Bert & Jean Oatman

University of Florida Fall Frolic, 1950

University of Florida Fall Frolic, 1950

Married 65 years, Bert Oatman has been wed so long he has a hard time recalling a time when he wasn’t in love with his wife, Jean.

“I have loved that woman so long, and I still love her!” he said. “I was four years ahead of Jean in school. When I was a senior, she was in the eighth grade and it didn’t seem proper, but I already had my eye on her. We talked, but no dates,” he said.

However, Jean recalls one day when she was young, Bert made a prescient comment to her as she stood in her front yard while he walked past.

“I was 14 and Bert said to me, ‘How old will you be when you are a senior?’” she recalled. “I told him I’d be 18 and he replied, ‘That’s a perfect age to get married!’”

Jean Green was 11 when her family moved from their house directly across from the tennis courts behind San Marco Library to a home on Flesher Avenue in St. Nicholas, just a few doors down from the Oatman family.

Jean, age 7

Jean, age 7

Bert’s father, Herbert W. Oatman, was a native of Wisconsin and had been stationed in Columbus, Georgia with the U.S. Army during World War I. After his army hitch, he worked at Bill’s Auto Parts, which eventually transferred him to its Jacksonville branch. Herbert Oatman met his wife, Lossie Wilson, through her brother Leffie, who frequented the auto parts shop.

“My mother worked at King Edward Cigars for 50 years. She was a packer who sorted and graded the cigar colors for uniformity,” said Bert. “When she retired, only two packers still did that job. She lived to be 88 years old and never needed glasses. Until her death in 2001, she could still read the telephone book.”

Jean’s father, Jerry J. Green and his wife, Coree Barbee, were both from Georgia. After moving to Florida, Jerry owned Green’s Service Station and Auto Repair Garage at 1244 Kings Avenue in San Marco.

Jean had three siblings, Jerald, Patricia and Lourene. Bert first became friends with Jean’s older brother, Jerald, who has since passed away. The boys also palled around with the four Richardson boys, who also lived in the neighborhood – Tex, who currently lives in Louisiana, as well as Jake, Charles and Everett, who are deceased. Jean’s sister, Patricia, married their brother, Charles Richardson and now lives in Arlington. Her sister, Lourene Green McKnelly, still lives in the family home on Flesher Avenue.

The Oatman home, like others on Flesher Avenue, had been originally built to house shipyard workers employed at a World War I shipyard, which was located where Bishop Kenny now stands, said Bert.

“As teenagers, we hung out at the old abandoned shipyard. There were giant tanks full of trash with trees and brush growing inside. One was half underground, about 30 by 30 feet and 10-feet deep. We cleaned it out, channeled water from a nearby artesian well into it and kept the water constantly overflowing. Every kid in the area was swimming there until someone’s parents called the city,” he said. “It was declared a health hazard, and they filled it with hot tar.”

Oatman family, 1975: Linda, Nancy, Jean, Bert, front: Leith, Wayne

During those days, Bert and Jean often walked to South Jacksonville Grammar School. The historic school, erected in 1916 at the corner of Flagler Avenue and Cedar Street, is now a mixed-use building, which includes loft apartments.

Bert, high school senior portrait

The couple also attended Landon Junior/Senior High School, where Bert played basketball and football and Jean was a Landon Lionette and band majorette. In 1946, Bert graduated from Landon. Four years later, Jean followed, graduating in 1950.

After high school, Bert first enrolled in the University of Florida, but was soon took a detour to serve in the U.S. Army. He was stationed for two years at Fort Knox in Kentucky, from 1947-1948.

After completing his military commitment, Bert returned to Jacksonville. At that time, Jean was a senior at Landon, and the couple started dating in the fall of 1948. By Christmas the following year, Jean’s mother had become more than curious about their relationship.

“Mother said, ‘Why are you seeing Bert all the time? You need to start seeing some other young men,’” Jean recalled. A month later, in January 1950, Bert proposed.

Soon after Jean graduated from Landon High, the couple was married Aug. 11, 1950 at Swaim Memorial United Methodist Church on Naldo Avenue. Pastor Dave Cathcart officiated. Swaim had been Bert’s family church while Jean’s family attended Hendricks Methodist Church, which at that time was located across from Naugle Funeral Home on Hendricks Avenue. Hendricks Methodist later moved to Spring Park Road and was renamed Faith United Methodist.

Lifeguards, 1948

With his UF engineering degree in hand, Bert spent the next 28 years working for the City of Jacksonville, first as the Chief of Building Inspection, and later as Deputy Director of Public Works. He also served a few years as Florida State College Jacksonville Projects Officer, completing their downtown and Kent campus facilities. The last 12 years of his career were spent working for Flood Engineering before he retired in 1995.

After they were married and while Bert finished college, Jean worked for Aetna Finance Company in Gainesville. She stayed home to raise their four children – Linda, Nancy, Wayne and Leith. Later she spent 10 years working in the Landon High School counseling office, retiring in 1992.

When the Oatmans returned to Jacksonville from Gainesville, they moved into a small new Suwanee Road home in Lakewood. Although they renovated the structure, adding rooms over the next 12 years, having four children eventually required a larger domicile.  Bert designed a larger home on San Souci Road in the Southside, where they lived until their youngest child went to college. Soon after, the Oatmans moved back to Rio Lindo Drive in San Marco, where they have lived for 38 years.

The Oatmans have made their faith and church the heart and center of their lives. They believe this is the strong foundation of their long marriage.

“If you’re too busy to go to church, you’re too busy,” Burt often says. The Oatmans have been active members at Lakewood United Methodist Church for at least 60 years.

Wedding, Aug. 11, 1950

Wedding, Aug. 11, 1950

Now in their 80s, the couple volunteers with Seniors on a Mission and participates in Young At Heart Seniors activities. At 86, Bert is a swimmer, who has logged at least a mile in the pool once a week for the past 25 or more years. He also enjoys reading historical, crime and mystery novels. Meanwhile, Jean, 83, an ardent seamstress, used to sew her daughter’s dresses and enjoys volunteering on sewing projects. She loves flower gardening and is a member of the Riverside Garden Club.

Jean said cultivating hobbies together and working to stay close to each other have kept their marriage strong. Bert and she try hard to be thoughtful to one another and have always taken good care of each other, she said.

“Every person and every relationship is different,” said Bert. “There is really no secret to a long, happy marriage, but it takes both working together and staying committed. Me, my closest friends and our wives meant what we said when we took our marriage vows,” he said, referring to his close high school buddies Don MacLean and Tex Richardson. In addition to attending the University of Florida together, the three classmates all married during the summer of 1950 and were groomsmen in each other’s weddings.

“It’s pretty amazing that 65 years later we are all alive, and we’re still married to the same gals!” Bert said. “Jean and I, Don and his wife, Georgia, and Tex and his wife, Billie – we’re all in each other’s lives. One other thing hasn’t changed either – we’re still huge Gator fans!” laughed Bert.

In celebration of their 66th wedding anniversary next August, the Oatmans plan to hold a large family reunion so they can visit with their four children, 13 grandchildren and eight great grandchildren, most of whom, with the exception of son Wayne who lives in San Jose, live out of state or elsewhere in Florida.

By Julie Kerns Garmendia
Resident Community News
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