Seniors: Never Too Late to Renew
After decades of marriage, romantic couples say "I Do" again
The back room of the Goddard Riverside Senior Center was decorated with hearts, pictures of cupids and streamers. There, a crowd of 150 people watched Feb. 14 as a woman tossed red rose petals from a wicker basket. Then, five couples with more than 200 years of marriage between them walked into the room to renew their vows.
Council Member Gale Brewer told the couples that while they had come from such diverse places as Russia, Venezuela, Ecuador and the Upper West Side, they have all ended up there out of appreciation for the community.
"It's like a United Nations of marriage, commitment and love," Brewer said.
The room was filled with family members, friends and members of the senior center on Valentine's Day as Brewer read their vows. The couples, all members or volunteers of the center, pledged to keep walking hand in hand and the room celebrated with a toast of cider, dancing and 400 cupcakes donated by Magnolia Bakery.
"This was a little idea and you saw how big it became," said Senior Services Director Doris Colón.
One couple was Leonid and Nelli Shulov, who met in Moscow in 1957 at the Festival of Youth and Students. They married 53 years ago and moved to the United States in 1993. Leonid, 78, is a former chemist and Nelli, 74, used to work as a geologist.
Nelli said their bond strengthened when they moved to New York and had to pick up a new language and culture together.
"It's not very easy to change your life and start a new life," she said.
Leonid spoke Russian and German and relied on Nelli's English. But she trusts his knowledge of technology and computers.
"When we're together, we can do much more than separately," she said.
Louis and Norma Segarra, both deaf and one blind, met at the New York School for the Deaf and signed their vows on each other's hands.
Another couple, Ana and Felix Campana, originally came from Ecuador and Venezuela. Ana, 74, volunteers at the center and made the stuffed hearts that hung from the ceiling. Felix, 86, said he didn't expect such a large turnout.
Their daughter, Maria Teresa Campana, 30, said that while people she knew got divorced or fought, her parents always stuck together. Felix said one of the reasons for that is because they balanced each other out.
She translated for Felix, who spoke Spanish.
"He says he's very active and now he's ready to go dance and mingle," she said.
But the Campbells, married for 61 years, were the longest-lasting couple there. George and Doris met ice-skating in a park in Queens when they were 15. When George offered to fix Doris' skates, she refused. Still, their relationship bloomed.
When they moved into Goddard Tower on Amsterdam Avenue in 1967, they were some one of the first tenants.
"It was the Wild West when we moved here," George said. "Empty lots, burned-up cars-it was unbelievable."
Doris, a retired teacher, and George, a former salesman, had renewed their vows once before, on their 25th anniversary.
Doris said their secret to staying together is always doing things together and rarely being apart.
"And five children. That helps," she added. "It keeps you busy."
One of their kids, George, 47, watched from the front row. He said it was great to see all of the couples together.
"I just got engaged last week, so I'll be saying my vows later in the year," he said.
Though the rink in Queens where they met isn't there anymore, the Campbells' memories remain.
"You know, you can take pictures," Doris said. "But the memories that you have are the best pictures in the world."
- Dan Rosenblum
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