For John and Jennie Veal, marriage is a significant commitment not to be taken lightly. Both lifelong residents of the First Coast who now live in Ponte Vedra Beach’s Vicar’s Landing retirement community, the Veals would know: they’ve been married for going on 60 years.
The couple met in about 1951 when John was in the 10th grade and Jennie in the ninth. Jennie’s family had just moved from Jacksonville’s Southside to Ponte Vedra Boulevard, where John and his family also resided. The Veals’ first interaction most likely took place, they say, at a First Coast staple: the Ponte Vedra Inn & Club’s Surf Club.
An avid outdoorsman, John jokes that he first became attracted to his future wife when he saw her stick a fish hook into a nightcrawler.
“I thought that was pretty neat,” he chuckles. “Then, her mother cleaned my ducks, and I was sold.”
The Veals started dating “steady” when John was in the 11th grade and Jennie in the 10th. Both attended Fletcher High School, where John played on the football team and Jennie was a cheerleader.
“It was a great place to grow up,” says Jennie.
Upon graduating from Fletcher, John attended the University of Florida, and Jennie attended Florida State.
They were married after college in June 1958 at Christ Episcopal Church in Ponte Vedra Beach. Rev. Alexander “Sandy” Juhan, the church’s first minister, presided over the wedding. About 100 people attended the ceremony, and then several more celebrated the beginning of the Veals’ commitment to each other at a reception that followed at the Surf Club.
John then served active duty in the Navy for four years, which brought the couple to New England for a short period of time. The Veals ultimately returned to Jacksonville to carry on their lives, with John working as a civilian engineer at NAS Cecil Field, NAS Jacksonville and Naval Station Mayport, and serving in the Naval Reserve for about 23 years. Jennie worked as a teacher at PVPV-Rawlings in Ponte Vedra Beach. They enjoyed their lives on the First Coast, raising two children along the way.
The Veals attribute their longstanding marriage to their mutual interests. Jennie doesn’t hunt, but she cooks John’s ducks, jokes John.
In all seriousness, they’re both interested in fitness, often playing tennis and skiing together throughout their lives. They’re both active in the community, with John serving as an active member of the Rotary Club of Ponte Vedra Beach and Jennie continuing to volunteer at places like PVPV-Rawlings. In addition, Jennie believes it’s important for couples to get to know each other before they dive into a marriage, noting that she and John dated for about six years before tying the knot.
The couple will celebrate its 60th wedding anniversary with 15 family members at a house in Big Sky, Montana, in July, a celebration of a First Coast love story unlike any other.
“We love it here,” says Jennie with a smile on her face. “We feel very blessed.”