Living Senior: A Change of Scenery

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The scene seems like that of a movie. Norm Cotter was on the beaches of Nice, France in 1958 pursuing his profession when he met Colette. He was from Pennsylvania, she was a native Parisian. The two fell in love and soon a religious ceremony took place in the South of France near where they met.

Norm remembered the look on the priest’s face when he had to receive confession.

“The priest was so impressed by my fluency in French,” he said with a laugh, “I received my absolution.”

Norm was then faced with the difficult task of convincing a reluctant Colette to come to the U.S. Back in his home country, he enlisted the help of his grandmother and uncle.

“I put my 92-year-old grandmother on a ship to France as my correspondent,” he said. Despite their efforts, his family members still could not persuade her to leave her job and family.

Two years later, Colette came to the U.S. for a brief week visit, and Norm knew this was his best opportunity. “Then one afternoon, we drove to Alexandria, Virginia to obtain a marriage license,” he said, “And we’ve lived happily ever after.”

His persistence paid off as the couple, now residing at Ware Presbyterian Village, a continuing care retirement community in Oxford, has been married for 47 years.

After obtaining their license, Norm flew to France to get his wife a visa and the two honeymooned before starting their life together in the U.S. After attending the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate, he was now pursuing his master’s in Education at Penn State.

“Her introduction to life in America was living on the college campus,” he said.

Norm eventually became a high school principal and taught French and Spanish. He was also a professor at University of Georgia and Washington and Lee, where Colette, having taught French for 25 years, would also spend time educating the French professors. In 1987, Colette was selected as Delaware’s Teacher of the Year since several of her students had won prizes nationally for their French. Her previous careers included working as the private secretary to the Count of France and the executive secretary to the director of a large airline. Norm has been recognized as a U.S. amateur chess champion where he played Bobby Fischer twice, and has been featured in the local media with an exhibition. He was also a twice-champion for backgammon and bridge in Delaware.

His chess skills enabled him to play as part of the U.S. team, on which he would play against the U.S.S.R. Today Norm plays chess through mail and every day postcards with chess moves arrive at his new residence from other parts of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

The couple was living in Wilmington when they felt their house containing three levels was becoming difficult to manage. They evaluated the different community options within a 20-mile range of their home.

In June 2001, the Cotters moved to Ware, because according to Norm, it had the ‘ingredients’ that met their desires.

“When we saw the beautiful campus, we were immediately drawn to it,” said Norm, “It was a place where we felt we could live peacefully for the rest of our lives.”

He joked that the sights from his window had changed from busy traffic in Wilmington to Amish buggies in Oxford. For them, it was an ideal location far from the demanding crowd of the city, but still close enough.

The Cotters also felt at ease knowing their new residence offered independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care with rehabilitation therapy.

“Part of the attraction was that Ware was that our health needs could be met later in life.” In their first year at Ware, Colette broke her wrist, and was able to utilize the convenience of the community’s rehabilitation facility.

They lead busy lifestyles between their hobbies, jobs, and various organizations. With her enjoyment in cooking, Colette has served on Ware’s Food Committee for several years, and gardens with her husband on their area of land. For 15 years, she has volunteered at the Delaware Museum of Natural History. Norm is Chairman of the Finance Committee, to which he belonged since arriving at Ware. He works part-time at a golf course in Wilmington and publishes a bridge column for fellow residents. They also enjoy taking part in the welcome procedure for the community.

“A lot of the time with new residents we find some sort of connection with our former students,” said Norm, who is not surprised with their almost 60 years of combined teaching.

Although the Cotters enjoy several aspects of their home and the Oxford area, they are not giving up their love of traveling anytime soon. They have traveled to over 40 states and 50 countries.

“It’s an important component of our lives,” said Norm.

It’s also the component that brought them together nearly 50 years ago.

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