Local couples mark 50 years of life and love together

By Janice Steinhagen - Staff Writer
Region - posted Fri., Feb. 14, 2014
Pete and Judi Merrill of Griswold pose with the photo taken on their wedding day in 1964. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.
Pete and Judi Merrill of Griswold pose with the photo taken on their wedding day in 1964. Photo by Janice Steinhagen.

Half a century ago, two local couples got married just in time for Valentine’s Day and for the arrival of the Beatles in America. Judi Merrill, of Griswold, remembers watching television with her new husband, Pete, as the Fab Four played their hit songs on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

“Everybody was focused on the boys from over the pond,” she recalled. “I remember thinking, ‘Wow, their hair is really long!’” Compared to Pete’s crew cut, it certainly was.

Both the Merrills and their good friends, Sandy and Ron Becotte of Voluntown, marked their golden wedding anniversaries in the past month. With 50 years of marriage behind them, the two couples reflected on how their relationships started, and on what still keeps them together.

Judi and Pete met on a blind date arranged by a friend. He was working for the state department of forestry; she had just graduated from college. Something clicked from the start. “When he showed up at the door, I said, ‘There you are! I’ve been waiting for you!’” Judi recalled.

The pair had differing backgrounds: Pete had grown up in New Hampshire, where, he said, “the main pleasure was hunting. She was, by my estimation, a city girl” – the “city” in this case being Smithfield, R.I.

They had been dating a short while when Judi left on a cross-country trip with a friend, driving a 1954 orange Mercury. She couldn’t stop thinking about Pete, though. “We had been writing back and forth. I had been getting his letters through general delivery,” she said. Finally, she confessed that she wanted to go back. “We sold the car in Las Vegas and hopped on a bus. I got home in August and we got engaged in September,” she said.

Judi had wanted a small, quiet wedding, but her parents insisted on the works, including a formal wedding portrait arranged at the last minute and taken between the ceremony and the reception. They’re grateful Judi’s mom insisted, because that’s the only picture they have of their wedding, at St. Philip Church in Greenville, R.I.

The Becottes’ wedding was more tumultuous. Ron had his eye on Sandy since high school, when he watched from the bus as she walked to school every day. He told his brother, “You see that girl? I’m going to marry her.” They didn’t meet for two years, but eventually Ron started driving Sandy to her job at her grandfather’s garage, and the two began dating. Sandy’s mom wasn’t happy about the arrangement – she was protective of her youngest child and suspicious of Ron’s attentions.

Sandy started school at Bryant College, planning to become a teacher, but by December of her second year, the couple decided they wouldn’t wait for her to graduate. They eloped on Dec. 7 and were married by a justice of the peace. Then she returned to school. “I wore my ring around my neck. Nobody knew except my godmother,” said Sandy.

“We never consummated it – we were living apart. We were good kids,” said Ron, who grew up as a devout Catholic.

When Sandy’s parents came to Bryant to pick her up for Christmas, her mother started in criticizing Ron on the drive back home. “I told her, ‘You better watch what you say about him, because he’s your son-in-law,’” said Sandy. “All of a sudden the car started swerving back and forth across the road.”

To make things right with their families and the church, Sandy and Ron had a wedding Mass at St. Mary Church in Jewett City on Feb. 1. She wore a white dress and veil, despite the priest’s admonitions, and the couple celebrated their reception at the French Club across town.

Both couples have endured their share of challenges and joys over the years, raising children, working and negotiating their relationships. One of the Becottes’ three children had chronic health problems that strained their resources and cost both of them jobs. In recent years, they have tackled health problems of their own. They relied on their faith to get them through the rough spots, said Sandy. “In marriages, everybody has these trials. The Blessed Mother goes with me all the time.”

Faith is the secret to their marriage’s longevity, said Ron. “You have to have a faith and you have to believe in your faith,” he said. 

The Merrills have relied on their faith over the years, too. For some years they ran a marriage-preparation program for couples at St. Thomas Church, but “we couldn’t hold ourselves up as the perfect couple,” said Pete.

“We didn’t have all the answers.  We were only there to show [them] that it’s possible” to have a long, loving marriage, said Judi. “With communication and love, you can make it work.”

“And with dedication,” added Pete. Trust is essential, he said, and he’s disturbed by the current trend among young couples to hash out their disagreements over social media. “You have to respect the other person’s privacy, even on Facebook,” he said.

Judi agreed. “Love is a state of trust, and no matter what happens, you should never break that trust. That gives you a bridge,” she said.

Both couples marked their golden anniversaries by renewing their vows among family and friends at their home parishes, followed by a celebratory dinner.

Sandy’s mother warmed to Ron over time, and the pair said that she apologized many times over the years for her initial misjudgment. “I have a keeper here,” said Sandy.

Ron agreed. “We’re just so happy. I know it sounds insanely stupid, but it’s true," he said. "I look at her and she’s just as cute now as she was then.”

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