MARQUETTE - When Vernice "Vernie" Coolman offered to take her friend Elaine Beiring's jacket upon her arrival at the Coolman home Tuesday night, she said she started to chuckle.
"Elaine took off her jacket and I saw her top. We were dressed alike," Vernie said. "I just had to laugh."
It's like that sometimes with friends. And these two women, who both turn 95 in 2011, could teach some lessons to the young generation that uses the label "BFF" to describe a close relationship.
Vernice “Vernie” Coolman and Elaine Beiring know what BFFs truly are as the women have been best friends for more than 65 years. They talk nearly every day and their children refer to the other woman as “aunt.” Elaine celebrates her 95th birthday today while Vernie won’t turn 95 until Nov. 18. (Journal photo by Renee Prusi)
The locket Joe Beiring gave to his sweetheart, Elaine Peltier, when she turned 18. Elaine was married to Joe for more than 70 years, until his death in 2010. (Photo courtesy of Peggy Gagnon)
Vernie and Elaine truly have been "best friends forever"... or at least for some 66 years.
While neither grew up in Marquette, both have called the town home since the early 1940s.
Vernie - "My mother called me Vernice and everyone else calls me Vernie" - was born in Hillsdale County in Lower Michigan, the fifth of eight children, to Irvin and Minnie DuRoy. But she married a Yooper, Walter "Wally" Coolman, who hailed from Escanaba, which eventually brought her to the Upper Peninsula.
"Wally sold shoes for Montgomery Wards and then Getz's (in Marquette) was looking for a shoe man and Wally took the job," Vernie said. She and Wally married in 1940 and moved to Marquette in 1941. They moved away in 1953, but after stops in other places, returned to Marquette in 1958 and stayed for good when Wally and a partner bought the Shoe Bazaar here.
The couple raised three children, Peggy, Chuck and Neal, and later helped when son Chuck moved home with his two kids in 1980. Wally died in 1983.
Elaine is a native Yooper, growing up as one of the five children of Euclid and Jennie Peltier in Hancock. She started dating Joseph Bernier when the two were students at St. Patrick's High School in Hancock. They married and celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary last June.
Joe, who worked at College Cleaners in Marquette from the time the couple moved to Marquette in 1945 until 1993, passed away last Aug. 11.
They had four children - Tom, Mary Margaret, Joe and Kathy - and lived in an apartment above the business until buying a house on Seventh Street in Marquette.
Vernie and Elaine met through a sewing club in town, but couldn't pinpoint the exact year.
"Our children were small when we met," Elaine said.
"It was in the 1940s, either 1945 or 1946," Vernie said. The two then named some of the other women who were in the sewing club, smiling at each other.
"We just seemed to click, Vernie and me," Elaine said. "We enjoy each other's company."
"We've never had an argument," Vernie said.
Just then, Vernie's son Chuck walked into the living room where the ladies were sharing their story.
"Hi Auntie Elaine," he said.
Both women smiled at the affectionate honorary form of address.
As they reminisced, they said they enjoyed long walks together and getting their kids together to play.
"Those were good days. We don't spend as much time together now that we're getting old," Vernie said.
"But we do talk on the phone just about every day," Elaine said.
What's the secret to being best friends for more than six decades?
"I didn't even think about it. We like the same things, I guess," Vernie said.
"We just naturally clicked," Elaine said.
"We couldn't have been closer if we were sisters," Vernie said.
"If I have a problem, I know I can come talk to Vernie and she can do the same with me," Elaine said. "And that's where it stays."
The two go to the same doctors and the same hairdresser. They, obviously, have the same taste in clothes. But something more fundamental may have been the thing that bonded them most.
"We both enjoyed our families," Elaine said.
"That's our whole lives, our families," Vernie said.
Vernie now has nine grandkids, 11 great-grandkids and one great-great grandchild, while Elaine has 24 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.
Today, Elaine will celebrate her 95th birthday with a huge birthday cake shared with her neighbors. And with her best friend, of course.
"We'll have a cup of coffee and some cake, OK," Elaine said to her BFF.
"That will be nice," Vernie said. Vernie will celebrate her 95th on Nov. 18.
"I can't believe it. But it's just a number, anyway," she said.
And she and Elaine laughed, together, like always.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253.