When Bill Caldarone first laid eyes on Jill Martino in 1937, they were students at Central High School in Providence. The first male to be a cheerleader at the school, Bill had many girls to choose from. Yet, when he saw Jill, he melted.
Jill felt good to be noticed by someone so popular and who found her attractive.
“Good,” she recalled of her first moments with Bill. “He can carry my books home! And he did.” Their senior prom was their first date.
It would be years later when Bill would show up at Jill’s door again since he left to join the Marines at the age of 17. At the age of 24 and on leave, Bill asked Jill to marry him and within four days they exchanged vows at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel on Atwells Avenue.
“Even with the years gone by, I never forgot Jill,” said Bill with a smile. “She was always on my mind.”
This past weekend, their two sons Ron, 66, and Richard, 69, held a 70th Anniversary party for their parents at the West Valley Inn. The couple, which lives in Cranston, has five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Now at age 94, neither Bill nor Jill had many problems recalling their romance and their years together as a married couple.
“You get so busy, you forget how many years you have been married,” joked Bill. “Seriously, I married the right girl.”
Throughout their lifetime, the Caldarones have earned an impressive list of accomplishments, both together and apart. Bill served in World War II and the Korean War, and Jill founded the Cranston Garden Club and the Cranston Senior Center Garden Club.
Just in the past year, she organized a reunion of homeowners from the Grant Station section of Riverview in Warwick. Her family owned a summer home in the neighborhood that was swept clean by the 1938 hurricane.
The couple is known in the square-dancing world.
At Sunday’s celebration several of their former students, including Gov. Donald Carcieri and his wife Suzanne and Dr. Paul Koch, were there to toast the Caldarones. Bill was the caller and Jill showed everyone the steps. Both are former realtors who worked together as well.
The Caldarones have led an exemplary life serving the country, the community and their family.
“I am most proud that my family has taken the right path,” said Bill. “My boys did the right things and had a good education, worked and went right to college. Now they are doing well and raising their own family.”
This past year has been extremely hard on both Bill and Jill, as their health has declined, but they both work as a team to take care of one another.
“Their secret has been to keep a sense of humor,” said their son Ron. “Their marriage reminds me of that song, ‘Wherever you go, whatever you do, through it we will be together.’”
Ron explained how his parents were always doing something together and he still notices the selfless, care and independence each one has.
“They are the example of all wedding vows and until ‘death do us part,’” said Ron.
Stopping in to their home in western Cranston, a collection of photos, albums, frames and scrapbooks stand out along with the many plants under Jill’s tender care. She was a Master Gardener and a URI Hall of Famer, as she spends her days caring for her plants and her memories.
“You can tell they are not whole unless they are together,” said Ron. “They have been spectacular parents. They are always faithful to their family and to what they are doing and they are the last of a generation.”
“They are for better or for worse and their sense of humor towards life and toward themselves has kept them together,” said Richard.
For many, Jill is a familiar face as she has been in two movies, “Adam’s Chronicle” and the Rocky Point Documentary, and she is also known for planting elm trees throughout Cranston. She is a past recipient of the Yankee Clipper Award for her distinguished service throughout New England and for adopting a copper beach tree, which is now more than 100 years old, for the Western Cranston Garden Club in Chapel View back in 2007.
It is the only tree that survived the new development.
A former model, Jill also taught dance and horticulture throughout the years. She received an international award for choreography for “Cab Driver” and she founded the RI Round Dancers Teachers Association.
As Jill served her community, Bill served the country. He joined the Citizens Conservation Corps soon after high school and then the Marines.
He was an active marine for 21 years and among his proudest accomplishments was writing and editing “The Rock,” a military newspaper he produced while serving in Samoa for two years.
“I had to write it in Morse code,” said Bill. “I was run off on a hand-generated mimeograph and produced seven days a week to help keep the men up to date on the world they were missing while in service.
Jill joined Bill after they were married in 1944 and traveled with him to Virginia, North Carolina, Chicago, California, New York and Hawaii. Their first son Richard was born in Rhode Island while Bill was stationed here and their second son, Ron, was born in Quantico, Va. The family first set roots back into Rhode Island in the Eden Park section of Cranston and later moved to western Cranston.
Bill served as the R.I. assistant director for AARP and formed five chapters under his leadership. Also an entertainer, Bill would perform in school dances. As a past commander of the Legion Post in Cranston, Bill now enjoys his days with Jill and catching up with friends and family.
Although they have gone through trials and tribulations in their lifetime as most couples do, they have been able to keep both their passion for one another and sense of humor alive and well.
Their best advice to young couples starting out?
“Give it time,” said Bill. “They want it all right away, but it takes time to be able to afford things you want. Also, be sure to tell one another you love them and keep your sense of humor.”
Jill added, “Make sure it is time for that special love to come into your life.”