NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — On the spur of the moment in the summer of 1959, Carl “Pete” Peterson and Odessa Hooker appeared before then-North Kingstown Town Clerk John J. O’Brien. They said they wanted to get married right away.
“We were driving by the old North Kingstown Town Hall, I don’t know which one of us said it, but the conversation went, ‘What do you think about getting married?’ There’s the town hall, and the other said, ‘Yeah, let’s do that,’” said Peterson.
O’Brien scurried around, finding Jean Ingram and Lloyd Sherman to be witnesses. In less than 30 minutes, the 21-year-old husband and his new bride, 20, left the building hand-in-hand for their short honeymoon before returning to their pressing careers.
Last week they returned to the now-shuttered old town hall at 80 Post Road where they marked their 60th anniversary on Aug. 10 with nostalgia about getting married on their third date, said Peterson, now 81 and his wife, Odessa, 80.
The former US Navy pilot mused that both the marriage and the building have enduring qualities of survival that make them special. The 130-year-old building, now closed, is the subject of local debate about its preservation.
Peterson also said he sees in that building the challenges time brings, the history of a community shaped by what happens in it and a dedication to preserve it, much like a marriage represents to a family and those part of it.
His marriage in that building was by chance, he said. He was assigned to nearby Quonset Point, and was in Boston one February with his plane aboard the aircraft carrier USS Wasp.
“I was waiting for a buddy who was a pilot and we were going to have dinner in the wardroom, which is quite fancy and an officers’ dining area on the carrier,” he said, but the friend never showed. However, two airline pilots and a stewardess — his future wife — on a tour of the vessel walked in.
He didn’t know them, he said, but asked them to join him for dinner. He said that he talked mostly to the co-pilot during dinner about commercial aircraft. He added that he was drawn to Odessa, the stewardess, but needed to create a reason to get together.
“So, I called the airline afterwards, Mohawk Airlines, and I pretended to be the skipper of the ship. I said we had one of your crews on board last night and I would like to send them some souvenirs, but I don’t have their addresses,” he said. “They gave me her address, I wrote her a letter and my roommate said, ‘Ahh, you’ll never hear from her. ‘”
However, he did hear back. They had a date a month later. In May they went out again and then in August — their third date — they went to Quonset Point carnival and made that life-long decision as they passed the old town hall.
They now have three children, with the first two born while they lived in North Kingstown following their marriage. Then in the early 1960s the couple moved to Connecticut and eventually settled in Brookfield where they’ve lived for 47 years.
Both Peterson and his wife said that having a long marriage has meant accepting change, retaining individual interests and setting aside special time just to be together.
“We go out every Saturday night. That’s our date night. We get dressed up, too. We talk, we catch up,” said Odessa. Date night last week for their special 60th anniversary was a trip to where it all began, she added.
“I felt we have come the complete circle. We went to the town hall where we got married, we visited the first house we lived in, went the base where he used to be, Quonset, where he flew out of. We just kind of made the complete circle,” she said.
Greg Mancini, North Kingstown Town Council president, met them at the old town hall and gave them a town proclamation honoring them for their anniversary. There were no tours, though, since the building is closed due to its deteriorating condition.
“Sixty years ago, Mr. and Mrs. Peterson were married here at our historic town hall. Today they have come back to this same venue to celebrate this impressive accomplishment,” said Mancini, who added that he believes renovations will help protect a part of town history from disappearing and be available to visit for families, like the Petersons, whose memories have a special meaning.
The Town Council will be asking voters to decide in a November referendum whether to invest in an increased repair budget. Officials are seeking a decision on whether to add another $7.5 million to an already-approved $5 million plan.
Odessa, seeing the building, said she felt the excitement again as she did the day she and her husband recited their vows there.
“I hope we can get that town hall fixed up. It’s a beautiful place, historical place. We have to keep and preserve these places because they mean so much to so many people,” she added.