Open image in lightbox
Joe and Grace Martinez. (photo: courtesy Martinez family)

I’ve been fortunate to share multiple stories of San Pedrans, who have, over the past few months, (coincidentally) celebrated 70 years wed. While I’ve yet to get these couples to impart the secret to longevity (or even learn the elusive secret to long-term marital bliss), the idea that “things were simpler” when they were younger seems to be a running theme. 

Simple is relative, in the way that our contemporaries will indulgently smile at us when we one day talk about how “things were simpler when we were young.” What makes life simpler is knowing, without a doubt, what you want, which is how Joe Martinez felt when he first saw Grace, who would become his wife. 

“My sister worked at a five and ten store in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and I had gone in to visit her,” recalls Joe of the day he met Grace. “I saw her, and I asked my sister to introduce us, and that’s how it began.”

Even that wasn’t as simple as it feels now, 70 years later. “My family wanted me to marry someone else,” remembers Joe with a smile. 

And my mom thought that I was too young to be married,” adds Grace, who was 17 when the two met. “So, I just kept after her until she finally signed the papers for me to get married.”

Their courtship memories and first few months together are hazy as the years have passed, shares Joe. “I don’t remember what we talked about; it was enough just being with each other.” 

Joe, who was studying to be an electrical engineer at New Mexico State University, returned to college shortly after first meeting Grace, but the two kept in close contact, even from afar. “Well, Joe actually proposed to me by letter,” Grace remembers fondly. “He was about three hundred miles away at college, and we were just writing letters back and forth to each other from the time we met in August. I didn’t see him again until November when he came home for Thanksgiving, and shortly after that, I got a letter proposing marriage.”

Joe and Grace Martinez on their wedding day. (photo: courtesy Martinez family)

On January 29, 1951, the two were married at the Saint Francis Cathedral in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico. “My mom had always wanted me to get married there,” shares Grace of their wedding day. “So, she made arrangements, and we were able to have our ceremony in the cathedral.” The ceremony was followed by a reception at Grace’s mother’s house, “just an intimate dinner with family and friends.” 

The young couple skipped a honeymoon so that Joe could return to university to continue his studies, while Grace began to set up house for their expanding family, welcoming their first daughter in 1952. “After graduation, I became an engineer, but there weren’t many jobs in New Mexico,” explains Joe. “So, I decided to come out west and went to work for a Hughes aircraft in 1955.”

“I was very excited to come to California,” adds Grace. “I don’t know why, but I jumped at the chance to move west.” 

“The thing that comes to mind now is that every step along the way, since I first met my wife, she has always supported me,” muses Joe. “Whatever I decided to do, Grace has supported and trusted me. We have our own personalities, you know? But that support for each other, I believe, is the reason our marriage has lasted so long.”

After renting for a short while, the young couple purchased a home in Gardena where they lived until they bought their home in Rancho Palos Verdes in 1966, where they live to this day (it was still San Pedro at the time, recalls Joe.) 

When looking back over the past 70 years, Joe and Grace insist that there are no mysteries to the success of their vibrant family life and marriage. They welcomed eight children into the world, seven of whom grew into adulthood, and their family now includes 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren “with another on the way,” Grace adds. “When they can, our family comes to our house, and they fill it with laughter and love,” shares Grace, speaking of easier times pre-COVID. 

Even as their family grew and moved out of Southern California, Grace and Joe took every opportunity to show up and support their loved ones. “Even though everybody was all spread out through the United States, they always traveled to every high school graduation, college graduation, weddings, baptisms,” shares Patty, their second oldest daughter. “Anything that went on with their grandchildren, they did whatever they needed to be there and to support them.”

Even with life’s current challenges, Grace and Joe still find time to connect with their family, celebrating birthdays (Joe turned 92 in May while Grace celebrated her 87th birthday in September) and holidays via Zoom and phone. And although it hasn’t been easy, both share the sentiment that it has “been very good. God has been good to us.”

“I have watched them suffer through a lot of pain in their lives, and despite it all, they maintain a strong faith and never give up,” shares Patty of her parents. “They supported one another through thick and thin. They are remarkable.” spt

Karen Moneymaker