hgazette.com, Haverhill, MA

July 25, 2013

The secrets of a 70-year marriage

How local couple remained strong from WWI to todayw

By Tom Vartabedian

---- — What does it take to form a happy marriage?

Just ask Olive and Jim Cormier Sr. After 70 years of bliss, they appear to be experts on matrimony.

Lots of love and just as much patience is what makes it work, they say.

Don’t go to bed angry. If you have a tiff, just put it away. Don’t forget God, and learn to appreciate the little things in life.

After celebrating the milestone with family and friends recently, the Cormiers spent their actual wedding date (June 26) doing what they love best. Olive tended to her blueberry patch and Jim tended to the yard on a sit-down mower.

The two own an acre at 31 Hermon Ave. It is bedazzled with 50 fruit trees, 100 tomato plants and 500 blueberry plants. They call it their “edible landscape.” Just try her blueberry pancakes and muffins. You’ll be sold on the taste — and their hospitality.

Age takes a back seat around here. Jim’s a brisk 92 and Olive is strong at 87. They have three sons — Jim Jr., an attorney in Bennington, VT; Robert, a colon scientist and teacher in Duluth, Minn.; and Andre’, who teaches at Whittier Regional High and lives with his parents.

Six grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren bring added joy to the couple. Two of the younger ones sang “God Bless America” and “The Star Spangled Banner” at the Cormier’s anniversary party, showing off the family’s patriotic ways.

You may know the Cormiers from your shopping trips to Market Basket at Westgate Plaza. For 33 years, Olive was the woman behind the checkout counter and also bagged groceries. She got to be so popular that customers waited patiently in line just to say hello.

“If people were having a bad day, I’d cheer them along,” she said, smiling. “I always wore a happy face. Hard to believe I worked at three Market Baskets at Westgate. Broke in a lot of trainees, too. Some of them went on to become VIPs.”

Among her proteges were people like Dr. Alan Xenakis, who went from being a cashier under Olive to a prominent medical position on television. Two other trainees ultimately became priests — the Rev. Gerald Dempsey and the Rev. Richard Burton, son of a former Haverhill mayor.

Jim Cormier is still working at the Westgate Market Basket, shagging carts in the far corners of the parking lot and beyond. He drives around in his pickup truck like a bloodhound on a mission, checking out places like the Hadley West apartments and other elderly complexes, corralling these errant carts and returning them to the store.

“My father has it down to a science,” said Jim Cormier Jr. “No lifting, just maneuvering. An average week results in 80 to 90 carts being retrieved. He’s always on the go.”

The Cormiers met by coincidence. Jim was serving with the U.S. Army Air Corps in Australia during World War II under General Douglas McArthur, delivering bombs to air bases. During a respite from his duties, he showed up at the local post office and bought a lottery ticket.

It turned out to be a winner. He decided to treat the exuberant cashier, Olive, to a movie that night and the rest was left to Cupid. Six months later, they were married. Both went through some precarious moments — Olive the war bride and Jim the soldier who survived a plane explosion moments after landing. Two Bronze Stars are proud reminders of his military service.

She was 17 when they married and had some convincing to do with her parents. Two of her uncles had been captured by the Japanese and spent years in captivity. The same could occur with Jim, who was five years older than Olive. Still, they tied the knot six months before he was deployed to the front lines. Olive was pregnant when he left.

“Jim looked so dashing in that uniform,” she recalled. “A bit on the shy side, but handsome nonetheless.”

“She made me feel better,” Jim said of how Olive calmed him during wartime. “A good personality and sense of humor won me over. That was the woman I had intended to marry before getting shipped out, no doubt about it.”

Haverhill was always Jim’s home, having been raised here and attending St. Joseph’s School. He left school early to help support his family during the Depression years. Jim played minor league hockey as a goalie and was scouted by the Boston Bruins.

His mom discouraged any interest in professional hockey because of the injuries she saw other family members suffer while they played the sport. Instead, he went off and fought in the big war. His love for horses gets him to the track occasionally. He’s owned them and trained them. A purse here and there is bonus money.

Looking back on their seven decades of marriage, the Cormiers said it’s been a partnership joined by time and absolute resolve, understanding and affection, faith and boundless commitment.

“In order to have an ideal spouse, you have to be one,” said Olive, pressing her hand against his. “We want to be good examples for others out there, including our own family. And I think we’ve succeeded.”