In the late 1950s, Jeanne and Van Wolverton were both 19-year-olds from different parts of the country looking for adventure. She joined the Marines -- yes, there were a few women back then who became leathernecks -- and he joined the Navy.
They met in an electronics classroom at a Naval training center outside Millington, Tennessee, north of Memphis.
Jeanne describes herself as a Texas girl, born and raised in San Antonio. She found her way to the Marines after running out of money after her first semester at the University of Texas. "What should I do now?" she wondered. Thinking she was too young to get a job, it didn't take much for a military officer she met to persuade her to sign up for the Marines.
Meanwhile, Van, a Montana native who graduated from high school at age 16, was getting bored with college in Colorado. So, midway through his junior year, he enlisted in the Navy.
After Jeanne attended boot camp in South Carolina and did well on various tests, the Marines sent her for electronics training in Tennessee. "I had no idea what to expect," she said. But when she found out that she was one of 211 female Navy and Marine recruits among 14,000 sailors and 2,000 male Marines, she was "thrilled."
After a few months, she was assigned to a class in which she was the only female student. Of the 21 young men, one stood out. "He was smart," she said. "Well, he was a smart aleck, too." He sidled up to the instructor and asked that he and Jeanne be made lab partners. To press his case, he offered the instructor a six-pack of beer.
The instructor thought the offer was funny, made them lab partners, but declined the beer.
Jeanne and Van were immediately smitten, and they started to go out on dates, which usually consisted of walking into small-town Millington and getting waffles and ice cream at a local diner. On another date, they passed by a laundromat housing both a coke machine and a jukebox. "I was a Coke-aholic," Jeanne said. "Van put a nickel into the machine."
The song that started to play would predict their future. It was "Hawaiian Wedding Song" by Andy Williams.
A week after their first date, Van came by her barracks. Van recalls: "I heard myself say, 'We're going to spend the rest of our life together.' "
A week later, Jeanne asked if his statement had been a proposal. He replied: "I told her, 'I think so.' I hadn't said it deliberately but I realized that's pretty much what I was doing."
Jeanne told him if that was in fact a proposal, she accepted.
They waited to get married another year and a half, after Jeanne left the Marines. She caught a military plane to Oahu, Hawaii, where Van was stationed. Yes, as the song playing on that laundromat jukebox predicted, they had their Hawaiian wedding.
A month later, Jeanne was pregnant. The couple first went to Texas, because Jeanne's father had died, and then to Louisiana, where Van was stationed and their first child was born.
After four years of service, Van left the Navy, finished college in Colorado with a major in journalism. For a few years, he worked as a newspaper reporter, first in Idaho, then in Illinois. But with three kids, he realized he needed to pursue a higher-paying profession and landed a job at IBM, which eventually transferred him to California.
Jeanne and Van raised their three kids in Scotts Valley, semiretired for a few years on a ranch outside Missoula, Montana, then returned to California to be near their kids. They now live on a piece of property surrounded by oak trees and wildlife in Aromas, a hamlet outside San Juan Bautista.
Van, a converted Catholic, became a deacon at the Old Mission San Juan Bautista, and the two enjoy being active in the local community, while spending time with their three children and five grandsons.
"Van and I have been together a long time. It's been a good life, it really has," Jeanne says.
-- Martha Ross, staff
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