Terry and Lucille Coppinger of Hamilton plan on holding a big party next week. On Tuesday, December 9th, the couple will be celebrating seventy years of marriage, if one of them doesn’t die first.
That may sound overly blunt, but Lucille is 94 years old and Terry just celebrated his 99th birthday, and they both say that death is something that they realize can come at any time.
Death and dying has been on Terry’s mind a lot recently. Not his own, he plans on living at least to the age of 100. He’s been promised a free round of golf at the Whitetail Golf Course near Stevensville if he lives that long. It’s something he really loves doing and he hopes to make it.
What has him thinking about death recently is his close friend Derry Kempf, who passed away at the age of 81 just a few weeks ago. He and his friend ate breakfast together almost every day.
“Derry was always helping other people,” said Terry, “but his health was failing. He told me, ‘I’m ready to go. Maybe I can help somebody up there’.”
“Nobody knows when they are going,” said Terry. In his 99 years he’s seen a lot of people go, but losing such a close friend is hard.
“He was going to be my pallbearer,” said Terry.
“We bought a few plots,” Lucille said matter-of-factly, about their own preparations. But neither of them is planning on using those plots real soon. They are both looking forward to a big party on their wedding anniversary and another big party when Terry turns 100 next October.
“I’d be glad to spend another seventy years with Lucille,” said Terry. “She’s been a true wife to me.”
Age is having its impacts on Terry. His vision is fading and he’s a bit hard of hearing. The vision loss is a bit aggravating to him. He has always been an avid reader and a writer. He kept a personal journal for a long time, each year filling a book full of blank pages with his thoughts about politics and commenting on what was in the news and what was happening in his family’s life. He’s accumulated 33 volumes.
It was not age, however, that led to his retirement at the age of 75. It was the injuries sustained when sliding into home base while playing on the softball team.
“That was a bad idea, considering my age at the time,” he said about the slide. “I shouldn’t have done that.”
Lucille and Terry met while working for Lockheed Aircraft in Burbank, California and tied the knot on December 9, 1944. The two loved to travel and put over 7,000 miles on their travel trailer.
Terry sold insurance for a while. That was okay, but he said he really came into his own when he started selling cars.
“I tell people that God took a look at me and thought I didn’t have the smarts to be a professional or executive or anything like that, so he made me a car salesman.”
“Selling cars was lucrative,” said Terry. He was good at it and people trusted him so much that they would call from L.A. and ask him to pick out a car and deliver it to them.
“Nobody ever had me take one back,” he said.
Lucille said that social security from the car selling days allows them to have a comfortable life in their modest apartment. Money is tight, of course, but since Terry turned the finances over to Lucille, things are going a little better.
“I thought money was for spending,” said Terry.
“Now we save a little money every month,” said Lucille.
Lucille also does all the driving now. Terry turned in his driver’s license nine years ago when he started having vision problems.
“I walked into the driver’s license bureau and handed them my license,” he said. “I told them I don’t want to get hurt and I don’t want to hurt anybody else.” He said they told him they wished more people would make that decision when the time came.
Terry, of course, thought Lucille needed a good car so he picked out two and let her choose. She chose the ’93 Dodge.
“It’s the quietest car I ever drove,” said Lucille.
The couple moved to the Bitterroot Valley in 2000 to be close to their daughter and son-in-law, Cathy and Dwight Jones, and they love it here.
The tenderness they show toward each other and the love they share is evident even to a stranger on his first visit to their home. They are the “poster children” for aging gracefully.
“It’s been perfect,” said Terry. “She takes good care of me. Without her, I would not be here today.”