SOUTH ABINGTON TWP. — If home is where the heart is, Robert and Helen Eckersley have travelled the world together without leaving home, for their hearts are with each other and their children.
The couple, who will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary on June 28, said they lost count of how many countries they’ve been to, but estimated the number is somewhere around 50. A map hangs in the kitchen of their apartment at Clarks Summit Senior Living, with pins marking their many stops over the years.
When asked about the secret to staying together for so long, Mr. Eckersley attributed their marriage’s success to “tolerance.” Both agreed they would do it again in a heartbeat, without changing a thing.
“Oh, we had a good life,” Mrs. Eckersley said. “It’s been great, it really has. I’d like to do it again. …We’re a very lucky couple. We’re very fortunate.”
He, at age 97, and she, at 95, have three children, 14 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren. Their sons Loc Eckersley and Richard Eckersley are both CPAs, and their daughter, Tari Eckersley Malkasian, is currently the associate executive director at Brookdale Echelon Lake, in Voorhees Township, New Jersey.
Loc Eckersley was also employed in the U.S. Foreign Service for about 25 years, which was the inspiration for the couple’s world travels.
“Wherever he was working, we went there,” Mr. Eckersley said. “And he was in Bolivia, Guatemala, Honduras, Africa, the Philippines…”
Of all the places they’ve visited, Thailand was Mr. Eckersley’s favorite, and his wife especially enjoyed Italy. Both hold a special fondness for El Salvador, where they were once able to visit a young woman (and her family) who stayed with them as a foreign exchange student for a year in the early ’70s.
Mrs. Eckersley’s first trip outside Pennsylvania came early in their marriage, when she boarded a train to in Oklahoma with their 8-month-old to join her husband, who was enlisted in the U.S. Army.
The couple first met through a play, at which he was an audience member and she an actress.
“He saw me, and I saw him – he was at the end of the auditorium, but we saw each other, and we met afterwards,” Mrs. Eckersley said.
When he didn’t walk her home afterwards, however, she thought, “He isn’t for me.”
But her first impression wasn’t her last, and when he called her a few days later, they went on their first date: A walk to the Forest Hill Cemetery, which was up the road from her house.
“That was exciting,” she said, laughing. “In those days, things were different, a lot different than they are today.”
He is a Scranton native and she originally hails from Clarks Summit. They both went to North Scranton Junior High School, but he was finishing his college studies at the University of Pennsylvania when she was wrapping up her high school career at Scranton Tech in 1940.
They dated for a few years and were married on June 28, 1941 at Elm Park Church in Scranton.
Their first child came along, and not long after that, the Army.
Mr. Eckersley served in the Army for about two-and-a-half years, working his way up to second lieutenant before returning home at the end of World War II. He then got a job as a professor at The University of Scranton, teaching business courses in one of the quonset huts the school had purchased from the military.
“In those days, your students were all as old as or older than you, because they had been in the Army longer,” he said. “But the students were all veterans that just got back.”
He also briefly taught at Keystone College and Marywood University. He taught only part-time, however, as he had a flourishing accounting business at the same time.
Mrs. Eckersley kept busy with various volunteer activities, including time as president of the Vistas at Allied Services, Girl Scout leadership, service as a PTA president and membership in the Junior League of Scranton, to name a few. Mr. Eckersley was involved in the founding of Allied and served as the organization’s first treasurer.
The family lived in Waverly for about 50 years, where they raised four generations of Arabian horses.
They built a summer cottage in Wallenpaupack, which they eventually enlarged and lived in for 15 years after selling their Waverly home. When they became concerned with health problems a few years ago and decided it would be good to have a nurse around 24 hours a day, they moved in to the small apartment at Clarks Summit Senior Living. Both partners still drive and enjoy regular outings for lunch at the Silver Spoon in Clarks Summit or to see family members who live close by.
They look forward to celebrating their big anniversary with family and friends at a party on June 25 at the Waverly Country Club.
Their advice to young couples just starting out in their marriage is twofold: Be truthful and be tolerant.
“The problems seem so minute when they’re over with,” Mrs. Eckersley said.
Reach Elizabeth Baumeister at 570-704-3943 or on Twitter @AbingtonJournal.