When Harry and Alice Cooper made plans to exchange their wedding vows on Valentine’s Day 1970, they chose the date not because it was Valentine’s Day, but simply because it the first date available on the church’s calendar when they could begin their lives together as husband and wife.
Shocking Blue’s song “Venus” was near the top of the charts, milk was priced about $1.30 a gallon and a mortgage for a new home was around $26,000, when the young couple — he then 20 and she 18 — made plans to take their walk down the aisle in Wayne’s Church of the Annunciation.
Reflecting 50 years later on what the couple, now 70 and 68, considered a simple wedding by today’s standards, the Coopers, who had befriended one another less than two years prior to their wedding day, planned their nuptials within two months of their special day.
She had recently graduated from Paterson’s Kennedy High School when she met Harry Cooper, who had already graduated from nearby Passaic County Tech. He was already working as an apprentice with Pipefitters Local Union 274, of which he remains a lifetime member. A month before he met his wife, he enlisted in the Navy and put his apprenticeship on hold, because he did not want to wait to enlist after his apprenticeship ended around his 23rd birthday.
From “different sides of the river” in Paterson, as Alice Cooper put it, it was a month after her now-husband enlisted and a month before he was ready to leave, that a mutual friend introduced them at a local hot dog eatery where they all liked to go. He left the following month for 11 weeks of boot camp at the Great Lakes Naval Station and their relationship, which had already sparked, continued through letter-writing.
“It was very hard for us to be apart, he’s a good man,” she said.
“She’s thankfully a letter writer and she flooded me with letters,” Harry Cooper chimed in. “Just to get her letters really meant a lot. We really learned a lot about each other through our letters.”
Though he joked that they were “so young they probably couldn’t spell ’love’ correctly,” the young couple agreed after those 11 challenging weeks, “Let’s get married so we can be together,” he said.
Their plan was that she would join him on base in their “newlywed cottage,” in Newport, R.I., where he expected to be stationed.
Simple and meaningful wedding plans
Before their wedding, as a Protestant taking a Catholic bride, Harry Cooper participated in the church’s Pre-cana classes. Prior to their nuptials and in picking up the marriage license from Wayne Township, he was surprised when township officials told him he needed his mother’s co-signature and her presence when he picked up the license.
“Here I was a grown man in the Navy and I needed my mother,” he laughed.
In spite of the prevalent hippie subculture during that era, the couple opted to wear traditional wedding attire, she with a classic wedding gown and he, a suit with tails and a top hat.
Many years later, their daughter Jennifer, would modify Alice Cooper’s wedding gown for her more casual wedding ceremony on her parents’ property in Vernon.
With about 50 guests and a tight budget, following the church ceremony, the guests converged on Rumpernook’s Restaurant in Fair Lawn, where Alice Cooper’s mother worked. Specializing in kosher fare, the guests dined on corned beef and potato knishes. The couple marvels now at the simplicity of their ceremony and reception, versus wedding festivities today that they commented “a couple could go broke from.”
Harry Cooper said he and his wife do not remember the song for their first dance at their Valentine’s wedding event, but know it was not the song they have adopted as their own, “Hooked on a Feeling,” by B.J. Thomas — a song they play over the phone for each other if it is played on the radio while they are apart. He also said few photos from their wedding exist, because without a photographer that day, photos were snapped on an Instamatic point-and-shoot camera.
After their reception, the couple tallied their financial wedding gifts and with over a foot of snow that fell later on their wedding day, made the impulse decision to buy two plane tickets on the now-defunct National Airlines, to honeymoon for two weeks at his brother’s home in Hialeah, Fla.
Navy life and Navy wife
The plans for the Coopers’ idyllic newlywed cottage in Rhode Island came to a quick halt after Harry Cooper was assigned to ship duty as a “signalman,” a role that entailed using flags to transmit messages. His new bride returned to Wayne to live with her sister as part of a difficult pattern that repeated several times during his four years of service, when her husband was assigned to ship duty.
“Those times that he was away were very sad,” Alice Cooper said.
Her husband returned home and the couple set up their home in Ocean City, Va., only for Harry Cooper to be shipped off again. Their next assignment was Mayport, Fla., where their son Harry was born in 1971. After he was shipped off to the Mediterranean for eight months, his wife returned again to New Jersey to stay with family. Eventually, the young family reunited in New Jersey, moved to Vernon in 1974 and daughter Jennifer was born in Sussex County in 1976.
Harry Cooper finished his apprenticeship as he vowed he would following his Navy service and retired from Pipefitters Local Union 274 a decade ago. Alice Cooper worked outside of the home at a doctor’s office until her husband’s retirement.
Since their retirements, the couple has enjoyed cruises together, with their first to the Caribbean and subsequent cruises to Aruba and Antigua. They also cruised to Mexico for their 35th and 40th anniversaries. They enjoy hiking, walking and biking together; and watch their grandsons Danny, 7 and Gage, 5, several times weekly. Their son Harry now lives in Arizona and they have learned to FaceTime with their grandchildren there, Emma, 24, Gracie, 12 and Harry, 9.
Lessons for lasting love
Harry Cooper said the couple is often asked for their secrets in marital longevity, which he counsels as “practicing the three A’s: attention, appreciation and affection.” Paying attention to what the other person is saying and doing is the “attention” portion of the three, he said. Thanking each other and giving flowers and cards signifies “appreciation,” to him, citing his wife’s habit of cutting out the “Love Is…” comics for him. “Affection” is the last piece, he said, which falls into place automatically after a couple showers one other with attention and appreciation.
The Coopers plan to celebrate their 50th Valentine’s Day wedding anniversary with a dinner out together, followed with a celebration in the spring with family and friends; and then a cruise later in 2020.
“I wish it (now) was back then (1970),” Alice Cooper said. “Everything in the world is now kind of crazy, people were happier then and life was much simpler.”