, that’s understandable.
Charlie, 91, was “Milkman Charlie” for as long as anyone can remember, delivering to stores and restaurants, later running the Darigold distributorship. While head cook at Ilwaco High School, Betty fed two generations of students.
Although their dedicated caregiver, Paula Wright, has heard their stories many times, she delights in encouraging them to share them again.
“I cannot go anywhere without people stopping me and asking how Betty and Charlie are doing,” Wright says. “Everyone wants to know.”
The couple met in New York when Betty was dating Charlie’s brother, George. They love to tease that Charlie “stole her away.” “It wasn’t hard,” he says, a gleam in his eye.
Charlie served during World War II as a photographer-lab technician in the U.S. Army Air Corps. They were married Nov. 29, 1947, in Little Falls, N.Y.
A military buddy whose father owned Longview City Laundry encouraged them to leave upstate New York and head West. Charlie drove truck for the company between Longview and the coast for a while, then became a milk delivery driver on their move to Long Beach in the mid-1950s. He also operated his own business selling chickens.
Betty was a homemaker while bringing up the kids then cooked at IHS from the early 1970s until the early 1990s. She remembers her staff with fondness, and the many boys who helped in her kitchen in return for free lunches. On retirement, the couple took a memorable cross-country vacation, but she returned to a phone message.
“The school called and said, ‘We need to talk to you.’” Betty says she went back with some trepidation, fearing she had done something wrong. Instead, a key worker had left and she was asked to return to the kitchen temporarily — a situation that lasted for four extra months before she could finally retire for real.
Still at home
With Wright’s caring assistance, the couple still lives in their longtime home wedged between Long Beach Elementary School and the park. The house was badly damaged by fire during the 1970s; it was rebuilt without its upper level.
Inside, somewhat fittingly, two Norman Rockwell picture books sit on their coffee table. Surfaces are festooned with family snapshots and mementos. A glass snow cone and a coffee mug are adorned with their wedding photograph, showing different 1940s hairstyles but smiles that have barely changed through seven decades.
They have four surviving children, Dave Pierce in Portland, Diane Yunker in Marysville, Tracey Pierce in Sumpter, S.C., and Judy Schafer in Las Vegas.
The Pierces’ recall that their youngest offspring offered a surprise. It wasn’t until a medical appointment two weeks before the birth that Betty learned she was carrying twins. “The doctor said, ‘You know what’s going to happen?’ and I said, ‘I am having a baby’ and he said, ‘No, you’re going to have two! Are you ready for them?’”
Sadly, Judy Schafer’s twin sister, Jill, died of cancer last year.
In addition to work and family, hobbies have kept them active, too.The Pierces were both avid bowlers and Charlie was an enthusiastic golfer. “Dad golfed every day that he could until about three years ago when his knees gave out,” said their son, Dave Pierce.
Betty, 88, was active in a bunko group for 30 years. In 1956, she joined Ocean Beach Rebekah Lodge 313 and served as its secretary for years, in addition to holding several positions in the Rebekah Assembly of Washington. When the local lodge of the international service organization closed, she became a member of the Eureka Rebekah State Lodge No. 1.
Among the cards of congratulations arriving at their home is one from Cathy Garcia, state president of Rebekahs, who was impressed to learn of Betty’s 60-plus years of membership.
At the end of a wide-ranging interview, the question of their recipe for such a long marriage comes up again.
“I never thought about it,” Charlie says, then, cajoled by Wright, adds softly, “what’s our secret? Love. That has a lot to do with it.”