Friday, February 4, 2011

Meant to Be

She noticed the handsome, young man from across the room-his wavy brown hair, bright blue eyes, friendly smile. She had never seen him before. Too shy to approach, she watched him serve as best man on his brother's wedding day in July of 1953.

Later as the wedding party celebrated at the Teche Club just outside New Iberia, Louisiana, he wandered over to chat with her date, then came back a few more times. She had the distinct feeling he was more interested in her than talking with her date. Finally he asked her to dance, and she learned that he was a Navy man who had spent most of his ten years of service in Japan. They danced several more times that night.

A day or so later, Clifton J. Charpentier asked Joland B. Hebert to go with him, his Aunt Lou and Neil to Grand Isle for a few days of fun before he returned to his ship in Long Beach, California. After a dinner to meet her parents and Joland's insistence that she was going with Cliff, even if it meant opposing the wishes of her mother and father for the first time in her nineteen years, she left for the beach with Cliff after work on a Friday evening. The two spent Saturday and Sunday eating, dancing, fishing for crabs, walking on the beach, getting to know each other and even managed to sneak in a first kiss under Aunt Lou's watchful eye.

On Monday, Cliff caught a bus back to California amid promises from Joland that she'd write him every day and his commitment to send a note whenever he could. Over the next eighteen months, the letters progressed from casual to interested to serious, and during a rare, pre-arranged call, Cliff asked Joland to marry him and mailed her an engagement ring. He had no time to return to Louisiana, so Joland could either wait to marry when he got out of the service and came home a year or so later or meet him in California before he shipped out.

Joland had never ventured beyond the Louisiana state line nor had she ever driven in a town of more than a few hundred people, but she was ready to travel across the country to marry Cliff. Her parents were not so enthusiastic, and Joland prepared to defy them a second time. After sleeping on the situation, her mother and father agreed to go with her to California but not until after the holidays, three long months away.

A day or so following Christmas of 1954, Joland, her mother, father and two brothers headed to California to reunite her with a man with whom she had spent only seventy-two hours more than one and a half years earlier. Over several days and 1,750 miles, she and her mother followed in a car behind her father and brothers through major cities, across deserts and over mountains while her mother worried, prayed the rosary and kept her eyes closed. The caravan of two stopped for the night just outside of Long Beach over Joland's objections.

After a sleepless night, she and her family drove into Long Beach in search of Caymond Street, the address Cliff telegrammed her before she left Louisiana. Father and daughter drove around the city and checked the maps, no Caymond Street. They asked street vendors; no one ever heard of Caymond Street.

With frustration mounting and no way to contact Cliff, Joland pulled onto a side street and blew the horn for her dad in the car ahead to stop. She rested her head on the steering wheel for a moment and then looked up just in time to see her future husband walk out of the house she just happened to park in front of. The name on the sign: Raymond Street. Western Union had gotten it wrong.

Clifton J. Charpentier and Joland B. Hebert married on January 5, 1955, returned to South Louisiana to live, had one daughter-Patricia-and continue to enjoy life among good friends, family and their dogs, cats, birds and fish. Their fifty plus years together-proof this marriage was meant to be.

-Patricia Charpentier

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

An Afternoon with Margaret Hill


Any conversation with Margaret Ann Hill is always filled with laughter. She said to me, “I always know how to have a good time.” Her quick wit is complemented by a sharp and analytical mind. As a teen she had a series of jobs, working for Graybar Electric in the accounting department for 2 years and then American Fire and Casualty Insurance Company for 3 years. She was proud of these early jobs that she had during and after High School. A true Orlando native, she was born in and grew up in the same two story home on Evans Street, that her father built. Her mom, Josephine Graff married Joseph Zapp in Indiana, where they met. Her parents farmed there for a short time. Joe Zapp was a gifted carpenter as well as a stern disciplinarian. Her mother instilled the love of nature, family and people in Margaret while her father provided structure and determination. Margaret is of German descent and the youngest of nine children in a devoted Catholic household. The necessities were provided for, yet luxuries were not plentiful. Margaret does remember the excitement of seeing her first movie at The Beachum when she was 16 years old.

When I asked Margaret about her marriage to Duane, she said with a school girl grin, “That was one of the happiest days of my life.” Margaret met her husband Duane at Swift Packing house. She had an accounting job and Duane worked the meat cutting equipment. As their romance blossomed, they would write letters to each other at night and trade them at her desk in the morning. Margaret worked at Swift for 5 years until their wedding and the birth of their first child. The newlyweds moved to an apartment on Hyer Street in Orlando. This was a small 2 bedroom apartment and they lived there for 4 years. They bought their first home in 1958, which is the home Margaret is happy to live in today.

Margaret was proud to have raised four boys and a girl. Another of her happiest days was when her daughter Mary was born. She was so glad she finally had a daughter. This was a major victory after having all boys for so many years. Margaret enjoyed gardening and sewing, so now in addition to sewing pants for all her boys, she could finally make dresses for her daughter. She delighted in being a Mom and proudly talks about a trip she took to the bank where she had all her children in the back seat of the station wagon as she went through the teller line. In those days, the bank tellers still gave out lollipops. As the teller was counting out the 5 lollipops, he said that his wife would feel blessed if she was able to raise their one child with the apparent ease that Margaret seems to be raising her five children.

Margaret’s daughter Mary entered the room and she joined in on the conversation. She started to tell a story about how proud she was of her Mom ‘doing’ a 5K with her about 15 years ago. Margaret walked it and Mary ran the distance in record time for herself. While Mary was waiting at the finish line for her Mom she mentioned to the spectators around her that her mom was walking the course, that it was a challenge for her and asked them if they would cheer with her for her Mom. Those spectators then told two friends who told two friends and so on…and before she knew it 50 or more people were all waiting for Margaret Hill to cross the finish line. When Margaret rounded the corner to the finish she was more than shocked by the huge crowd of people shouting, “Come on MOM you can do it! Yeah, Mom!!!” Some spectators even dashed onto the course to meet her, hugging her and shouting further encouragement. Yes, Margaret knows how to have a good time, making the most of every moment and embracing each day.

- Thomas Thorspecken

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Around the World with Homer Whittaker

“I’m not trying to make the world over. What happens, happens. Nothing I can do about it. Life happens and it shapes you and the world. You don’t shape life,” replies Homer Whittaker when asked what advice he would pass on to people coming along behind him. Instinctively, I know that listening to Homer share about his life, is going to stretch and shape my very own. Born in Brooklyn, New York on August 27, 1920, Homer Whittaker, is just two days shy of his 90th birthday. Homer is introspective yet surprisingly light-hearted. Although he easily displays the depth of emotion which comes from experiencing the serious side of life, he believes life is best not taken too seriously. He shares and jokes with ease.

Homer describes his early life in Brooklyn as typical. His father owned and worked a lumber yard and his mother ran the house. He is eight years older than Mae, his only sister. His father was strict and very much about business, while his mother was the ‘touchy feely’ one. With a mischievous grin Homer laughs, “She was so touchy feely she broke her wrist across my back as she and my father were going to meet with my teachers.” She was none too happy about being called to talk to his teachers. After that she resorted to chasing him with a broom! Not because he misbehaved mind you, merely because he enjoyed life! “Didn’t you enjoy life at that age?” he teases. Homer’s enjoyment of life didn’t stop him from scoring the highest marks in history and math on the New York Regents exam. He credits his older cousin Dorothy for having his back and keeping him out of trouble. They were very close and always knew what the other one was up to. “Everybody needs someone like that and I was lucky to have her.”

At 17 years old, Homer decided to leave Brooklyn and Kelly’s Bar behind. He joined the US Navy with the clear goal of becoming an aviator and earned his wings at 22 years of age. The next twenty-three years found Homer ‘going to sea,’ flying countless combat related missions, piloting myriad seaplanes and bombers. When asked about the responsibility of commanding planes and people, he says, “I didn’t think about it. It can be a grueling day, 18 to 20 hours, with a B5M patrol plane strapped to your ass…” In a flicker it appears as if people and experiences march swiftly through his mind and across his eyes, “If I’m safe, they’re safe, so we were sure as hell gonna be safe,” he adds with his unique mixture of seriousness, care and humor.

While Homer was in the Navy, he married and had four children, three boys and one daughter. “I credit their mother to really doing a beautiful job raising them… I was always out to sea.” His children have gifted him with wonderful grandchildren and even great-grandchildren. When asked what makes for a successful life, he says that generally being pleased with one’s life. What pleases Homer? “My kids. I didn’t get all gooey over them, but I like them. They’re all very different and they’re nice people. I want them to know that I do respect them and their thoughts and I’m sure I don’t always get that across.” Acceptance is what Homer believes makes life and relationships easier and more enjoyable. “But don’t expect it to happen over night,” he adds dryly.

Acceptance has been a deep and important theme throughout his life. Mag, Homer’s wife, enters the room and when asked what keeps them together after 26 years of marriage, they both have quick and different answers. “Old age, neither of us can run away,” laughs Homer. “Inertia,” Mag delivers with comic excellence. Yet, they both agree that acceptance of each other and the other’s ideas and purpose is essential. Homer adds, “It’s important to accept what your partner feels and encourage and support that.” Homer is an exceptionally warm and inviting man, with an openness and ability to touch and be touched on many levels. Life has indeed happened to and around Homer during these 90 years. It has touched and shaped him and he continues to gift others with his touch. Happy Birthday, Homer!

- Mary Hill

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Captain for All Ages

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28) Captain Pete Peteprin was born 100 years ago today on October 29, 1910 in Caro, Michigan. And so his purpose began. Captain Pete feels strongly that it is essential to live a purposeful life and he knew that his purpose was to lead. He believes in Christianity and that he is here to love and help other people when he can. “There are 5 words that are very important to me: Christian love, hope, courage, faith and wisdom of selection.”

He grew up in a lumber family amidst the strong personalities of his father and grandfather. His mother was very loving and provided not only a strong educational foundation, but prophetically enough, a make believe captain uniform when he was just 8! Her death, when he was only 11 years old, was the single most difficult thing in his life. A pastor mentored Pete, solidifying his strong faith and giving him the courage to pick himself up and persevere. He knew he had something to offer when he was asked to be the Captain of his high school football team. He went to Michigan State on an athletic and academic scholarship, completing 2 years before voluntarily enlisting in the Navy in 1931. He re-enlisted again in 1935, honorably serving in the US Navy for 41 years, retiring in 1972. Before retiring he completed his BA and MBA in Business Administration from the Univ. of Michigan. In 1938 he met and married a wonderful woman and research nurse named Emily Hoffman. They wed in the Valley Forge Chapel and shared 60 years together before her passing. They have a terrific son and daughter, four grandchildren and a great grandson.

Captain Pete’s military career is historic. He believes in liberty and that a person or country must be willing to sacrifice and even die for the right to that liberty. Pete was willing and is a Pearl Harbor survivor, returning to battleship row on the USS Helm, a destroyer that shot down 2 Japanese planes and remained afloat with 3 holes blown in her side. His attitude is remarkable and humbling. “It’s an interesting thing. When you are in the war, you just think about winning the war. If I’m killed it was meant to be, if not, wonderful!” Wonderful indeed! Pete has sailed the world, served NATO in Paris, France from 1959 to 1964, recruited European engineers for the space program, evacuated 747 French Foreign Legion and Colonial troops with chest wounds out of Indo China, served in Washington, DC…the list is endless.

As remarkable and as endless is Pete’s love, wisdom and generosity of spirit. He enjoys working out, heart-felt conversations and lunch with friends. His most recently accomplished goal was that all of his grand kids graduated from college. And, Pete is lucky in love! He and his delightful wife Louise have been married for 11 years and his goal is to make her as happy as he can. Captain Pete looks forward to each day with contagious optimism and to eternity with inspiring devotion and love. Happy Birthday, Captain Pete and God bless you always!

- Mary Hill