Catherine and Fred Bunt of New Paltz recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. “We had some difficult times, but it all ended up pretty good,” says Fred. “It’s been a wonderful life. We have excellent memories.”
“We’ve been very lucky,” adds Catherine. “We haven’t had any real misfortunes.”
And their secret to making a marriage last?
“Don’t be angry at the same time,” says Catherine. “One of you has to kind of listen. And forget a bit.”
“I agree!” says Fred. “It’s ’90/10,’ and you better always believe you’re the ’10.'”
All kidding aside, Fred says he thinks the real secret is that they’ve always supported each other. “I think we look at things pretty much the same; we don’t vary too much in our political thinking or any other way. And having an interest in our home for so many years has been a big binder, as well.”
The couple married on July 9, 1955. She was 27 years old and he, 28; about to turn 29. Catherine hails from Jamaica, NY and Fred from Flushing, Queens. They met while attending Queens College, City University of New York in the late 1940s.
As hard as it is to believe now, at that time colleges in New York City were free to attend. Students had only to buy their own books and pay a $5 admissions fee. As a Navy veteran Fred was covered under the GI Bill anyway — he spent some time in the service before enrolling in school — but Catherine, too, benefitted from the policy of the day and studied economics. Both eventually went on to become teachers.
But first they got married. They had met at the 1948 wedding of a mutual friend, where Fred had the advantage of arriving in his own car. “Well, I called it a car,” he says. “But it was really a piece of junk! But I offered these girls a ride, and Cathy was one of the girls. She sat in between me and my friend, and she insisted on wanting to shift the gears. I kept telling her, ‘Let me put the clutch down first!'”
When they married in Queens in 1955, it was at a time when average wages were just under $4,000 a year and a gallon of gas cost 23 cents. Catherine and Fred both had teaching jobs at an elementary school on Long Island, but Fred was also finishing up a master’s degree in the teacher training program at SUNY New Paltz, where one of his teachers was planning to move on. “Why don’t you take my place?” the departing professor said to Fred, and while the Bunts were on their honeymoon in Mexico City, Fred got the news that he’d been hired. “So I said to Cathy, ‘Well, do we go to New Paltz or do we stay on Long Island?’ And Cathy said, ‘Let’s go to New Paltz.'”
The couple moved to 62 Mohonk Avenue two months after their wedding. There’s a parking lot there now, says Fred, but at the time they lived in a tiny apartment three stories up. Within a year the tenant downstairs moved on and they moved into his six-room apartment with a basement and two-car garage. Electricity and heat were included. The price? “$75 a month!” says Fred.
“But remember we didn’t make very much money at that time,” adds Catherine.
Fred actually advocated as the representative for the teachers association for better pay for SUNY professors. “We took a loss in pay to move up here,” he says. “Salaries were terrible at the state colleges then. But things got relatively better over time.”
After ten years at SUNY New Paltz, Fred became dean of the School of Education at Pace University in New York City and Westchester, carpooling there every day with others from New Paltz. Ultimately he was with Pace for 35 years, teaching computer languages for the latter half of that. There was a brief year Fred spent in Illinois, when he was hired at the National College of Education in Evanston, but New Paltz proved to be the stronger draw and the couple remained here.
Catherine continued to teach once they’d moved to New Paltz until their oldest daughter was born. The couple have four children: Cathleen, a jeweler in Hawaii; Cindy, a pharmacist and Pilates instructor in Brewster and mother to the couple’s only grandchild, a son; Patricia, a teacher at St. Michael’s College in Vermont; and son Rick, who lives in Scranton now. Catherine eventually went back to teaching math in Highland and Wallkill and in New Paltz at the Campus School, a progressive K-8 elementary school that was run by SUNY.
Catherine retired in 2002 and Fred in 2001 after becoming professor emeritus in residence at Pace. Both were 75 years old when they stopped teaching, says Fred; it was buying a winter residence in Florida that brought on that decision.
Having lived in New Paltz for 60 years come September, the Bunts have seen many changes. Number one? “Traffic!” says Fred. “That’s the biggest one. Another dramatic change has to do with politics: When we moved into this town, everything was Republican. Now the place has become a Democratic stronghold.”
Catherine says that while she sees changes in their neighborhood with younger families moving in and she remembers different businesses in town, she thinks that overall New Paltz has retained its strong sense of community.
Fred is a former president of the New Paltz Rotary Club and the men’s Paltz Club and Catherine is a longtime member of the New Paltz Garden Club and the women’s Study Club. They’ve travelled quite a bit in Europe over the years, but these days prefer to take trips closer to home; theater trips into the city or up to Saratoga, where they celebrated their anniversary at the ballet.
And on the topic of taking trips, Fred remembers that when they first moved to New Paltz in 1955, the drive required coming up the Taconic State Parkway, going through all of Poughkeepsie and then taking Old Route 299 home; quite a trip when they traversed it regularly to go back and forth to visit family. “And when you drove down Main Street in New Paltz then, you could still see the trolley tracks. They hadn’t covered them over. It was quite a difference.”