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Southlake Style

Enduring Love

Feb 01, 2016 08:40AM ● Published by Dia

By Audrey Sellers

Some love stories, like Romeo and Juliet, transcend the ages. The characters mesmerize us, generation after generation, with their undying love and devotion. But as captivating as they are, some of history’s most compelling romances exist only in the words of a sonnet or on the stage of a theater production. This love, while enchanting, isn’t really real. What’s real is when two people find love, nurture it and grow it together over a lifetime.

Audrey Hepburn once said: “The best thing to hold onto in life is each other.” The Southlake couples you’ll meet in the next few pages are living this statement. They’ve been together through decades of life’s ups and downs, and they still smile, laugh and hold hands. For anyone who wishes for a lifetime of love, get inspired by these couples. 

Pete and Jean Standbridge MARRIED NEARLY 60 YEARS
 
Pete and Jean Standbridge aren’t superstitious. It’s a good thing considering that they met on a Friday the 13th 59 years ago and also got engaged on a Friday the 13th, a mere three months after they met. The 13th, it seems, is their lucky day.

The two met on a blind date and say it was love at first sight. They tied the knot September 29, 1956, and less than three months later, Pete got drafted. This didn’t keep them apart, though. When he attended basic training in Fort Bragg, one of the world’s largest U.S. military installations, Jean followed. And when Pete was shipped to Germany, Jean went too. The newlyweds were inseparable.

The Standbridges didn’t wait long to start a family—and expand it. Their first son was born in an Army hospital in Germany, and three more children quickly followed. With fewer than six years between their daughter and three sons, Pete and Jean had their hands full and their budget stretched.

“We weren’t very wealthy in the early years,” Pete says. “We had to tell the kids often that they couldn’t do the same things that others did just because there were four of them. It was hard to say no to some things, but we got through it.”

“My feeling was that we could get through anything as long as we were together,” Jean says.
Jean stayed home to raise their children while Pete built a career in the insurance business, working for the same company for 41 years. The family shifted cities often for his job, moving to Virginia, New York and New Jersey, and finally settled in Chicago for 25 years. The Standbridges moved to Watermere, Southlake’s luxury retirement community, about four years ago to be closer to their two children who live in the Metroplex. 

Though their address changed a few times, their faith and their family traditions remained firmly rooted. “No matter where we live, church is an integral part of our life,” Jean says. As for traditions, the Standbridges always took a Christmas photo and enjoyed the holiday at home. “Grandparents were invited,” says Jean, “but Christmas was always at our house.”

As the children grew up and had kids of their own (Pete and Jean have eight grandchildren), their traditions evolved. Now, the Standbridges trek around the country from one house to another, sometimes traveling on Christmas day to spend time with family members. “We think our kids should have their own traditions,” says Jean.

When it comes to building traditions with loved ones, the children are following in their parents’ footsteps. All four of the Standbridges’ kids have been married for over 20 years. Pete and Jean didn’t know they were setting such a sparkling example for their children; they simply treated each other with respect and consideration. They were never big on buying gifts for each other (“If we want something, we go out and buy it,” says Pete), but they always make a point to celebrate their anniversary with dinner at Truluck’s.

As they reflect on their many decades of marriage, they realize their golden years are indeed golden. “One of the luckiest things was having our children young,” Pete says. “When they left, we played even harder. We were young enough to enjoy the empty nest rather than fret about it.”

“We’ve been so fortunate and blessed,” Jean says. “We have many happy memories.” 

Some of the standouts, she says, include a Disney cruise in celebration of her 65th birthday, and family reunions in fun- filled destinations such as Steamboat Springs and Vail. Pete says they were able to enjoy more adventures as the kids got older simply because there was more money available. “Four tuitions, with no loans involved, is not easy,” he laughs.

These days, the Standbridges are often traveling near and far to various events for their grandchildren, whether it’s lacrosse, soccer, choir performances or graduations. They’re also avid golfers and hit the links at Sky Creek Ranch in Hidden Lakes when the weather is pleasant. Whatever they’re doing, as long as they’re together, they’re happy.

Jean says that Pete “is the most loyal person you’d ever want to meet. I love being able to snuggle up next to him every night.” And about Jean, Pete says that he loves how much “she cares about people, beyond family. She’s very considerate.” And, he adds, “I love her cookies and breakfast cakes.”

Friday the 13th might be an unlucky day for some, but not for the Standbridges. They’ve been lucky in love for nearly six decades. 

Words of wisdom: ''Don't fight. If you get angry, don't stay angry. It is not worth it. Also, don't spend a lot of time worrying about what's wrong, think about what's right and works.''

George and Carolyn Contos  MARRIED NEARLY 54 YEARS 

When George Contos first laid eyes on his wife, Carolyn, he was lovestruck. So much so, in fact, 
that he walked straight into a wall as he was getting a good look at her. “She had on this really neat-looking pair of black shorts,” he remembers.

Ever since he ran into that wall, George knew that Carolyn was his match. “We had all kinds of people we could have dated, but there was never any doubt that she was the one,” he says. “Sometimes you’re lucky in love, and I was.”

The couple’s love story begins as a classic romance between a football player and cheerleader. The two dated all through high school in Corpus Christi, and two weeks after graduation, the young lovebirds got married. They wed on June 15, 1962, and then headed off to college.
With the Vietnam War raging at that time, George began receiving notices to be drafted. But Carolyn had no plans to send her new husband off to war. “Carolyn, in her infinite wisdom, decided that if she was pregnant I’d get a deferment,” he says. “So our plan of not having children until after we both graduated college went by the wayside.”

“He didn’t get drafted, though,” Carolyn laughs. She dropped out of college to raise their only child, James, while George balanced working full-time along with his college courses. They lived in college housing and had to provide for their young family by themselves. Life got more challenging when Carolyn was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1967. “Things were tough, but we stayed together,” she says. “That’s just who we are.”

Things for the Contos’ began to tick upwards after George graduated from college and started working for a junior college. He worked hard, earned a good reputation, and was brought to North Texas to help start Tarrant County Junior College, known now as TCC. 

Carolyn went back to school once their son started grade school. She enrolled at the junior college and then continued her education at the University of North Texas, earning a Bachelor’s, Master’s and eventually a Ph.D. in clinical psychology. “Once she got going in college, she didn’t know when to quit,” George jokes.

Carolyn started her own practice, working only with people who had a physical disability. Although they were focused on their careers and raising their son, the couple always made time for each other. Many of their favorite memories are from their backpacking trips together, where they’d pack freeze-dried food and explore the Colorado Rockies for weeks at a time.

“Those backpacking trips were the best,” George recalls. “It was just the two of us together, seeing things that not many other people have seen. We have a lot of beautiful memories from those trips.”

The couple enjoyed an active lifestyle for years, and even when Carolyn had to start using a scooter in 1984 as a result of the multiple sclerosis, it didn’t dampen her spirit.

“Carolyn made up her mind that she’s going to be as active as she could be,” says George. “The scooter doesn’t hamper her at all.” 

One of their favorite things to do now is to meet up with other couples at Watermere, where they’ve lived for two years. “We go to dinner to socialize,” Jean says. “The table we’re at is always the biggest and loudest table.”

They also enjoy going to movies, plays and simply laughing together. “We’re always cutting up,” says George. “We banter back and forth. We have so much fun together.”

The couple says that their marriage has only gotten stronger after being together more than a half century. They hold hands and do little things out of love. George brings Carolyn coffee in the morning and gets her flowers. “I don’t wait for Valentine’s Day or our anniversary,” he adds. “I do it to say ‘I love you and I’m thinking about you.’” Carolyn likes to leave small gifts or love notes for George to show her affection.

While a circle of friends in the Watermere community certainly enriches their lives, they say that all they really need to be happy is each other. “We’d rather be each other’s company than anybody else’s company,” says George. “A lot of times, when you get to be our age, you see the men go off in one direction and the women in the other direction. When you see one of us, you see the other one.”

Together is all George and Carolyn want to be. And in good times and bad, that’s exactly what they’ve always been.

Words of wisdom: ''Take your marriage vows seriously. If you're married long enough, you'll test most, if not all of them. When challenges come up, too many people cut and run. Be commited to your marriage.'' 

Jim and Betty Welch MARRIED NEARLY 39 YEARS

Not all couples find love the first time around. For Jim and Betty Welch, lasting love came as a second marriage. The two met in San Francisco while traveling in 1964. Betty, a beautiful airline stewardess, and Jim, a handsome professional football player for the Baltimore Colts (now the Indianapolis Colts), felt an immediate attraction. The connection was so powerful for Betty that she recalls looking at Jim and thinking: “I love him.”

They talked, exchanged contact information and flew back to their hometowns—Betty to New York and Jim to Baltimore. When Betty returned home, she rushed to her mailbox, eager to see if Jim had sent any correspondence. What she found was devastating: Jim sent a letter apologizing that he was married and had two children.

“And that was it,” says Betty. “It broke my heart.” With Jim always in the back of her mind, Betty moved on. She married another man, Bob, and had two children. In the 1960s, she says, that’s what most women wanted: to be married with children. She was living her dream, yet she never forgot about Jim.

“I always knew what was going on with him, and he knew what was going on with me,” she says. Bob was also aware of Betty’s feelings. “He knew all about Jim. He was a good husband and a loving father, but I wasn’t in love with him,” Betty says. “I didn’t want to love anybody like I loved Jim.”

In 1974, a decade after the two met, Jim called to let Betty know that he was getting a divorce. The couple met for lunch, and Betty knew it: She was still in love with him. 

“I went through several years of trying times,” Betty says. “Jim never pressured me to divorce Bob. But I eventually knew it was something I had to do for me.”

  Betty divorced Bob and exchanged vows with her longtime love on August 17, 1977 in the iconic Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City. She and Jim then danced the night away at their wedding reception at the Rainbow Room.

The newlyweds, who had six children between them, settled into their blended- family life in New York and later Wyckoff, New Jersey (they moved to Trophy Club in 2001 to be closer to family). Betty stayed home to care for the children while Jim worked on Wall Street. A few years after they got married, the thought of having another child crossed their minds. But with a full house and Betty at age 38, they were doubtful she’d get pregnant. Life, like it often does, had a surprise in store for them. Their son, John David, was born August 5, 1981, which happens to be Betty’s birthday.

“He was the best birthday present I’ve ever received,” says Betty. Altogether, the couple has seven children, 13 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Jim and Betty have shared a romance that could very well be a popular Hollywood flick or a best-selling novel. “When I tell my story to people, it’s like a Nicholas Sparks book,” she says. Their love story shares many similarities to The Notebook—right down to the heartbreak of Alzheimer’s.

Jim was diagnosed with the disease six years ago. That’s the main reason the couple moved to Watermere—to get topnotch care. Though they’ve had help from their beloved caregiver, Jeannette, for nearly two years, Jim now requires 24-hour assistance. He recently moved to Isle at Watermere, which offers memory-care support, while Betty continues to live in their condo with their Pomeranian, Prince. They reside in separate residences now, but they still see each other daily. Betty visits Jim for dinner each evening, and the two are content just being together.

Betty lost her mother to Alzheimer’s and understands how things go. “I’m having a hard time because I don’t want to let him go. I lost him once and we got back together. I feel like I’m losing him again, but I know I’m not,” she says. “He’s the same incredible and loving man I met 51 years ago.”

Still, she counts her blessings. “I’ve been so blessed, even with what we’re going through now,” she says. “We’ve had the most beautiful relationship. I thank God that He has given us such a good life.''

Words of wisdom: Be patient and support each other, cherish every moment and never go to bed mad. 

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