Love is in the air for Valentine’s Day next week, but every day’s like a special occasion for couples whose love has endured the test of time like Chemainus’ Suzanne and Jim Prest.
The Prests have been married 57 years and will mark their 58th anniversary, appropriately enough, on Canada Day (so we’d always have a holiday, Suzanne said). In the lead-up to that, Jim just celebrated his 80th birthday on Jan. 30.
The Prests are like so many others who say there’s no secret formula to their long bond. In their case, however, what’s worked well is having their own time plus spending precious moments together for shared interests, passions and family.
“It’s been a good time,” said Suzanne. “He’s the best husband I ever had.”
“I couldn’t have picked a better moment in my whole life,” said Jim of marrying Suzanne. “We’re different, but it’s all good.”
“We do have our differences and he realizes I’m right and it’s fine,” quipped Suzanne.
The Prests have two grown children, Kathy Bouma, 53, and Trevor, 51. Both are teachers in Duncan, Kathy at Alex Aitken Elementary and Trevor at Quamichan. Five grandchildren for the Prests include: Kathy’s kids Alexis, 26, and Carter, 23; and Trevor’s boys Luke, 16, Sage, 14, and Jesse, 13.
Keeping tabs on all the clan is enough to fill any lulls for the Prests, but they already have an active life outside the family that’s always been the case even during their working years.
Jim was born in Saskatoon, but you can’t exactly call him a Prairie boy.
“My dad was in the air force,” he pointed out. “We didn’t stay there long.”
Instead, he grew up in Duncan but spent the last couple of years of his schooling in Vancouver before going to work for the Hillcrest Lumber Co. in the Valley, starting on the boom.
“I worked there for three years and I got a job at the (Crofton) pulp mill at the boom there,” he indicated.
Jim eventually worked 32 years at the Crofton mill.
“I would have stayed,” he added. “I was on the tug then and I really liked the job.”
But a buyout offer came following a strike for those 55 and older that proved too good to pass up so he retired early.
Suzanne was born in Comox, went to Vancouver and was 11 when she moved to Duncan.
Suzanne’s mom was a nurse at the former King’s Daughter’s Hospital and dad Harvey Russell, who died young at the age of 47, was well-known as a barber in downtown Duncan.
Suzanne went to Sahtlam School and graduated from Cowichan Secondary School in 1964.
So how did she end up meeting Jim, you ask?
“I was friends with Jim’s sister Janice,” Suzanne explained. “She was in my grade. I knew who he was in school. He was older.”
They were still in high school when they met, but the romance eventually took shape over time when Suzanne completed a secretarial course at Malaspina College and then got a job in the time office in Crofton, later transferring to the accounting department.
After the Prests were married, Suzanne served in a variety of occupations while spending the important time to raise the family while the kids were young.
She took a real estate course and worked at Whittome’s in Chemainus.
Not long after, “the real estate market dropped off to nothing,” explained Suzanne, so she opened Rainbow Ladies’ Wear store in Ladysmith in 1985 that remained in operation until 1998.
She later served as the manager of the Ladysmith Chamber of Commerce until 2005 that marked the end of her working career.
“I had a varied career, loved it all,” Suzanne emphasized.
After getting together with Jim, they lived in Duncan the first two years and then built and sold their first of three houses in Crofton. Their telling moment came in 1973 when they bought property on Fuller Lake, built a house there and, two years later, eventually moved into the residence where they remain today.
It’s been a place of special memories.
“The kids have learned to swim here and Jim’s out there fishing a lot,” said Suzanne. “If there’s ever a summer party, it’s here. Both our kids got married here.”
Their post-working years have included some epic trips. “We’ve done a lot of lot of travelling,” said Suzanne.
“We’ve been to China, Vietnam, Tahiti and, Costa Rica, last year.”
Suzanne also went to Kenya for 10 days in July with Kathy that included a safari. “That was on my bucket list,” noted Suzanne.
“We have our own interests as well,” she added.
Suzanne belongs to a book club and Jim enjoys hunting and fishing.
“I did a lot of yard work for myself and other people,” said Jim after he retired. “I like to keep busy.”
He’s also always been into sports and ran the Vancouver Marathon in the early 2000s.
“I was at my doctor and he said ‘you’ve got a heart murmur there. The aortic valve isn’t working properly – run and you’ll know when it’s getting bad,’” Jim related.
He had it replaced and “after that it went 16 years and it wore out and I got another one,” he said.
Jim got out of sports after that, but also played oldtimers’ hockey for many years. “I still can walk for miles,” he added.
A rescue dog, Chloe, was recently added to the family to help keep the walking part of their lives intact.
“We’ve always had a dog,” Suzanne pointed out. “We walk every day and have lots of friends we meet on the way, dog friends.”
What clicks for the Prests is “we just know each other,” emphasized Suzanne.
“Keep up with your own interests. That’s why you have your own interests so you can get out and see people and keep up with current affairs.”
And Jim’s continuing healthy heart is a reflection of their wholehearted commitment to each other in their relationship Valentine’s Day and every day.