In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Baltimore STYLE’s Kim Uslin sat down with three inspiring couples from North Oaks in Pikesville to hear what has made their lives together great. The three couples tell the stories of how they fell in love, offer inspiring advice to young couples, and illuminate how to get through the hard times. Try not to smile as Chuck and Ellen Donen, Bernie and Myra Misek, and Bernard and Bernice Raynor detail their happy lives together.
Chuck and Ellen, how did you meet?
Ellen Donen: On a blind date.
Who set you up?
Ellen: A friend, friends.
Where did you go?
Ellen: On the first date? Where did we go? Well, that’s interesting.
Chuck: Synagogue and Church.
Ellen: It was Christmas Eve. No, seriously. It was Christmas Eve. We went to Shabbat services at Synagogue. And then we went to Number One 5th Avenue New York, which is like a New York City nightclub. And then we went to midnight church services.
Chuck: Midnight Mass. Midnight Mass.
Ellen: Yeah, midnight church services.
Chuck: I think it was Episcopal church.
So is one of you Christian and one of you Jewish?
Ellen: No, no, we’re both Jewish.
But you went to the Midnight mass?
Chuck: Yeah, it was Christmas.
Ellen: We were with other people.
Chuck: And they celebrate Christmas. Everybody celebrates Christmas. Everybody celebrates Hanukah.
Ellen: Yeah, we celebrate Hanukah. It’s interesting. I don’t know if you want this, it’s kind of a funny story. We met on a blind date with other people. But then we set a date, but on the day we were supposed to go out for the first time, he came down with an appendectomy. Had an appendectomy.
Ellen: And I came down with chicken pox.
Bernice: And you didn’t think that was an omen?
Bernie and Myra, how did you meet?
Myra: We met at a wedding.
Was that your first date or was that just where you met?
Myra: Well, that’s where we met and then we didn’t see each other for a couple weeks because he was in graduate school. And then he picked me up and we went into New York. I stayed with my Aunt. We spent most of the weekend together.
In New York City?
Myra: Yes, which is his hometown, I was from Connecticut.
Bernice and Bernard, what was your first date or when you met?
Bernice: We met during the Jewish Holidays of Rosh Hashanah at a synagogue that my family belonged to. Bernie’s grandma and grandfather lived close to it and he came to stay with them over the holidays. Is that what you did? (To Bernard) Yeah. And he came for services and that’s how we met.
Bernard: We were young teenagers.
Bernice: We were really young.
Bernard: You didn’t go into services; you stayed out in the lobby and socialized.
Bernice: And made a lot of noise.
How long have you been together?
Ellen: How long have we been married? 60 years. 60 and a half years.
Myra: We got married on the same day [as Ellen and Chuck]. 60 and a half, but we only met 8 months earlier.
Bernice: You want to know how long we’ve been married? How long have we been married? (to Bernard)
Bernard: 67 and half years.
Do you have any children?
Ellen: Yes. A son and a daughter. They are 58 and 56. No, 55.
Bernie: We had 4, we have 3.
Myra: We have to figure out how old they are.
Bernie: Well, I know when they were born.
Myra: Steven is 58. The next is 55, well somewhere around there. And then 50. 50, 54, 58.
Bernice: I have two children. A son and a daughter. Our daughter is the oldest and she’s 64, I can’t believe that one, she’s a grandmother too. And our son is 60.
Are any of you grandparents or great-grandparents?
Bernice: We are.
Myra: Grandparents. Not great-grandparents.
Bernice: She’s the cutest little girl you ever saw.
Chuck: That’s what every grandparent says!
Bernice: But mine’s the truth!
Chuck and Ellen, what was your wedding day like?
Chuck: Who remembers?
Ellen: It was a Sunday, noon.
Chuck: All I remember that by the end of the reception line all the chopped chicken liver was gone. We didn’t have any.
Ellen: It was in a synagogue in Brooklyn.
How about you, Bernie and Myra?
Bernie: Well, it was the same day! It wasn’t snowing, I’ll tell you that.
Myra: It was a beautiful day. We got married in New Haven, Connecticut at a Temple. But my mother had been hospitalized the week before. She came home the night before, so she could be there. So it was kinda hectic.
But she did make it?
Myra: Oh yes, but she went back to the hospital the next day. Then, we went to a resort in Catskills.
Bernie: Which was pretty typical.
Myra: And then we had a few weeks before we headed to Texas, where Bernie had a teaching job.
Bernice and Bernard?
Bernice: Oh well, we, we were married…
Together: Christmas Day! In 1949, Christmas Day!
Bernice: Ages ago. Ages ago. And uh, we went to New York on our honeymoon.
Bernard: We went to an exotic place.
Chuck: Did you get mugged?
Bernice: It was safe then.
Bernard: Best place to go!
Bernice: What else can I say? It was great. It was so good. It was a large wedding an it had a lot of people.
Bernard: Formal, high hats.
Bernice: Yeah, formal high-hats, tails, the whole thing.
What has been the most difficult part of your marriage?
Chuck: Agreeing with each other.
Myra: I know with us, it was losing a son.
Bernice: We seem to agree on most things. It’s funny because sometimes when it’s hard to say something we’re saying the same thing. We don’t argue about much.
Myra: He finishes my sentences.
Bernice: That’s scary!
Myra: No, no I like it.
Bernice and Bernard, you don’t argue about anything?
Ellen: Either you argue or you’re lying.
Bernie: I’ll say it, you’re lying.
Bernice: This was years ago; I’m talking 60-something years. We had very dear friends pass away this year and both of us used to sit and laugh sometimes. She used to say “What did we have to do in those days? Nothing! Nobody slept around. So you got married.”
Ellen: That’s absolutely right.
What has been the best part of your marriage so far?
Ellen: The big things we agree on, but the small things, too.
Bernard: The children. That’s the best part of our marriage.
Ellen: You’re right, that is the best part.
Bernie: The grandchildren!
Myra: I bought a pillow that said “If I knew the grandchildren were so great I would have had them first.” Our daughter was very upset with it, very upset.
Bernice: I had a woman in the beauty shop come in and her shirt said “If I had my dog first, I wouldn’t have had my kids.”
Ellen: That’s even more insulting!
Chuck: That’s true in some cases.
So what is the secret to a long, happy marriage?
Chuck: If I only knew that one.
Myra: You have to work at it. It’s not just something that just happens. I mean the first little bloom where everything is yes dear, yes darling—it’s not like that. And you have to have some feeling of commitment to it. But if it really doesn’t work you have to get out. It’s not that easy. Sometimes you’re insulted, sometimes you’re annoyed, and sometimes you’re in tears. But you get past it. Does that make sense?
Bernie: Being hard of hearing.
Bernard: Good sex, good sex, good sex.
I like the honesty.
Ellen: You don’t know if we’re being honest.
Myra: Also a sense of humor.
What advice do you have for young couples?
Ellen: Listen to each other. Discuss everything.
Myra: Also know that it’s not all going to be roses. There’s going to be tough times but you can get through it if you listen to each other and talk it out.
Ellen: Open heart, open mind.
Bernard: I’m reluctant. In our relationship with our children, we don’t give advice. We live our life and if they want to model themselves after us, then that’s their choice. I think we just set an example for ourselves. It’s great for us, hopefully it’s great for them too.
Do you have any nicknames for each other?
Group response: No, no, no.
Bernie: None that we’ll tell you.
Bernard: Just shortened versions of Bern. Two Berns.
How do you think your relationship has evolved since the beginning?
Ellen: I really think it’s improved over the years.
Chuck: Pretty stable, pretty stable.
Ellen: Discussing things more in depth and listening to each other more.
Chuck: Haha, sometimes.
Bernie: More stable, more mature.
Bernice: I guess ours is about the same.
Bernard: I think adaptability. We are different today than we were 60 years ago. And we adapted to a changing world and we, ourselves, have changed.
What is your favorite thing to do together?
Chuck: Travel. But not anymore.
Ellen: We used to travel a lot.
Chuck: Limited now, very limited.
Ellen: We’ve been to Israel many times, probably the most.
Chuck: We’re going to Connecticut next month.
Bernie: We did a lot of traveling also.
Myra: Our next trip is for our grandson’s graduation, to Rochester, New York. How much more exciting can you get? I’m not sure I can keep up with it.
Bernice: We were fortunate enough to travel, a lot of years, when we could do it. That was great.
Any last pieces of advice for our readers?
Bernard: Don’t give advice!