Living 70 years of unplanned perfection

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Joe and Vi Henderson are pictured at their 70th wedding anniversary party at the Canyon Lake Country Club. Photo by Pat Van Dyke

When a 70th wedding anniversary is reached, a celebration is certainly in order. On Sunday, June 23, longtime Canyon Lake residents Vi and Joe Henderson celebrated their 70th anniversary at the Canyon Lake Country Club with family and friends.

The story behind their romance and marriage is even more incredible than the number of years celebrated. It had the markings of a Hallmark movie long before Hallmark ever produced one film. Perhaps, it would be better identified with an episode of “The Dick VanDyke Show” of the 1960s.

In season one, episode six, Rob Petrie (Dick VanDyke) shares how he and Laura (Mary Tyler Moore) met while he was in the army and she was traveling with a USO show to entertain the troops. It was love at first sight along with some very humorous happenings that only could be pulled off by VanDyke and Moore.

Twenty years prior to the production of this show, a similar event occurred with Vi and Joe.

In September 1947, Army Second Lieutenant Joe Henderson was stationed at Camp Wood, Kumamoto, Japan, as a special services officer. One of the duties he oversaw was the care and function of the on-base theatre. That month a USO show arrived to entertain the 21st Infantry Regiment and in that USO show was a young dancer named Vi.

Vi and Joe Henderson. Photo by Donna Ritchie

Joe conducted a tour of the facilities for the entertainers and instantly noticed Vi. After the show, Joe and his friend (also named Joe) asked Vi and one of her friends to accompany them to a dinner at the Officer’s Club. The girls quickly responded, “We would be glad to.”

Vi was seated next to the “other Joe” while her friend was seated next to Joe Henderson. All seemed to be going well until the ladies went together to the restroom. While there, Vi mentioned to her friend that “other Joe” wasn’t very communicative as he answered most of her questions with merely a “yes” or “no.”  Vi’s friend suggested that they switch seats and Vi’s life has never been the same since.

Vi and Joe were immediately attracted to one another and spent the rest of the evening in deep conversation. The following day, Joe took Vi to see an active volcano followed by two more dates before the USO show continued its travels through Japan and Korea.

When asked, now 72 years later, what attracted him to Vi, Joe says with a gleam in his eyes, “She was the prettiest girl in the show!”

For the next 18 months, their love for one another grew through the U.S. mail system. Several seven cent airmail stamps were all that was needed for both Vi and Joe to realize that there was something special happening. A steady stream of letters found their way between Vi and Joe.

In June of 1949, Joe returned from Japan via ship to Seattle, Washington. He then traveled to San Francisco where he met Vi’s friend Anne and Anne’s husband, Virgil. The following day, Joe met Vi at the train terminal and together returned to Virgil and Anne’s home to ask the two of them to be witnesses at their marriage. Sadly, Virgil was unable to get excused from an army engagement.

Vi and Joe then traveled by train to visit Joe’s father in Shafter, California. During the second evening at Joe’s father’s home, Joe proposed to Vi. The next day, rings were purchased and the couple was off to Reno, Nevada, to be married in the Methodist church on Friday, June 24, 1949. The day after the wedding, the newlyweds started a cross-country trip to Chicago, Illinois, to spend time with Vi’s parents.

Being a professional dancer and a person who had an amazing amount of energy, Vi voluntarily taught several dance classes while the couple was stationed at various army bases. As an “officer’s wife” she had the privilege of attending and organizing many official army functions, a skill that served her well in her service to her communities for years to come.

Joe served in the U.S. Army for 25 years and retired as a lieutenant colonel. Vi was able to travel with Joe as they moved from assignment to assignment with the exception of a 13-month tour in Korea in 1958 and 1959. Their favorite assignments were their two tours in Germany, totaling five-and-a-half years.

After Joe’s retirement, the couple moved to Chula Vista, California, where Joe became employed by Pacific Glass and Mirror Company. It was in their Chula Vista home, which was their 29th home, that they lived for 23 years and reared their family, Janis, Joe Jr. and David. Both Vi and Joe dearly loved Chula Vista.

In 1989, Vi and Joe stopped in Canyon Lake to visit a sister and brother-in-law. At that time, their brother-in-law showed them a lot that was for sale and Joe bought it for investment purposes only. It wasn’t long until Joe, Jr., an architect, was drawing up plans for a house that would fit perfectly on that same lot.

The house was built and put on the market but offers were not acceptable. Vi and Joe decided to put both their Chula Vista and Canyon Lake houses on the market and live in the one that did not sell. The Chula Vista home sold, so they moved to Canyon Lake, their 30th home, on May 23, 1993.

The move to Canyon Lake proved to be the best move in their entire marriage. They enjoy Canyon Lake and all the amenities that are available. Joe is a member of Canyon Lake Association of Men (CLAMS), the Fishing Club and the Men’s Golf Club.

Vi enjoys all the various functions of the Canyon Lake Woman’s Club along with the Ladies of the Lake Club. Together, they have enjoyed the Twirlers Club (square dance), Fine Arts Guild, Yacht Club and Travel Club.

Traveling also is high on their list of activities. They have traveled to 45 countries, which included a 24-day cruise to Asia. A trip to Bangkok, Thailand, during which time Vi was swept up by an elephant’s trunk, was one of their most exciting experiences.

When asked what has made their marriage of 70 years so successful, Joe comments, “Have patience,” while Vi shares,“They say ‘Don’t go to bed angry,’ but I have found the reverse. If you are upset, don’t mention it until the next morning. Everything looks different in the morning.”

Vi and Joe are an example of a couple with lasting love living in a city they dearly love.

Perhaps it is said best by Vi: “Moving to Canyon Lake brought unplanned perfection to two perfect lives.”

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Pat Van Dyke