Photo: B&W image of 60s-era Norwich university dance

A look at marriages between Norwich University and Vermont College alumni that have lasted for half a century

NORWICH RECORD | Summer 2022

During the 1960s, many male students at Norwich searching for love or maybe just a date didn’t have to look much farther than neighboring all-female Vermont College. The two schools, which merged in 1972, maintained a relationship that produced numerous marriages, many of which have lasted 50-plus years.

We spoke with some of those longtime couples to find out what it was like to attend all-male and female schools in that time period, the finer points of dating, how the major world events and upheaval of the 1960s impacted their lives and relationships, and the secrets of success that have helped their marriages go the distance.

Setting the Scene: “It was a different time and different place,” Bill O’Brien ’64 says. “You had very young people who were 21, 22 years of age coming of age very, very quickly with the threat of being separated and going to war. In 1963 and ’64, you had young boys going to military school and young ladies going to an all-girls school 10 miles apart from one another. There was a lot of chemistry in between that.”

Dating life centered around organized events like mixers, ski trips, and casual get-togethers. “This was a period of time when boys could not come in except into a certain area of the front hall of the girls’ dormitory to pick you up,” Carol (Lauria) Nichols VC ’64 recalls.

Phil ’66 and Jane Ackley VC ’66 met at a mixer between the schools. “One of the advantages of being at Norwich was we had very tight social groups,” Phil says. “So we always had people to do things with.”

Meeting Due to Mischief: Several couples met at a dinner held between the two schools to smooth things out after the infamous panty raid of 1963. “I sat down, I looked across the table, and I saw this young lady with dark hair and big brown eyes,” Bill O’Brien recalls. “And that was the ball game; that was love at first sight.”

He never learned her name that night, but a friend, Steve Cerjan ’64, helped him track down Kay (Alderfer) O’Brien VC’64. “I guess I was intrigued by him as well, and I was surprised when he called for a date two weeks later,” she says. The two were married in 1965 and headed back to Germany, where Bill was commissioned.

Harold “Buzz” Nichols ’64 also met future wife Carol at that dinner. “And the rest is history,” Carol says. The couple were married in July 1967 after Harold returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam.

A Time of Turmoil: In November 1963, students on both campuses learned of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. “I can remember exactly where I was when President Kennedy got shot,” Carol says. “I can remember being on the bottom of the stairwell, and an economics teacher at the top of the stairwell told me what happened.”

The U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War began picking up steam in the 1960s, and Norwich students—and the women they’d married or planned to—knew that uncertain times lay ahead. “Everybody was definitely concerned about it,” Kay O’Brien says. “It impacted everyone at Norwich and Vermont College, and especially at Norwich. They had a lot of friends that they knew who went to Vietnam and didn’t make it back. I think that it was not as carefree a time as some of the college kids have now.”

Colin McArthur ’65 was stationed in Vietnam for the year of 1968. “It was a bad year,” he says. “Those of us getting commissioned, I guess we didn’t realize at the time how much of an impact that war was going to have. But it impacted all of us. We lost four guys in our class—and we had a small class.”

The College Connection: Colin McArthur met Carol (Dreyer) McArthur VC’64 through friends, and the two have been married since 1966, though Colin admits he might have jeopardized that in their early days. “We had dated when I was a junior and then Carol graduated,” Colin says. “And I was the bad guy, because I didn’t show up at her graduation. I think we all thought that was the end of that relationship. But we finally got back together later in the year before I graduated. And then she came to my graduation.”

College “made us who we are because that’s where we met each other,” says Phil Ackley, who’s been married to Jane since 1967. “While you’re learning to be an adult and you have a relationship with this young woman and she sees the start of that growth … this is something that doesn’t exist as much today. That whole transition I think is a real bonding force, and Jane had the advantage of seeing it over the course of two years.”

“As you get older, the very fact that you have all that prior connection and events kind of helps your later years work better,” Carol Nichols says. “It’s a good foundation to build on.”

Annmarie (Watson) Alexander-Kramer VC ’66 found love for the second time at a Norwich homecoming event, when she ran into Arthur Kramer ’66. (Her first marriage to Raymond J. Alexander ’66 ended in divorce in 1975.) Annmarie and Arthur were married from 2000 until he passed away in 2021. “Our marriage was very happy,” she says. “We had many great years.”

She’s been a certified wedding officiant for more than two decades, and Arthur would often travel around New England with her to her various engagements. “Words about love and longevity and forever really hit home when you don’t have that person anymore,” she reflects. “But Artie always enjoyed going and always encouraged me to keep doing it.”

Married for the Long Haul: When you’ve been married for more than 50 years, you must be doing something right. “For better or for worse, marriage has its ups and downs,” Jane Ackley says. “It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it.”

“A lot of it boils down to respect for the individual,” Bill O’Brien says. “You can never lose respect for the individual, and you have to grow together.”

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