Benton couple celebrate 73 years of marriage
BENTON — For Jean and Frank Corley, it was not love at first sight.
“I actually met his parents before I met him, and his mother wanted me to meet her son,” Jean said. “I thought she wanted to pan off somebody, so I wasn’t impressed.”
Jean and Frank dated for about three months after meeting at the tennis courts at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. They got engaged before Frank left for the Navy.
“His mother did most of the courting for him,” Jean said. “She stayed after me. I had to look at all the baby pictures, and she said till the day she died that she had picked me out for him.”
Frank was a pilot during World War II, learning to fly off aircraft carriers in the Pacific, but he said the war ended before he had to see any action.
The two married after Frank returned from the service, and they lived in Veterans Village at the U of A for two years while he earned his degree in engineering. The couple, who live in Benton, have been married for 73 years.
“He is very easy to get along with, and he defers to me for everything,” Jean said. “When we got married, he said he would do his best to make a living, if I could make it stretch.
“He has never been out of work in our married life.”
Frank, 94, worked for Reynolds Metal Co. in Bauxite for 31 years, designing and building the additions to the plant that has now been torn down. He said it didn’t bother him because he had a good time putting them up and got paid for doing what he loved. Jean, 93, was a stay-at-home mom and housewife for their entire marriage.
The Corleys joined First Baptist Church in downtown Benton after moving to town and have been active members since then. Jean attributed the success of their marriage to their faith and their active role in the church.
“I think that has been a big part of it,” she said. “We were both raised in the Baptist church and have always been in agreement about religion, contribution and taking an active role in our church.
“We have lots of sweet Christian friends to associate with, and we didn’t really have to change our views. We just kept right on with what we were raised on.”
Rick Grant, the pastor at First Baptist Church, said the Corleys are a great example of commitment for what love looks like long-term.
“I am always pleased when young couples visit with them because I know they are going to get something positive from it,”
Grant said. “It is a good example of good people who love each other and have for a long time.”
Grant said that when he is counseling younger couples, he wishes he could have them spend more time with the Corleys to “see what you’ve got to do to stay married.”
“I know Frank, in the past, has said how fortunate he was to marry Jean, and she is very proud to be his wife, in a very God-honoring way,” Grant said. “I think he and Jean are genuine people.”
Frank and Jean were married at Immanuel Baptist Church in Little Rock, and they have three daughters: Ellen, 63; Carol, 60; and Gayle 58. Frank and Jean also have two grandsons, who live in Kansas City, and a 2-year-old great-granddaughter. Carol still sings in the choir at Immanuel, and Frank and Jean’s parents were members of the church until they died.
Jean attributed their long marriage to the example that both their parents set.
“We had good legends to follow,” she said. “His mother and dad were married for 53 years, and mother died early — she had cancer — but [my parents] were married for 43 years.”
Jean said she and her husband are very blessed healthwise.
“I don’t smoke, and I didn’t drink, and we have had a fairly even life with a good diet,” she
said. “I don’t exercise much, but I do walk the length of this house about 20 times a day.
“We have both enjoyed good health until these past two years. Frank walked up and down the stairs, mowed the yard and was real active.
“I just feel like we have been blessed to have a long happy life.”
Frank has arthritis in his back, which has caused him to stoop and be off balance. He moves with a walker now, and Jean does all the driving.
“We have been fortunate to do a lot of traveling and have seen a lot of our country,” Jean said. “We have been overseas a few times.”
Helen Hughes, who has known the couple for about 70 years, said the Corleys have traveled with her and her husband to see all but four of the presidential libraries.
“We have been to California; New York, several times; Washington, D.C.; Texas; Pennsylvania; and Philadelphia,” Hughes said. “They are just game for anything. … They were just wonderful traveling partners.”
Hughes said the couple were friends with her parents before they were friends of hers.
“I think [Frank and Jean] are definitely best friends,” Hughes said. “I think they are supportive in what the other one is doing, and I think they are very considerate of each other.”
Hughes said Frank is the epitome of a gentleman and can “talk to you about anything.”
“I think he is a brilliant man, probably one of the smartest people I know,” Hughes said. “He was on the school board for a number of years, and they are both interested in current events and reading.
“She is the most amazing person I know.”
Gwen Rogers, whom Jean referred to as her “adoptive daughter,” said she got to know the Corleys through the quilt guild.
“Jean never meets a stranger,” Rogers said. “She is so engaging and kind and supportive.
“She can know more about you than you know about yourself.”
Rogers said she met Jean more than 10 years ago, and immediately, she drew Rogers in and began talking to her and made her feel very welcome.
“They are just very unusual people and very nice and just wonderful,” Rogers said. “When I grow up, I want to be like Mrs. Jean.”
After Frank retired, he became a woodworker and built furniture. Jean said he built the deck on their house and a deck on one of their daughters’ houses.
“And I am a quilter,” Jean said. “We each have a hobby that we were happy with. He stayed downstairs in his woodworking shop, and I stayed upstairs in my quilting room, and we just got along great.”
Frank, 94, and Jean Corley, 93, have been married for 73 years. The couple have lived in Benton for almost 60 years and have three daughters: Ellen, 63; Carol, 60; and Gayle, 58. The couple also have two grandsons and a 2-year-old great-granddaughter.