By Gina Kurtz; Photography by Jadrian Klinger
Romeo and Juliet at 55+
As Shakespeare once wrote, “The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Three Harrisburg-area couples demonstrate that, though life and love can oftentimes be challenging, true love – helped along by a little luck and lot of elbow grease – will always prevail.
For, as Shakespeare also wrote:
“Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no! It is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken.”
John (94) and Carol (89) Mastran live together in the secured Memory Support wing of Country Meadows Retirement Community in Lancaster. The couple recently celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary, though, sadly, Carol wasn’t aware of the day’s significance.
“Carol started to get Alzheimer’s about six years ago,” John explains. “Every year, it gets steadily worse.”
John, healthy and spry, could live in his own apartment, but refuses to leave his wife’s side. The couple moved to Lancaster in July of 2012 from Moorestown, N.J. They left behind their home of nearly 60 years when caring for Carol became too much for an overwhelmed John.
“For 60 years, she fed me, and for two years, I fed her!” His eyes follow Carol attentively, as she wanders around their cozy apartment. “Then it got to be too much for me. My daughter found this place – the only place I could be with my lovely gal.”
John and Carol met on Long Beach Island during the summer of 1948 at a 20-30 Club event for singles, which Carol helped organize.
John reminisces fondly, “She was there with a fellow who left her, so she was all alone. And she came over to talk to us. I always kid her about the fact that she picked me up.”
The young couple dated for three years before marrying.
After earning his MBA from Harvard Business School, John worked as the vice president of organization and planning at RCA.
Carol’s life has been full of her own impressive successes. An established artist, one of her paintings was selected to be given as a gift to President Gerald Ford when he visited her home state of N.J. “There’s also a World Bank in Washington, D.C. that displays artists’ paintings from all over the world, and Carol was the first American selected,” John proudly brags.
Together the couple has two daughters, two granddaughters and a great-granddaughter. “Our whole life – females!” John laughs, “Even our two dogs!”
John claims that there are two main tenets in a successful marriage: patience and true love.
“You have to have patience,” he says, “because the man has idiosyncrasies, and the wife has idiosyncrasies. If there isn’t true love, if one has doubts like, ‘I’m not going to take this anymore because he does this or she does that,’ then you end up with divorce. You must have mutual love. Then you’re willing to deal with all the idiosyncrasies, because when you’re in love, the person is perfect in every way!”
And John clearly feels his wife is perfect. “I have to be especially patient with her now, but everybody here loves her. They all love Carol. She’s a beautiful girl and a sweet girl and a very talented girl.”
Carol makes her way back to John’s side, where she seems most comfortable these days. She lays her head gently on the shoulder of her husband, and he clasps her searching hand.
“She still knows me, she still needs me and she wants to be near me,” John says with conviction. “More importantly, I still need her.”
Brenda (74) and Marlin (70) Snider of Bethany Village Retirement Community, in Mechanicsburg, celebrate their 48th anniversary on June 26th. Their story is one of teamwork, which is evident by the graceful way in which they take turns weaving the tale of their lives together.
“We met in a small Methodist church in Chambersburg, where we did lots of activities together,” Brenda begins.
Marlin continues, “I was in middle school, and she was in high school. I was friends with her family, and Brenda and I were pals, and we did things together. It took me until about sophomore or junior year in college to recognize that we were becoming more than friends.”
Marlin remembers the exact moment he officially fell in love. “I remember one night she was at the top of her parent’s stairway, and I was standing at the bottom. As I was leaving, we got to talking about platonic love and love that was more, when suddenly it hit me that there was going to be a lot more to this.”
Brenda smiles softly to herself as Marlin speaks, sweet memories playing through her mind.
Both Marlin and Brenda earned master’s degrees in education from Shippensburg University, and each shared equally in the experience of raising their two children – a son and a daughter.
“It was a team effort,” Brenda explains. “Marlin was willing to be home in the morning and afternoon so that I could get my foot back in the door with teaching after having been a stay-at-home mom while the children were very young. He was the one who went to school conferences.”
And when Marlin decided to enter the ministry in 1974, Brenda ensured things ran smoothly at home in Hershey, while her husband spent three years in Washington, D.C. working toward his doctorate of ministry.
“We never really enjoyed being apart after that,” Marlin says of the experience.
Now retired, the couple enjoys volunteering within the Bethany Village community, traveling together and spending time with their five grandchildren and their 1-year-old great-grandson. “It’s such a treasured, rich time of being together,” says Marlin.
Ever the educators, Marlin and Brenda have plenty of worthwhile advice to share with couples, both new and seasoned.
“Laugh a lot,” exclaims Brenda. “We laugh at each other all the time, and we laugh at ourselves. We just have fun together.”
For couples closer to their own age, the Sniders recommend pursuing separate interests in order to maintain a strong sense of identity. “And know each other’s health status,” advises Brenda. “It’s important to advocate for each other in health situations.”
Both Marlin and Brenda strongly promote planning for end-of-life issues. “We both have living wills. It’s important for people our age to make those decisions so that it doesn’t fall upon your children or spouse. It’s all about quality of life.”
“Give, give, give,” Marlin finishes, enthusiastically. “You have to pay attention to your marriage if it’s going to grow. And if you have to work through something, it has to be as a united entity.”
A Second Chance
Harry Killian and Marcia Conner, both 88, each sadly lost their first spouses to Parkinson’s disease.
“When I became a widow,” Marcia remembers, “I thought that would be my role until the end of time. I’d had a good marriage, and it never occurred to me that I would fall in love again.”
But fall in love again, she did.
Marcia first met Harry while attending a Parkinson’s disease support group hosted by their home community of Bethany Village. After the meeting, Marcia asked Harry if he would help her entertain a new couple that was struggling with Parkinson’s. “Just on the spur of the moment!” she laughs.
The dinner party was a smashing success, and Harry and Marcia later decided to go on a double date. But Harry, however, was “seeing an old flame.” The love story of Harry and Marcia didn’t actually come to fruition until Marcia’s 90-year-old neighbor set them up on a serendipitous blind date – with each other.
Now married five blissful years, the couple celebrates their anniversary every six months because, Marcia jokes, “At our age, we don’t know how many we’ll have left.”
Harry and Marcia both have sparkling, mirthful eyes and easy smiles. Anyone can see their newfound love has kept them young. Together, they enjoy traveling the country, entertaining friends and spending time with their recently expanded families. Between them, Harry and Marcia boast five children, 11 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“An unexpected highlight for me was being accepted so generously by Marcia’s family and enjoying their company,” says Harry. “They are pretty remarkable people.”
According to Marcia, remarrying as a senior has been a different, but wonderful experience. “This time around, I don’t have all the anxieties of being young, like dealing with a first marriage, a first job, a first baby. Harry and I can simply enjoy our time together. It’s quite wonderful.”
Like their friends, the Sniders, Harry and Marcia wish to share poignant advice with other couples in love.
Says Harry, “Before you commit to one another, be sure you have many common interests. Then you will agree more than you disagree.”
“Honor the ‘C’ words – cope and commitment,” adds Marcia. “Especially when hard times hit.”
Most importantly, the couple encourages others to make each and every day an adventure.
“And when serendipity arrives,” Marcia urges, “make sure you embrace it.”