‘Treat each other special.’ Fresno couple met in junior high. They’re both 100 now

Malcolm and LaVerne Masten, both 100 years old, sat side by side holding hands in their Fresno apartment this week as they talked about how much they love each other.

They first met playing the clarinet in junior high at Hamilton Elementary School in central Fresno.

“I was impressed,” Malcolm said.

What impressed him?

“There’s the reason,” he said, smiling affectionately at his wife of 76 years. “She’s my girl.”

Their first date was a dance at Fresno High School.

“The women around here are really jealous,” their daughter Marlene Masten said about their senior living community, The Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens, “because he’ll be sitting there and say, ‘Look at her, she’s my girl. Isn’t she beautiful?’”

FRS_100_year_olds01 (2)
Malcolm and LaVerne Masten sit together in their apartment at the Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens in Fresno on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. The couple, married 76 years, both celebrated turning 100 this year. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Marlene said her father has always said, “‘You have to tell the love of your life you love her, all the time’ – and he does.”

They got to share the milestone of turning 100 years old this year. LaVerne’s birthday was earlier this month. Malcolm’s was in August. They celebrated at The Ahwahnee Dining Room in Yosemite National Park.

Malcolm and LaVerne Masten hold hands during a meal at The Ahwahnee Dining Room to celebrate their 100th birthdays this year. LaVerne turned 100 in October and Malcolm in August. MASTEN FAMILY Special to The Bee

“They were always disgustingly healthy and active,” Marlene said of what she suspects helped her parents reach 100. “They backpacked until they were in their 80s. They backpacked in the Himalayas. They gardened – they didn’t golf – they gardened. They danced. They were always aware of their diet.”

Malcolm worked as a doctor in Fresno from 1950 to 1991 specializing in internal medicine, especially heart disease. He helped establish one of the earliest coronary care units and modern cardiovascular labs in the United States at Community Regional Medical Center in downtown Fresno. He served in numerous leadership positions in medical and community groups.

But Malcolm didn’t talk about that Monday when Marlene asked what he thinks his legacy is.

“Love one another,” Malcolm said.

“What should you be known for?” Marlene responded, trying again.

“He was a good doctor,” LaVerne said softly.

“A wonderful wife!” Malcolm proclaimed.

Malcolm and LaVerne Masten in the 1940s. MASTEN FAMILY Special to The Bee

When LaVerne is asked about her greatest accomplishments, she starts to talk about her husband: “I think his … ”

Marlene interjects: “Your accomplishments!”

“Oh I don’t think I’ve had any accomplishments,” LaVerne said.

Marlene disagrees.

“She enabled her children and her husband to do many, many things. Despite being a very intelligent and very organized woman, she played the sidelines,” Marlene said. “She did all the investments and all the finances of dad’s business, and the family finances. Dad worked very long hours, he was on call a lot, so she held everything together.”

LaVerne majored in business and music when she was a student at Fresno State. Malcolm graduated No. 1 and LaVerne No. 2 in their class at the university and at Fresno High. They got the nickname “the brain trust.”

“I think their scores were actually equal,” Marlene said of their grades. “However, back then, who comes first?”

Malcolm and LaVerne Masten on their wedding day, June 12, 1943 at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Fresno. MASTEN FAMILY Special to The Bee

They were married in the summer of 1943 at First Presbyterian Church in downtown Fresno, where they’ve been active throughout their lives. They announced their engagement at a party where medical capsules were distributed, stuffed with notes that read, “Prescribed for future happiness: LaVerne and Malcolm.”

Malcolm was drafted into the U.S. Army during medical school at the University of Pennsylvania and sent to Germany after World War II. He served for two years in the country, rising to the rank of captain in the Medical Corps. LaVerne joined him there in 1946, shortly before Christmas.

“She was my Christmas present,” Malcolm said.

They moved back to Fresno when LaVerne was eight months pregnant with their first child, Marilyn. Marlene was born two years later.

They built a home in Fig Garden Village in 1957, where they lived until 2013, when they moved into a large apartment at The Terraces. Its walls are covered with their photos.

One large photo is of Malcolm and LaVerne dancing together – one of their favorite activities – on a Greek island in their 70s. LaVerne recalled how they visited the country after a trip to Egypt, where Malcolm walked miles in the desert instead of riding a camel, despite a guide’s warning that he wouldn’t survive the blistering walk.

The couple has visited over 90 countries.

Malcolm and LaVerne Masten enjoying a trip to Cancun, Mexico in 2007. MASTEN FAMILY Special to The Bee

Marlene called every summer of her childhood an amazing adventure.

“It was always a big learning experience,” Marlene said of traveling with her parents, “be it history or architecture or art or religion, every aspect of that culture.”

Marlene grew up to become a high school history teacher and then an industrial engineer and project manager for a software company. Marilyn became an OB-GYN doctor. The Mastens have two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Their example means the world to Marlene. She said her parents were very active in community groups, helping Fresno “develop for the good.”

“They sincerely believe, sometimes to my horror, that you always do the right thing,” she said. “You never compromise. You do what’s best for everyone around you as well as yourself. And that’s something that always has amazed me about my parents. They’ve been genuine with each other. They’ve been kind and loving with each other.”

Marlene said their relationship is a reminder “there’s a better way to live than what we’re seeing now – there’s a gentler and kinder life that we should be working towards.”

Malcolm and LaVerne Masten hold hands together in their apartment at the Terraces at San Joaquin Gardens in Fresno on Monday, Oct. 21, 2019. The couple, married 76 years, both celebrated turning 100 this year. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Their advice for a long and happy relationship?

Be polite and “careful with what you say,” LaVerne said.

“Keep in mind their feelings,” she said. Malcolm is “always very considerate” of hers.

Malcolm said “never show anger or let anger enter into your lives – show love.”

But what if you do get mad?

“You don’t let it show,” LaVerne said. “Make something else become more prominent. Think of the other person, what you know the other person would like. You just have to remember to take that person into consideration in everything that you do.”

And, she said, “Treat each other special.”

Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.