Lifetime of love on P.E.I.

Jim Day jday@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 14, 2016

Elderly couple reminisces over a long, happy life together

Quickly, he knew she was the one.

For a short time, though, George Olscamp just watched Rita Gallant walk past his home in Summerside, day after day.

He was not a shy young man. The tall, slim, blond 19-year-old had his share of girlfriends by the time his teen years were drawing to a close.

Rita, though, would be the last of his sweethearts. She would be his enduring love.

One day, the pair just started talking, and George asked Rita to a dance.

The couple headed to the dance hall on the second floor of the former Maple Leaf Gardens in Summerside.

They waltzed. They did the fox trot. They danced the night away.

Many dances would follow.

"We used to love to dance to Yellow Bird,'' recalls Rita.

"That was our dance number.''

Following their first date, George took Rita to see a movie at the Capitol Theatre. One of his other girlfriends saw him with Rita.

That moment, notes George, "released all the others.''

Rita was suddenly his one-and-only girl. She would be so from that day forward.

"I felt that I had met the right person, that's for sure — and I wasn't wrong,'' says George.

Rita was, in his words, a very pretty looking girl. But down deeper, where great love can translate into a great life together, George's girl was so much more.

"Rita was very caring, very lovable,'' he says, adding she has always looked at life in a bright manner.

George would prove to be quite a catch as well.

Rita snagged a man who turned out to not simply be just a good-looking gent who knew how to dance.

His legacy as a caring, giving, involved community person was highlighted on several occasions. George earned special recognition as Legionnaire of the Year in 1985 and 1992, Summerside's Citizen of the Year in 1986, the Charles H. Llewellyn Service Person of the Year in 1995 and the Paul Harris Fellowship Award recipient in 2001.

A veteran of the Second World War, George worked for 35 years as a manager and buyer for the former Smallman's department store in Summerside. The job would provide well for a family that grew to seven.

George remembers vividly the day, after three years of dating, that he popped the question to Rita.

"I just held her hand and said 'Would you think of marriage?' and she just smiled and that meant everything to me,'' he says.

Rita, of course, accepted the proposal. They hugged. They kissed.

George and Rita wed at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Summerside on June 15, 1943. They then boarded a train for their honeymoon in Niagara Falls.

There would be no regrets in a marriage that has spanned more than 72 years and counting.

Five children — David, Linda Fitzgerald, John, Judy Driscoll and Paul — as well as 18 grandchildren and 21 great-grandchildren resulted from George choosing Rita to be his final girlfriend three quarters of a century ago.

Rita doesn't waste any words when asked to reveal the secret of the couple's long, successful marriage:

"Our love,'' she says.

"The big thing in our family,'' George adds, "is we loved one another and we loved our children and they loved us.''

George describes as "heartbreaking'' when Rita moved into South Shore Villa in Crapaud a couple of years ago. For the first time in seven decades, the Olscamps were not living together.

George would later join Rita at South Shore Villa. The pair has since moved into The Mount Continuing Care Community in Charlottetown.

Rita, 93, is in the nursing care section, while a remarkably spry 96-year-old George lives in community care.

He eats breakfast without his wife, but the pair gets together each day for lunch and dinner, cards and chat.

No more fox trot, but decades of memories, a lifetime of love.

"Just a happy life,'' says George.

jday@theguardian.pe.ca

Twitter.com/GuardianJimDay