Glenn and Dolores Coates won’t be the only couple whose long-lasting marriage will be celebrated at a special National Marriage Week event at the Primrose Retirement Community in Mount Pleasant this month. They will, though, be the only ones who have celebrated more than 70 wedding anniversaries together.
The Coates — who for many years lived on Michigan Boulevard in Racine — were married in June of 1944, while Glenn served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. And today, nearly 73 years later, they are still each other’s sweethearts — holding hands, sharing fond memories and giving each other a knowing wink now and then.
When asked what their secret is for staying together for so long, the couple said they think that the series of circumstances that kept them apart early in their relationship played a role in creating such a strong bond between them.
“It’s because during our courtship, things happened that demanded we be apart. And we didn’t want to be apart,” said Glenn. “So, when we finally got together, we were determined to stay together.”
That courtship began when Glenn was 18 years old and Dolores was just 17. Glenn, a native of Thorp, was enrolled at the Milwaukee State Teachers College (now UW-Milwaukee) at the time and Dolores, who was originally from Iowa, was in her senior year at Central High School in Duluth, Minnesota.
What brought them together was a blind date, encouraged by Dolores’ friend Maizie, who was dating Glenn’s friend, who was also from Thorp and also in college in Milwaukee.
While Glenn said he remembers that first double date as kind of uneventful, he also recalls that he and Dolores found they liked each other and had “plenty to talk about.” They soon had a second date — again with the other couple — and it was definitely more eventful.
The foursome drove up to Canada on Labor Day 1941, had lunch in a hotel in Thunder Bay and went out to see the sights at Kakabeka Falls. The real excitement, though, came when they almost ran out of gas before crossing back into the U.S., Glenn said.
“We were just kids and we were suddenly faced with the fact that Canada was at war and all of the filling stations were closed,” he said.
As the gas gauge dropped, Glenn said his worry grew because “Dolores’ parents had been reluctant to let her go to Canada in the first place.”
His friend’s car sputtered as they drove over the border, he said, but they managed to make it to a gas station. And by the next day he realized that he and Dolores liked each other enough that he invited her to come to Thorp to meet his family at Christmas time.
“She said she’d think about it,” he said. So Glenn asked for her address and they corresponded regularly between then and the holidays.
Across the miles
Meanwhile, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and while that didn’t affect their plans for Christmas (Glenn was still too young for the draft), it did cast a shadow of what was to come in their lives. Dolores made it to Thorp, despite getting stuck on the road in a snowstorm, and the next time the couple saw each other after Christmas was Valentine’s Day, when Glenn took a couple days off from school and went to Duluth.
“By that time, I was pretty sure I was fond of her,” he said.
He was so fond of her that when the City of Milwaukee offered Glenn a part-time job working in their Parks Department that summer, he decided to pass on what he knew was a good opportunity so he could spend the summer in Duluth. “We saw each other very regularly that summer,” he said. “And by the end of the summer, we knew we were in love.”
In love, but soon to be far apart, again.
Glenn, who had dreamed of being a lawyer since he was a child, decided he wanted to enter law school. And his father — a farmer without much money — said he would figure out a way for Glenn to attend the University of Minnesota, which not only offered a two-year law program but would allow Glenn to be closer to Duluth.
With the country at war, Glenn said his father knew he would soon be going into the service and was looking out for him. But it wasn’t long after he started school that the draft age was lowered to 18 (from 21) and, in January 1943, Glenn entered the U.S. Army, moving him farther away from Dolores.
Nothing but promise
Determined to be together, the couple decided to get married in June of 1944, in a small ceremony at the camp where Glenn was based in Warrenton, Virginia, near Washington, D.C. Their families weren’t able to be there, but “we didn’t want to wait another minute,” Glenn said.
Their honeymoon was an overnight stay in D.C., and the next day, Glenn returned to duty. By December, he was sent overseas to Hawaii, where he served for a year and three months.
“I really had to admire Dolores,” Glenn said. “She was a very brave girl to get on a train and come all the way to Washington, D.C., to marry a soldier who had nothing, except a lot of promise.”
He held true to that promise, returning to law school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison after being discharged from the Army in 1946. And, as you might guess, Dolores was there with him, pursuing her own studies in the arts and science.
Love and respect
After graduation, the couple lived in Seattle, Washington, where Glenn worked as a lawyer for the Department of the Navy for one year. And, then “in 1952, we came back to Racine and lived happily ever after,” he said.
The Coates’ raised their two children — Richard and Cristie — here, while Glenn built a successful law career. And through it all, the couple — who also have five grandchildren and a great grandchild — said they “just loved and respected each other.”
“We had a marvelous life,” Glenn said. “We were fortunate to live here in Racine, with a view of the lake and a lot of good friends in the community.”
“We were together, and that’s what counts,” he said.