Love is in the air with Valentine’s Day approaching. Every couple has a story of how they met and how they made it work for so many years. For one couple, Jack and Linda Paquin, now is the time where memories count. They recently celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary on Feb. 2.
Jack and Linda were both 19 years old when they met in 1955. He was a Navy man and she, a Coronado girl. Now at 85 years old, Jack still has his memories to share for both of them. Linda has suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for the past 16 years.
Pictures of their early years show moments of their lives separately before they met and then together. Linda as Miss Coronado in 1953 when she was a sophomore in high school, Jack with his Navy friends, and then, the couple together during their wedding party.
Linda Waldie and Jack Paquin met at the Kirk House, the sanctuary next to the now Graham Memorial Presbyterian Church on Christmas Day 1955. Jack worked as an aerial photographer for the Navy. He grew up in Rockford, Illinois, and lived off base with his brother and sister-in-law on Orange Avenue.
He was brought to the house to meet Linda. As soon as Jack saw her, he was struck by her looks. “I fell in love when she opened the door at the Kirk House. It was hard to get your eyes off her. Her red hair… I couldn’t believe how beautiful she was, but there was no way to further the conversation with the guy standing there,” he recalls.
Linda had arrived to the party with a male friend. Fortunately Linda’s sister, Judy, invited Jack to their house at 503 Ninth Street for a party later the same day, where they played jitterbug music. The guy Linda was with couldn’t dance, which was a plus for Jack.
“I could dance. I had won jitterbug contests…she was a solid dancer and I danced with her,” he recalled.
After that night, Jack was on a quest to win Linda’s affections. “I couldn’t imagine my life without her, seeing her daily. I kept asking her out,” said Jack.
Linda worked as a dental assistant for Dr. Jim Vernetti and attended junior college. “The competition was tough, she was around campus…She was quite popular because of her personality and looks,” said Jack.
The two went out on dates. They went to dinner at the Mexican Village, he let her drive his car, and in fact taught her how to drive, went to the beach and Oscar’s Drive In. Although they went out a few times, they did not have a steady relationship, so Jack used, what he calls, the back door approach. He made friends with Linda’s dad Bob. They both liked to fix things and Jack could hang out at their house. By the time the month of May came around, Jack and Linda were dating seriously.
Jack had a side job working for Tommy Lark, the photographer at the Hotel del Coronado. Often Linda went with him to the photo lab for company. Jack had the opportunity to take photos of famous personalities who stayed at the Del like Dick Powell and June Allison.
Jack was determined to marry Linda. He knew her family liked him, which was a plus. Linda’s dad told him once, “I love you to death, but I would really like you to go to college.”
So Jack took the decision to attend college. He and Linda got engaged and the plan was to wait to get married until he graduated from college. Jack went back to Illinois and to Rockford College where he started taking classes. But his heart was not in it. “I quit and got a job for six months, then drove to Coronado. I couldn’t stand not being together,” he said.
The couple decided to elope on a Sunday. Linda wore a white dress and Jack, a suit and tie. They attended service at a church in Imperial Beach and then drove to Yuma, Arizona, which was where people from California drove to get married. The couple drove for three hours only to find out all the marriage places were closed. On the drive back to California they saw a sign in Winterhaven at a Methodist Church. They needed a witness for the ceremony and they got the janitor to stand in.
Driving back to Coronado they decided not to tell anyone they were married until Linda’s dad, who was in Washington D.C. for work, came back. But the word got out anyway. Linda mentioned the news to the dentist where she worked in San Diego. Soon a man who had pursued Linda told her mom.
“He was trying to persuade her to get an annulment,” recalled Jack. When Linda’s mom found out she called her husband to tell him the news. He had to be called out of a meeting to answer the phone. “Linda got married,” her mom announced.
“Who did she marry?” her dad asked.
“Jack” she said.
“Is that all?” he responded.
When Linda’s dad came back to Coronado, the couple had a party and celebration and later in the month Linda and Jack moved to Rockford. Jack started a job in his dad’s insurance business and Linda worked as a dental assistant until she had her first child.
Although Jack worked in the insurance business for 10 years, what he really enjoyed was creating things. Jack started his own construction company and worked in the business for many years.
In 1974 the Paquins moved back to Coronado where Linda wanted her three children Michelle, John III and Cheri to attend high school. They moved to the Cays, and Jack continued his construction business and even built homes in Green Turtle village.
Just like in the early days when they were dating, Jack and Linda still loved dancing and joined the Crown Club, a dancing club. They also took up sailing, joined the Coronado Cays Yacht Club and got into the competitive part of the sport doing a lot of racing. Once during a race to Hawaii, their 48-ft sailboat’s rudder broke while 300 miles offshore. They were able to make it back partially motoring and sailing by cutting a hole in the spinnaker bag and using the resistance to steer the boat. Their adventures continued when they went on a trawler from the Illinois River to the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico, the Bahamas and all the way down to Central America and then back to Coronado.
Jack believes that to keep the marriage fresh you have to do things together. For them it was dancing, which they still do, and had done two nights before this interview; Jack and Linda had danced three songs together.
Sixteen years ago, Linda was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and for the past 12 years she has been almost unable to speak. It is hard for Jack to see the love of his life like that. “She’s a strong gal,” he said.
“She’s trying to be here. Nobody can believe she’s had Alzheimer this long,” said daughter Cheri.
What Jack also believes helped their marriage was having another couple as friends. For the Paquins this was Ray and Cindy Fritsch. Jack and Ray’s friendship dates back to the days when they went to school together, and when the Paquins moved to Coronado from Rockford, the Fritsches followed them.
“Their children are close to our children. Having a passion you share and then a best friend couple who have similarities it’s like looking in the mirror…it take the bumps out of your life…Life is bumpy,” said Jack.
Anther piece of advice is to keep busy. For him it’s been the construction, which he is still involved in part-time. “If you happen to find something to get your creative juices going outside your marriage, it’s helpful,” he said.
“After 50 years [of marriage] it seems impossible that this much time has gone by,” said Jack.
Cheri has many fond memories of her parents together. “One Thanksgiving in the 1980s I was either out of college or in college. They always had so many people over. In the morning they got up really early and they did the stuffing together and they’d be dancing in the kitchen. I recently found a kitchen towel that said ‘kitchen is for dancing’ and that reminds me of my parents. It was part of their body language. It was always part of their love language, not necessarily words. That has helped me. I waited a long time to get married,” she explained.
Reflecting on being married for so long, Jack said, “When you are first married, it’s a learning curve. After 20 years you don’t think of yourself as one person but as a couple.”
But still it is hard to be the only one left to remember. “When I close my eyes, I still see every moment I chose to see. It’s a blessing I have a photographic memory... I have my children to remind me of her,” he said.
“After 12 days [after our wedding day] it was Valentine’s Day. She was destined to become my Valentine.”