In the shadow of World War II (1941), the New York Times took notice of another couple who were married seventy-six years: Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Rockwell of Danbury, Connecticut. Joseph was a prisoner of the Confederate Army during the Civil War, returned to Danbury and married his childhood sweetheart, whom he had courted since she was fourteen years old. The Times also noted their seventy-seventh anniversary in passing. We lose touch after 1942. An even longer marriage was recorded by Mr. and Mrs. James Pratt who were married seventy-eight years before he died in 1946. As of 1944, the Pratts were supposedly the longest married couple in the United States (according to a national survey conducted by a flour company). In subsequent years, however, we find several couples that have established even more impressive records of longevity. Mr. and Mrs. Francis Miller of Madison Indiana celebrated their seventy-ninth anniversary in 1956. They received a congratulatory message from President Eisenhower (who was himself one half of a long-term relationship, having been married to Mamie for more than fifty years).

In the western United States, we find two marriages that lasted for seventy-nine years. Peter and Celestrina Peterson of Fairview, Utah commented on their seventy-nine years together. In 1957, Mr. Peterson suggested that “plain living and very fair health” contributed to their longevity. He also credited God and the fact that neither he nor his wife have ever smoked or imbibed. These latter factors certainly contributed to the lengthening of their individual lives and may have contributed to the longevity of their marriage — but did these factors make their time together more pleasant? Neither Mr. nor Mrs. Peterson commented from this perspective. Drusilla Keith and Ben Hartley were both sixteen years old when they married in London County) Tennessee in 1875. Seventy-nine years later they celebrated their anniversary in Sagle, Idaho. Like the Rockwells of Danbury Connecticut, they grew up near one another, living on adjoining farms. Dursilla and Ben had more than one hundred descendants at the time of their anniversary in 1954.

One of the three longest lasting marriages in North America can be jointly claimed by the United States and Canada. Mr. and Mrs. John Henkel were married for eighty years as of 1947. They were both born in Brooklyn, New York and moved to St. Marguerite in Quebec Canada in 1872 after they were married. On the day of their eightieth anniversary, Mr. Henkel observed that: “all of our troubles are behind us. We had a lot of problems, but we overcame all of them. Our greatest problem right now is how to blow out the 80 candles our grandchildren are putting on the cake for the party tonight.” Once again, a bit of humor sprinkled in with a generous amount of honesty about the problems they confronted in their lives together. None of this “lived happily ever after.” Rather, they learned to acknowledge and confront their inevitable conflicts and difficulties in life.


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About the Author

William Bergquist

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant, professor in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 45 books, and president of a graduate school of psychology. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations. His graduate school (The Professional School of Psychology: offers Master and Doctoral degrees in both clinical and organizational psychology to mature, accomplished adults.

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