PHILMONT—Theirs was not love at first sight, but it is love for a lifetime.
Henry “Hank” Croteau and Beatrice “Babs” (Baxter) Croteau celebrated 60 years of marriage April 4 with a party in the dining room at the Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, 201 Main Street, where Babs now resides.
In a recent phone interview with The Columbia Paper, Hank recounted the event he and his bride shared, along with some earlier times.
This diamond anniversary was a black-tie affair, at least for Hank, who broke out his tuxedo, and Babs who wore a new sleeveless navy blue dress with strands of pearls around the neckline and dangling pearl earrings.
Pine Haven staff saw to Babs’ attire, her silver shoes, matching silver nail polish and her freshly coiffed hair. They decorated the room with bunches of balloons and made a big bowl of punch for guests.
Hank brought his best girl a matching bouquet and corsage of delicate pastel spring blooms, striking against her dark dress. He had a large sheet cake made for the occasion: inside—a yellow cake with lemon filling and outside—white butter cream. The cake border was of colorful rosettes and vines. The inscription read: “Happy 60th anniversary Babs and Hank, April 4th 1959–2019.”
They met when he was 11 and she was 8. Her father, Henry Baxter, had served in World War II and worked for Con Edison as a meter reader in New York, Hank recalled. But Mr. Baxter preferred the country and took a leave of absence from city life to live in the family’s summer place in West Copake for a while. He started up a milk truck route delivering milk door to door and young Hank became his helper on the truck from the time he was 11 until he graduated from Roeliff Jansen High School in 1948 at the age of 16.
Hank later served in the Navy for four years, stationed stateside, and he stayed in touch with the Baxter family when he came home on leave.
But it wasn’t until he was discharged from the service at age 21 that he and his childhood friend, Babs, started dating. The courtship lasted about a year and a half before they were married at the Church of St. John in the Wilderness, Copake Falls, by the Reverend Lionel Mitchell, April 4, 1959.
The couple initially lived in an apartment on Mount Merino, but immediately started building a house in Claverack, right next door to Hank’s sister and her husband, Dorothy and Ralph Avery. Hank still lives in the house they built.
Babs worked for a retail credit corporation when she lived in the Bronx, and after the wedding spent some time working at Montgomery Ward. But her passion was genealogy, said Hank, and she took it up in earnest with her sister-in-law as members of the Hendrick Hudson Chapter of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution. Babs held offices in the organization and has been a member for 40 years. “I keep up her membership,” said Hank. Members must be able to trace their own ancestry back to the American Revolution, but they help others find their roots as well, he said.
Hank worked for the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation. He started out as a general mechanic and retired as a regional park maintenance supervisor in 1988.
They never had any children, but devoted their time and attention to each other. Babs’ illness keeps them from living together now, but Hank, who will be 88 in June, drives to the nursing home daily to spend his days with her. Though the medication has “made a tremendous difference,” he faces the reality that she will probably have “to stay there for the rest of her life.”
For now, he remembers their anniversary party with 50 friends and family gathered around them.
“It was great, the people at Pine Haven are still talking about it,” Hank said.
He could not heap enough praise on Pine Haven Activity Director Frank Fortino and his staff: Brandi McCagg, Annette Rodriguez, Cindy Lopez, Michelle Benson, Ann Griffin, Alexis and Sonja Wilson for making the party happen.
Nancy O’Day kept the music from the 1950s and 60s playing and Brittany Kirby, a certified nursing assistant, sang two songs, Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud” and Martina McBride’s “My Baby Loves Me” especially for the happy couple. “What a voice, fantastic,” Hank said.
Though Babs cannot walk, with the help of a physical therapist, she was able to stand and the couple swayed to the rhythm of their song, “My Prayer,” by the Platters.
They entwined arms for a champagne toast and fed each other bites of their special cake.
For a little while they felt as if the world revolved around them again… just like that day 60 years ago.
To contact Diane Valden email