It’s Valentine’s Day. If you are looking for some glue to hold your relationship together, you might stop by Valley Office Products in Milbank. You won’t find this kind of glue on the shelf, though. Ask the proprietors, Larry and Loretta Cantine, and they’ll tell you it can’t be purchased. You have to make it yourself.
The formula is fairly simple, just be aware, it takes patience and persistence. Starting early must never be underestimated. “If you happen to be a newlywed,” Loretta says, “be sure to appreciate one another. Time passes so fast.”
She and Larry are way beyond the newlywed stage. This year marks nearly 60 years of Valentine’s Days together. But, Loretta, a demure redhead who looks at least 10 years younger than most women her age, recalls meeting Larry for the first time as if it were yesterday.
She says, “We met in Rapid City in 1963. Larry was stationed there and worked in air traffic control for the US Air Force.” Was it love at first sight? Loretta’s not telling, So, you can be the judge of that. She says, “My first impression was this guy has good manners.” Her second thought was, ”Blue eyes, blue uniform.”
“On our first date,” Loretta says, “We went to church at the (Our Lady of Perpetual Help) Cathedral in Rapid City. My car wouldn’t start and I felt bad about missing the All Saints Day Mass. Larry offered to take me. Little did we know, we would be married in that same church just eight months later.”
“We’ve now been together for 57 years and the one thing we still always agree on is our religious beliefs. ‘Our song’ is Ave Maria. It was sung at our wedding.” They now attend St. Lawrence Catholic Church in Milbank and Loretta says, “Our faith has made our relationship stronger by guiding us.”
Forty years ago, the Cantines took a leap of faith and decided to go into business together. Larry had been employed at Valley Office Products and loved his job. He discovered he had a knack for salesmanship and this convinced them to purchase the company from Charles Tobin. “It was the biggest challenge we ever faced,” Loretta says. “We almost failed.” (Surely those are words nearly every business owner has said.) But Loretta continues, “And then, everything had a way of working out.” A humble assessment, which probably translates to: when things got tough, we worked hard, had faith, and didn’t give up. Couples who work together sometimes experience extra stress, but Loretta says, “Our secret to staying married and being in business together is we truly enjoy each other’s company.” They also gravitate towards many of the same things. They both share a love of learning and had pursued careers in education before entering the business world.
Loretta was a teacher for 45 years. She taught sixth grade in Pierre, Rapid City, and Nicollet, Minnesota. They moved to Milbank in 1967, and she spent 21 years at Koch School and another 20 years at Milbank Middle School as a seventh grade teacher. Larry taught eighth grade civics for six years at Milbank Jr. High, economics at Milbank High School, and served as a tennis coach.
Tennis was another thing they shared that helped solidify their relationship. The sport had been important to Larry since he was in fifth grade, and he proved to be a willing ambassador for tennis wherever he went. You can even find his first racquet hanging up on the wall at Valley Office Products.
Through the years, he encouraged his entire family, the school, and the community to understand the value of tennis. In Milbank, and in South Dakota, the Cantine name is almost synonymous with tennis.
Larry was inducted into the South Dakota Tennis Hall of Fame in 2010. He and Loretta and their sons Kevin, Greg, and Scott were selected from hundreds of thousands of Americans for a United States Tennis Association Local Hero Award in 2016. The Cantine family also received the Northern United States Tennis Association’s Family of the Year award in 2015 for their contributions to the sport at the grassroots level.
Their six-year-old grandson is the newest member to hit the courts, but interest in tennis extends to the entire family, including their two daughters-in-law and six grandchildren. However, Loretta admits,” I would rather watch Larry play than play myself. That is probably the biggest difference between us.”
But, can you think of a better way to keep a family fit and together? Opponents running around chasing a ball, smashing serves, but still yelling Love-15 or Love-30 at each other. It might be the perfect Valentine’s Day activity if Cantine Courts in Milbank weren’t covered in snow and the temperature would stop hovering at 10 degrees below zero.
It’s no surprise the weather often wreaks havoc for South Dakotans on Valentine’s Day, and Loretta says, “A Valentine’s Day that really stands out for me is the one in 1969. It was my first year of teaching in Milbank. We had a big snowstorm and there was no school and no Valentine’s party. Usually, though, Larry and I go out to dinner on Valentine’s Day. We might do that again this year.”
So if you‘ve been paying attention, you’ve probably picked up several of the ingredients that go into making a long and happy relationship.
But, if you are screaming, “Valentine’s Day is today! I don’t have 57 years to figure it all out!” Relax. Although Loretta would be the last person to suggest there are any shortcuts to a great marriage, lucky for you, she let slip her secret sauce. It’s not actually sauce, but pie — pecan pie. It’s Larry’s favorite Valentine’s Day treat and Loretta has been making it for him since before they were married. It’s warm, sweet, and tender. It’s made with love and has just enough nuts to make it interesting. And although no relationship will ever be as easy as pie, it might do the trick until you have time to get some of that magic glue.
Photo: Kevin, Scott, Loretta, Larry, Greg and Scott’s son Mack