Ages: 83 (Carol), 84 (Richard)
Location: Concord, NC
Richard and Carol Schmidt have been married 63 years. They are both very involved in their community, volunteering their time and efforts to many worthwhile issues and causes. Their eight decades on earth, six of which they have spent together, have included many interesting turns, like the four years they spent living in New Delhi, India. They each have hobbies (Richard is a photographer and Carol is a quilter) that are noteworthy in and of themselves. But what made me want to write about them and share them with all of you is their marriage. Let me just say it one more time… they have been married for sixty three years! To each other!
They first met at Spring Valley High School in Rockland County, New York but did not start dating until the summer of 1952 when they were both working as camp counselors. Richard was heading clear across the country to attend Stanford University that fall, and Carol still had one more year of high school left, so all indications were that it would be nothing more than a summer fling. This was before cell phones and emails and social media. Even cross-country phone calls – the old-fashioned rotary kind – were expensive and rare. So when they parted ways at the end of that first summer of dating, the only way they could keep in touch was to write to each other.
And that they did. They wrote daily letters to each other, recounting what had happened during the day and, more importantly, remaining a part of each other’s lives. “We were in touch,” Richard says, “without physically being in touch.” When Richard returned the following summer to work (to earn the $1300 room and board that Stanford cost back then!), they picked up where they had left off. (Richard would join a few classmates from the East Coast and drive cars that needed to be delivered to New York as a way of getting himself back and forth. He did whatever work he could find by day – digging ditches, painting – and have fun with Carol – dancing to a jukebox and hanging out with the town’s other teens – by night.) By the end of Richard’s sophomore year of college, when Carol also had a year of college under her belt, they knew they wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.
Their commitment to each other was tested because Carol’s parents were less than enthusiastic about the match. Richard’s father had walked out on his family when Richard was eleven years old, and in those days it was scandalous to be from a divorced family. Neither of Carol’s parents had finished high school, so they were not particularly impressed with his Stanford education either. Richard’s mother did the best she could as a single mom to provide for her children, working in a bakery after her husband walked out on her, but money was tight. Carol’s father also had concerns about Richard’s social status and ability to provide for his daughter.
Carol’s dad told her he would not pay for more that one year of college for her because he did not think women should go to college. Unable to afford it on her own, Carol dropped out after one year and went to work as an operator for the telephone company. When Richard proposed, she was only too happy to move to California and leave her family behind. “I wanted a way out,” Carol says. “And Richard was it.”
They married on July 2, 1955 in Spring Valley, with a reception at Carol’s family home following the wedding. It was the summer before Richard’s senior year at Stanford. The newlyweds flew to California (the nonstop flight from New York City to San Francisco took fourteen hours and was the first time either of them had ever been on an airplane) and then joined Richard’s sister, her husband, their three children and Richard’s mother on a trip to Yosemite. “That was our honeymoon!” Richard recalls. “All of us stuffed into one car together.”
“In retrospect it seems odd,” Carol says of having that many people along for the ride on her honeymoon. “But I had never seen Yosemite, so I thought, ‘Why not?’”
The next time Carol said “Why not” was when Richard called her, one evening when their two girls were five and eight years old, to ask what she thought of moving to India. He had been working as an engineer with a consulting company that needed folks to work with the Indian government in New Delhi. Neither Richard nor Carol had traveled outside of the country and most people thought they were crazy to pack up and leave their lovely apartment on Nob Hill in San Francisco and head off to New Delhi.
“Most people were so negative,” Carol says. “But we were thrilled because we had never been anywhere.”
The Schmidts loved the four years they lived in New Delhi (from 1964 to 1968) and it instilled a lifelong love of travel and exploring different cultures and countries. They lived briefly in Sudbury, Massachusetts upon their return (one winter’s worth of snowstorms was enough to convince them to move) until they settled in Washington, DC, where Richard worked for the federal government and then established his own consulting company. While there, Carol resumed her college studies, graduating with a degree in library science from the University of Maryland in 1976. She then worked as a librarian at the Bullis School in Potomoc, Maryland for over twenty years.
They moved to Concord, North Carolina in 2000, to be closer to their youngest daughter and her children. Their house is filled with art and mementos from their travels, as well as photos of the family that now extends beyond their three daughters (Kailia, 62, Kathleen, 59, and Erika, 52) to five grandchildren and three great grandchildren. They have a fishpond out back and they love to start each day sitting by the pond with a cappuccino (that Richard makes) and reconnect there in the evenings with a glass of wine.
“That is our daily ritual,” Carol says of their time together at the fish pond. “It is something we always do together and I miss it if we do not get to do it.”
For their fiftieth wedding anniversary, they drove across the country together. Most people were in awe of their ability to spend so much time in such close quarters with each other. Their granddaughter told them that if she and her husband went on a trip like that, only one of them would make it back.
Richard thinks the secret to their long and happy marriage is respect. “Love is great,” he says. “But you also have to have respect.”
He says he values Carol’s opinion above all others. Carol agrees that talking things through is an important part of their partnership. “We don’t always agree,” she says. “But we are always able to reach a compromise if we don’t.”
They love to do things together and spend time together, but they also have their own interests and parts of the house that are uniquely theirs. Carol can often be found in her quilting room and Richard at his computer. They admire the things they each do and appreciate what they do for each other and for their family and their community.
“We really like each other,” Richard says. “We would each rather spend time with each other than with anyone else.”
Richard’s photography can be seen at: https://observedart.blogspot.com
Carol’s quilts can be seen at: https://quiltingforkids.wordpress.com