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Love of their lives: La Jolla seniors share stories of romance

Patsy and Jack Thomas, who live at Casa de Mañana, met on a blind date.
(Courtesy)

Couples at local senior living facilities run the gamut from just-met to married for decades. Ahead of Valentine’s Day this weekend, the La Jolla Light interviewed several paired retirees for their stories of first dates, shared hobbies and love.

Joe and Mary Ann Curray

Two days after Valentine’s Day, Joe and Mary Ann Curray, residents of the Chateau La Jolla retirement community, will celebrate 37 years of wedded bliss. Despite coming from different backgrounds, the two learned they had a lot in common when they met on a fundraising run for the 1984 Olympics and continued to find common ground throughout their marriage.

Joe and Mary Ann Curray will celebrate 37 years of marriage on Feb. 16.
Joe and Mary Ann Curray will celebrate 37 years of marriage on Feb. 16.
(Courtesy)

The day they met, they struck up a conversation and learned “we had running in common, and that gave us something to talk about,” Mary Ann said.

“He lived in Utah and I had been there skiing there, so we talked about that, too,” she said. “We were from different walks of life, yet there was a lot of commonality. I was an Army brat and had lived many places and was an ex-Army wife and lived many more places. He was a professor at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, so he did a lot of research in a lot of places also, so we had travel in common.”

Recalling the day they met, Joe said Mary Ann was “a lovely young lady.” The two continued to run together, everything from 10Ks to triathlons, until Joe turned 80 in 2007.

Both also had a previous marriage that ended in divorce, and they drew from that experience to make their current marriage work. “We want this one to last,” Mary Ann said.

“Compromise is an important factor,” she said.

Joe said Mary Ann “takes really good care of me. I gave up driving voluntarily in my 90s and she drives me around without complaint.”

Joe is “dependable, honest and giving,” Mary Ann said.

“I could say the same about you,” he responded.

“All those things are important,” Mary Ann said. “But love is No. 1.”

Gladys Kohn and Ed Pollak

Gladys Kohn and Ed Pollak formed a friendship about five years ago that blossomed into romance.
(Courtesy)

At the Vi at La Jolla Village community, Ed Pollak has a phrase he coined about his girlfriend: TGFG. It stands for Thank God for Gladys. The two met just over five years ago, and through shared experience, developed a friendship that, in time, turned into a romantic relationship.

“We were both going through difficult times when we met,” Gladys Kohn said. Both of their spouses were experiencing memory loss and were in the Vi care center. The two were introduced by friends over dinner one night and a friendship was born.

“We could give each other advice and make each other laugh, which is hard when you are going through situations like this,” she said.

Gladys’ husband died in 2017, Ed’s wife in 2018.

“After that, we realized this friendship had developed to a love for each other,” Gladys said. “We enjoy each other’s company. Especially this past year, when we haven’t been with other friends [due to pandemic-related lockdowns], the fact that we have each other has gotten us through this tough situation.”

The two live in their own Vi apartments but spend every day together and dine together every night.

They like to watch movies on the Turner Classic Movies channel, but Ed says they chuckle at the fact that they often remember seeing the movie when it was new.

“He makes me laugh about 100 times a day. We just seem to have an easy way with each other,” Gladys said.

“She brings song into my life,” Ed said. “If I say it’s sunny outside, she’ll sing ‘The stars at night are big and bright, deep in the heart of Texas’ [from the song ‘Deep in the Heart of Texas’] so she has a song for everything. I love that she’s pleasant and willing to drive me where I need to go. Like I always say, ‘TGFG!’”

Martha and Roy Erickson

Roy and Martha Erickson are pictured on their wedding day in April 2019.
Roy and Martha Erickson are pictured on their wedding day in April 2019.
(Courtesy)

By most standards at the Casa de Mañana senior living community, Martha and Roy Erickson are newcomers, both to the facility and to each other. They married in April 2019 and moved to Casa de Mañana two months later, bound together by their love for travel.

“We moved in as newlyweds,” Martha said. “Everyone that met us thought that was pretty fun.”

Having been widowed previously, Martha and Roy met in 2015 in a seniors’ group for travelers and began traveling together right away. “We began going to places we hadn’t been to yet or places we really enjoyed,” Martha said.

“We’d like to get back to that,” Roy said. “We’re grounded right now.”

He said they also like to do newspaper crossword puzzles and watch movies together. “Late in life, we discovered a lot in common.”

Roy, 92, who is retired from careers in journalism and public relations, said: “Martha is a very bright person. She’s a very attractive lady. Even with my blurry vision [from macular degeneration], I can still see that.”

“We have only been married for two years,” said Martha, who is 83 and a retired educator and school administrator. “I’m still finding out new wonderful things about him. We just enjoy each other.”

Helen and John Fronefield

Helen and John Fronefield have been married for more than 53 years.
Helen and John Fronefield have been married for more than 53 years.
(Courtesy)

Also at Casa de Mañana, residents John and Helen Fronefield have been married since 1967. They met the previous year while Helen was in medical school in Philadelphia.

They moved to La Jolla after traveling for years following Helen’s 1999 retirement from her job as a hospital commander in the Air Force. A military magazine showed an ad for Casa de Mañana with “a retired Navy officer reclining in a lounge chair on the beach. And I thought, ‘That’s fascinating,’” said John, who worked in finance and then fire service before his retirement.

Moving to La Jolla from their home in Anchorage, Alaska, was “the best thing we have done,” Helen said.

The couple have two children and “no grandchildren, just granddogs.” They love to swim daily in the facility’s pool, and they look forward to traveling when they feel it’s safe again. “We’re waiting for the country to come out of lockdown,” John said.

Helen said “a mutual respect for each other” has kept them together all these years. “We love each other. We each have our strengths and we put them together to have a very successful relationship and a successful life.”

“We may argue,” John said, “but it’s a shading difference, as opposed to a serious difference.”

After more than 53 years of marriage, “no problem is that serious that you have to really fight over it,” he said. “At this point in life, all the serious things have happened in the past. Now it’s just fun.”

Jack and Patsy Thomas

Jack and Patsy Thomas, who also live at Casa de Mañana, met via a blind date set up for them 26 years ago by a mutual friend after Jack was widowed and Patsy was divorced. The friend offered to host them for cocktails, but “Jack said, ‘No, I am going to call her and make a date,’” Patsy said.

“I didn’t want some third party seeing whether we really liked each other,” Jack said.

Patsy said he arrived for their first date at her house with “a single red rose and said, ‘Do these still work?’”

Though “it took him eight years to ask me to marry him, it’s been a wonderful life,” Patsy said. The couple moved to Casa de Mañana eight years ago.

“The most intensive activity for us has been travel,” said Jack, who retired from his role as president of SDG&E in 1994. He said the couple have been all over the world together and have treated the travel itself, which often includes long car trips, “not as a journey but as an experience. We met unique people, unique events.”

Patsy said they “have a little cabin up in Idyllwild we sneak out of here and go to” occasionally.

What keeps them together, she said, is enjoying “so many activities together,” from the traveling to the snorkeling and bodyboarding they like to do in Hawaii.

She said Jack will still snorkel, ride his electric tricycle around La Jolla and chop wood at their cabin, despite losing much of his eyesight in recent years.

“After all, I’m only 89,” he said. ◆