Their story unfolds like the opening of a classic romance novel — one that happened lifetimes ago, far-removed the conveniences of modern day travel and devoid of social media.
Set against the backdrop of World War II, their love story is filled with charming antiquities of a bygone era, things such as penning letters, travel by train and conversations by payphone.
Dorcas and Jim Elder met in the fall of 1944. She was 18, he was 20.
That their paths crossed at all seems an unlikely a twist of fate. When their very different trajectories eventually converged, sparks flew.
A brief, four-month courtship ensued, spawning into a lifetime of love, which has lasted seven and a half decades.
He was a young soldier from Dallas, enlisted the United State Marine Corps, recently returned from fighting at Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.
“I was just back from the Pacific during World War II,” he said. “We landed at San Francisco, then we were transferred to Camp Lejeune [in Jacksonville],” he said.
She was a recent high school graduate from Wech, West Virginia, and had ventured to Washington, D.C., to work for the FBI. She left the familiarity of her mountain home, happy to be immersed in city life.
“I loved it. I was happy as a lark in Washington,” she said.
This past Sunday, the couple celebrated their semi-sesquicentennial anniversary — 75 years of marriage.
They move a little slower than they used to — each assisted by a walker — each having fallen and broken a hip within months of each other.
They finish each other’s sentences and they correct each other’s memories.
But one thing is obvious — they hold the same love for each other today as they did when they younger.
The day they met is full of trivial remembrances, but as they describe those details, it becomes apparent just how significant that day is to each of them.
Dorcas: “I lived in really large, beautiful four-story boarding house. Lots of girls lived there. It was a Sunday afternoon and it was raining,” she remembered. “I had three roommates. We were all broke and couldn’t go out, so we were roaming around the building looking for something to do.”
Jim: “I had a group of several friends. One of the friends had a girlfriend in Washington, D.C.,” he said. The group decided to tag along with him on a road trip from Camp Lejeune to D.C.
“This was at the height of World War II. The government was short of help, so Washington had all these eligible girls,” he explained. “It became the gathering city for good-looking girls from all over the country.”
Dorcas: “There was a girl who lived upstairs from Richmond. I think her name was Jackie. Somebody announced that Jackie had three good-looking Marines in her room, so we hiked it right on up there,” she said. “He was the first one I met. He looked just like that,” she said, referring to a small, fading photograph of a tall, handsome, young soldier.
It was Dorcas’ peculiar wardrobe that day which sparked a conversation between them.
Dorcas: “We had this giant closet. We knew some boys in a band, and they had stored their clothes there while they went to Florida on a gig,” she said. “We decided to put on some of their clothes for fun. When I met Jim, he wanted to try on the coat I was wearing.”
Flirtatiously she told him, “You can try my coat on if I can try your hat on.”
She wore his hat and he wore her coat that whole afternoon.
“We talked, and talked, and talked until he had to leave about 5 o’clock,” she said. As he was leaving, he asked if he could write to her. “I said, ‘yes, of course.’”
Later, one of his buddies told Dorcus what Jim had told him as they headed out, “I just met the girl I’m going to marry.”
That was Sunday.
By Wednesday she had a letter from him.
Jim: “My dad told me, ‘Don’t ever go out with a girl that you wouldn’t be willing to marry.’ Seventy-five years later, one marriage speaks very highly of that kind of advice,” he said.
They met in October. By February, they were married.
During their short courtship, Jim traveled the 350 miles to visit her as often as he could. They met during an era when thumbing a ride was an acceptable form of transportation. He would hitchhike or carpool from Camp Lejeune to Rocky Mount, where he boarded the train for the seven hour trip to Washington.
“It was tough getting there,” he said.
They kept close by writing each other letters.
Dorcas: “It was very exciting — all of it,” she said. She has one remaining letter from their courtship. Over the years, throughout several moves, she is not sure what happened the rest of the letters.
Jim recalls always making sure he had plenty of quarters so he could call her on a payphone. Calls cost about 75 cents each.
While apart, Dorcas continued to work for the FBI. One of the things she did was file millions of sets of fingerprints.
“It was a huge place and the war was on,” she said. “So, everything was very hush hush, very secretive. They had fingerprints of every living soul. We never did finish.”
On one of Jim’s visits, they they attended church together for the first time. They felt the sermon was a clarion call to marriage. They attended the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington where Peter Marshall (then chaplain of the U.S. Senate) talked of being sure of of the future.
“He said if you felt firm in your in your beliefs, it didn’t matter your age. So we went home and set a date,” Dorcus said.
Soon after that sermon, Jim received orders to go to Vero Beach, Florida. He knew if they didn’t marry before he left, they might not ever.
So, on Feb. 9, 1945, they wed.
“And we took off from there,” Dorcas said, laughing.
Throughout the pages of their 75-year journey, the couple has seen prosperity and adversity, storms and smooth sailing, illness and health — all which they credit to solidifying their marriage.
She said it was the tests and the trials that made their marriage stronger.
They’ve lived through wars and moved multiple times, living in Texas, Virginia, West Virginia and Hawaii. They also moved several times between the Marine bases at Camp Lejeune and Cherry Point, eventually making Havelock their permanent home when Jim retired after serving 30 years.
Dorcas recalls early in their marriage when everything they owned was contained in a seabag, a foot locker, two small suitcases and a makeup kit.
“That was our whole world,” she said.
Without family close by to rely on, they learned to lean on each other.
“We were everything to each other,” Dorcas explained. “We were best friends and partners in everything we did.”
“We were all we had,” Jim echoed.
Through the years, as Jim moved up through the ranks from private and to major, Dorcus raised their two girls, Terry and Toni.
As the wife of a career Marine, Dorcas said she had to learn to be tough. She spent several year-long intervals raising her children by herself when Jim was stationed overseas. Tours that included Korea, Vietnam, Japan and Cuba.
“He was gone five different times, a year at a time,” she said. “I learned to be very independent. I had to — I was responsible for everything — the children, the house, the dog, the money.”
Each time he had to leave, Dorcas would try not to cry in front of him. Jim always reassured her, saying, “Look, if I wasn’t sure I was coming back home, I wouldn’t go.”
Seven years ago, the Elders moved to Greenville to be nearer to their daughters’ families: Terry is married to Doug Privette, and Toni is married to Gene Alexeff. They have three (grown) granddaughters and 10 great grandchildren.
“Mom and Dad were beginning to have simple medical issues,” Terry said.
“Havelock was too far to drive back and forth. Dad will be 97 in March and Mom will be 95 in June,” she said. They’ve lived very independently and very happily until they each recently fell and broke a hip.
The daughters said their parents’ legacy is evident in the generations coming up behind them. Terry has been married 47 years, Toni, 35 and the three granddaughters for decades.
Dorcas said there are at least three principles at the core of the success of their marriage.
“I am thankful I’m an American. I’m thankful I’m a Christian and I am thankful I married an honest Christian man,” she said. “When you have a foundation like that, you can’t be bad — even if you want to — because you are bound to that way of life.”
She recognizes the longevity of their marriage is unusual, especially in this day and age.
“I sometimes wonder myself, ‘How in this wide world have we been married this long?’” she said.
She added that selflessness must be a part of the equation.
“You have to make whatever sacrifice is necessary,” she said, adding, “I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.”
Jim doesn’t sugar-coat their journey.
“It was never easy,” he said. “But it was good.”
As yet another Valentine’s Day arrives, your intrepid writer finds herself single, still.
Although I’ve had the patience of a saint waiting for my Prince Charming, I am beginning to think he needed to update his GPS. It was with this thought in the back of my mind that I clicked “post” on Facebook’s newest way to delve into our personal lives, “Facebook Dating.”
Introduced to the United States last fall, Facebook Dating is hoping to find love for some of the three quarters of Americans that use the site. And it’s big business, too. Analysts expect dating apps to bring in $12 billion by the end of this year. That’s billion with a “B.”
It was an easy sell for me, because it was free. I didn’t have to download another app and there were no pesky ads getting in the way of Cupid’s arrow. Best of all, I didn’t have to sort through a decade’s worth of photos of myself. I’ve been in my fair share of awful photos, and, luckily for me, Facebook has saved them all. I picked a few of my favorites, the ones that don’t make me look like a crazy cat lady, and got started.
Facebook Dating matches users based on what you say you’re looking for, but also suggests people who have the same interests and enjoy the same activities.
In a new school “check-yes-or-no” kind of way, whoever likes your profile comes up for the user to review. Once you decide how you feel about them (by literally clicking a heart or an “x”), the app then opens up a message board where you can text back and forth.
Ever-savvy, Facebook even offers icebreakers for when “How you doin’?” isn’t quite right. One man used this feature, and it led to a pretty good discussion about the best Meryl Streep movies, but that’s about as deep as it got. Another spent lots of time telling me about his kidney transplant, which is great, but didn’t really seem interested in asking me any questions about myself, apart from the health of my kidneys. In one risky moment, a man asked for my personal cell phone number so he could send me “a few pictures.”
“Oh God, pictures of what?” I wondered.
Turns out, it was pictures of the homemade lasagna he’d just taken out of the oven. Who wouldn’t be proud of that? It looked delicious. My spirit animal, Garfield, was impressed. And hungry.
All of these odd conversations did lead to a coffee date at the end of the week.
Unfortunately, the coffee shop does not serve lasagna. It’s sad, because Lasagna Man soon told me that he wanted more of a “friend with benefits,” not a “nice girl” like me. While I appreciated the honesty, rejection always stings, even when it comes wrapped with sweet words. But, ultimately, it’s okay. I know, at the end of the day, I can make my own friggin’ lasagna.
Greenville is no longer the No. 1 city in the state for vehicle crashes and officials are attributing that success to engineering, education and enforcement efforts by the Greenville Police Department and its partners who make up its traffic safety task force.
“It’s really hard to change traffic behavior, it really is, but this group really put our heads together,” Greenville Police Chief Mark Holtzman said on Thursday during a joint agency news conference at the police department’s headquarters on South Greene Street.
“As a police department, we knew we couldn’t do it by ourselves,” Holtzman said. “We focused on enforcement, education and engineering. We learned that engineering and enforcement really need to take the lead in that.”
He said Greenville has gone from being the worst crash city in North Carolina to being the fifth-worst in just a few years.
Before implementing the task force in 2018, which includes members from the police department, NCDOT, Greenville Public Works and East Carolina University, Vidant Health and other agencies, Greenville had an average of 400 crashes each month. Now it averages about 350 per month.
Additionally, in 2019, the City of Greenville saw 500 fewer crashes the in the previous year.
“It’s a thousand cars that didn’t run into each other last year,” Holtzman said. “It’s a thousand people that got to where they needed to go safely.”
He noted that pedestrian injuries also have seen a significant decline.
From 2016-19, crash fatalities in the city have decreased from 10 to 6 each year and pedestrian injuries have decreased from 64 to 37.
The engineering aspect of crash prevention included installing delineators (poles that act as medians) and crosswalks with lighting and signage, Holtzman said.
So far, the city has installed lighted crosswalks at Ficklen Street at Charles Boulevard, 10th Street at Forest Hills Drive, Fifth Street at the greenway, College Hill and Moye Boulevard. Future crosswalk sites being considered.
Delineators have been installed at several spots along Charles Boulevard and Arlington Boulevard, as well as Greenville Boulevard and Belvedere Drive.
Holtzman said the first delineator was installed at the intersection of Arlington Boulevard and Smythewick Drive and results were dramatic.
“The year before we put that in there, we had 22 crashes at that location (from) people turning left coming out. One of them was a fatality,” he said. “The year following that, we had two minor crashes just property damage and no injuries.”
In addition to the success of crosswalks and delineators, the traffic safety task force has championed the city’s red light camera program.
Though controversial, data from the city shows a 27 percent reduction in total crashes within 150 feet of intersections that have the cameras. The data also highlighted a 22 percent reduction in rear-end collisions and a 23 percent reduction in the number of red light citations written.
“Only about four percent of the people that get a red light ticket get a second one. We’re really about changing the behavior,” Holtzman said.
One of the main traffic engineers behind the installation of the delineators, crosswalks and cameras is Rik Decesare.
“Any system that we put in that’s consistent, that’s there — I keep saying 24/7, 365 days a year — without having to use police force is the goal,” Decesare said.
Keeping cyclists safe is also a goal. Decesare said that the city has been tasked with ensuring that bike lanes are included in resurfacing projects.
“As a matter of course, for the past four years, five years, every time the city looks at resurfacing, we look at how wide that pavement is and can re-change the pavement markings to re-accommodate a bike lane,” he said.
One challenge facing engineers is the delicate balance of being able to squeeze cars and bikes in 11-foot lanes.
“You have to understand the pavement is only so wide, so the answer is whatever we can fit allowing for a standard lane or a lane that both the state and city can live with. Usually that’s 11 feet,” Decesare said.
Another component considered vital to traffic safety and crash reduction is lighting.
“The bigger part of the story has been some of the lighting improvements on roadways,” Holtzman said. “There are about 7,000 streetlights in the community and over 4,000 of them have been switched over to LED. We’ve also added 200 new lights downtown that are adaptive. They change throughout the evening getting brighter and dimmer.”
Decesare and Holtzman said as the city continues growing, officials must invest in infrastructure to ensure the safety and well-being of all who travel along city streets.
That means traffic-calming measures are part of the picture and drivers may have to travel a bit further to make a turn, they said.
“The inconvenience is one thing we’re all going to have to live with, but we’re about getting you home safe and it may take a few more minutes,” Holtzman said.
City council update
The Greenville City Council approved all rezoning and annexation requests that that came before it on Thursday, along with a $500,00 job creation grant for a local software company. Subscribers can read a complete report on Thursday’s meeting at reflector.com or in Saturday’s print edition of The Daily Reflector.