Couple celebrates 70th wedding anniversary (8/13/09)

Art and Loretta Benoit honor wedding vows

Aug. 13, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Art and Loretta Benoit offer no magic formula for making love last. Over a marriage spanning seven decades, they simply took their wedding vows seriously, particularly the promises to love and honor and stay together forever.

 


   
Art and Loretta Benoit, who wed on July 31, 1939 (left), reminisce about 70 years of marriage at their home on Monday (right).

The Williston couple recently celebrated their 70th anniversary, a remarkable milestone but particularly notable considering more than half of all marriages these days end in divorce.

Their six children, along with many of the eight grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, were on hand July 31 as the couple renewed their vows. Rev. Donald Ravey of Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church in Williston conducted the ceremony at the couple’s home.

The Benoits credit strong family ties and clearly defined roles with providing a solid foundation for their marriage. And they always assumed the relationship was permanent.

“Today, couples will say, ‘Oh, I’m going to get a divorce,’” Loretta Benoit said. “I think the younger people don’t try to stick things out.”

Art Benoit was born 88 years ago in Chrysler, Ontario, a little town near the New York-Canadian border. His family moved to Vermont when he was 5 years old.

His parents, of French-Canadian descent, insisted their 15 children speak French at home. Benoit went to work on the family farm after he finished his sophomore year of high school, following the path of many children of the era.

“Our father was a good old farmer and he needed help,” he said. “If you were 16 years old, you were too old to go to school but just right for work.”

Benoit helped milk the herd of 50 cows without machinery. With arm outstretched, he displayed his oversized, gnarled hands, a trait he attributed to milking duties.

Loretta Benoit, 90, was born in Trois Rivières, Quebec. She was the only girl in a family with nine brothers, a big French-Canadian clan like her husband’s.

The family moved to Burlington when she was 4 years old. Her dad worked in a now long-defunct textile mill in the city’s Lakeside neighborhood. Her parents also spoke French at home.

Her mother died when Loretta Benoit was just 11 years old. After the death, Benoit lived with an aunt and in an orphanage.

The families were linked when one of Art Benoit’s sisters married one of Loretta’s cousins. During family gatherings, the couple-to-be met and became friends.

After all these years, their memories are fuzzy about how their relationship turned romantic. Nor do they remember the details of their first date.

But they do recall liking each other from the start. Then both in their late teens, they dated for a couple of years, sometimes going to drive-in movies on Friday nights.

Loretta Benoit said she was painfully shy at the time, but she found it easy to talk with his family members. Art Benoit said his mother “took to Loretta right quick. As long as she spoke French, I don’t think she could do any wrong.”

The couple married on July 31, 1939. The ceremony was held at St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church in Shelburne because other nearby churches were not large enough to accommodate both families. Art Benoit said about 200 people attended the ceremony.

The newlyweds bought a farm in Hinesburg and settled into a traditional family life.

Art Benoit was the breadwinner, initially earning money as a farmer, then as a trucker transporting bales of hay back and forth across the Canadian border. In later years, he bought and sold real estate.

His wife, meanwhile, was a stay-at-home mom. She had six children in an eight-year period early in their marriage.

In 1958, the couple bought a farm off East Hill Road in Williston. They still live in the rambling white farmhouse on that land.

Asked why their marriage lasted a lifetime when so many others crumble after a few years, the Benoits said they always try to remain civil, even when they argue.

They didn’t mention it as a factor, but during an interview at their home the couple’s good humor seemed like an integral part of their relationship.

“I wait on him hand and foot,” Loretta Benoit said as she described their relationship.

“And I let her,” her husband retorted. They both laughed.

The couple said their own parents set a good example of how to get along. Neither could recall any serious arguments during their upbringing.

That tradition of even-keel marriages seems to have been passed down to Art and Loretta Benoit and then carried on by their own children, four of whom have been married 40 or more years.

“All couples bicker,” said Rita Benoit, one of the two children who are single. “They have disagreements, too, but they work them out.”

She said her parents’ Catholic upbringing came with the assumption that they would remain married no matter what, an idea seconded by her brother, Bill Benoit.

“I believe that they really believe that they were meant to stay together,” he said. “I don’t believe it ever crossed their mind to leave the marriage.”

Rita Benoit said people of her parents’ generation had fewer options than today’s dual-career couples, who are more likely to break up when the relationship hits a rocky patch.

“I think people from my parents’ generation were much more dependent on each other than they are today,” she said. “People look today and say, ‘I do have other choices.’”

Eldest son Roland Benoit has been married 49 years. He and his wife, Sheila, will celebrate their golden anniversary next month.

He attributes both his own and his parents’ marital longevity to hard work, trust and “good moral values.”

“It’s actually pretty simple,” he said. “You make an agreement and you have to work at it. If you don’t, it doesn’t work.”