A Lifetime Together: Ten years past their golden anniversary, La Jolla couple shares secrets
They’ve lived in the pink house on the hill with a commanding view of the Village and La Jolla Country Club for 37 years.
Milton and Elvira Blackstone intend to live out the rest of
their days in their comfy perch atop Dellcrest Lane.
Little has changed over time in their neighborhood. In fact, time’s practically stood still. Of 11 homes near the Blackstones, only three have changed hands during their residence. One woman who lives nearby grew up as a kid further down the block.
“La Jolla has changed over the years,” said Milton Blackstone. “For us, it hasn’t changed too much.”
Like their neighborhood, the Blackstones know a thing or two about familiarity. The pair just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Their story is unique for its longevity as well as its celebrity, and there are a handful of couples in La Jolla who share their joy in longlasting relationships.
The Blackstones began their 60 years together when New Yorker Milton “Bill” Blackstone was stationed during World War II to Great Falls, Mont., close to Elvira who lived nearby in rural Belt. It was Elvira’s cousin who coaxed her into a double date where she met Milton at a USO Christmas party.
It wasn’t love at first sight, but his persistent letter-writing campaign to win her over ultimately captured her heart. When she met him at a bus depot in San Francisco and found he was carrying a marriage license, she said yes.
Little did the pair know at that time they were both fated to be involved in the birth of television in New York City during the 1950s.
Milton got a job writing for the popular radio show “Don’t You Believe It,” which led to other work.
“During my career in TV, I worked on all three networks: ABC, CBS and NBC,” he said. “I was an agent, producer and writer. I had a hand in it all. I produced a number of different shows, the ‘Steve Allen Show,’ Jack Parr. I did Guy Lombardo’s New Year’s Eve show for five years.”
Milton also began working at a talent agency and got Elvira started modeling. In addition to appearing in a number of magazines and on television shows, she became NBC’s first Miss Color TV. She also appeared in a couple of televised quiz shows.
The Blackstones have two children, son Jamee and daughter Jana. They moved to California in 1968 because they thought the warmer climate would benefit Jamee, who is deaf and blind. Jamee’s infirmities lead his father to begin a second career as a computer consultant working from home.
For years, Milton specialized in assisting the disabled with computers and was widely published on the subject.
“I started retrofitting computer systems for different disabilities,” said Milton, “installing voice recognition and things even more sophisticated. I once helped design a computer system for a young lady who was totally unable to move anything but her eyes. By using this gauge, she wrote a book. That was remarkable.”
Milton Blackstone has a number of interests that keep him busy in his retirement.
“I have less time now than I had when I was working,” he said, laughing, descending the stairs down to his office which is covered with photos of famous people he worked with during his television days, like Bob Hope, Groucho Marx, Don Rickles, Jimmy Durante, Dick Martin of “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh In” and Don Adams, whom Milton worked with producing celebrity golf tournaments for 20 years.
At the top of Milton’s list of favorite subjects is genealogy. He’s very involved in researching his family history in Europe for a couple of books he’s writing, as well as working on a project now that could culminate in a listing in the Guinness Book of World Records.
“I have a great-grand uncle who is the oldest Jew that ever lived who died at age 125,” said Milton, who is busy producing the documentation on his relation that may one day land his family name in the world’s most famous and highest-profile record book.
Elvira Blackstone, too, is keeping busy in her golden years quilting, gardening and painting.
“There’s a lot of work in the house,” she said. “It piles up on you.”
The Blackstones’ union is a mixed marriage in more ways than one. Milton, 81, is Jewish, an only child, an extrovert and a New York City boy. The son of immigrants, he was born in 1924 en route to the States on the U.S.S. Leviathan, a ship aboard which his father ran a valet service.
Elvira, quiet and soft-spoken, is a ranch girl of Finnish descent from a big family among the Maki clan of Montana. A sixth-generation American, Elvira hardly knew what a city was before she met Milton.
Their union of opposites has proven to be a fruitful and harmonious blend that has stood the test of time. Though at either extreme of the personality spectrum, the couple have changed each other for the better by being able to compromise and meet in the middle.
Keys to success
The key to surviving a 60-year relationship, according to the Blackstones, is twofold.
“Work hard,” said Milton.
“Don’t give up easily,” said Elvira.
“People have their arguments,” said Milton, “but just don’t let one thing trigger into another.”
The secrets to a long and successful marriage have more to do with personal interaction than chemical attraction. SO believes Ginger Wishner, a marriage and family therapist in La Jolla.
“In my experience,” she said, “it’s usually having a good foundation for a friendship, where the people respect each other as individuals and can still work as a team.”
Wishner uses a model to explain the dynamic marriage relationship. She thinks of each individual as a circle. Their two overlapping circles create a third.
“That relationship has its own entity and personality individual to the people,” she said. “It takes a balance of being a good partner and being a good individual, which involves a lot of compromise and having good communication. You don’t have to walk around angry or resentful because you can express yourself or your needs.”
Another important ingredient in a successful marriage: having fun.
“Enjoy each other,” Wishner advised. “Make each other feel happy, glad that they’re in the relationship.”
There isn’t a simple equation determining marital bliss. Just about everyone has a different opinion as to what they think are the most important elements of a stable relationship.
Trust, respect, perserverance
Taking personal responsibility when problems arise in a relationship has proven to be the best solution for Nathan Levy and his bride of 52 years, Celia.
“In my opinion, he said, “it takes trust, respect, perseverance and lots of hard work. Today’s couples generally separate much too quickly after, or during, an argument or disagreement. They don’t appear to take the trouble or make an effort to settle the problem.”
La Jollans John and Mary-Ellen Drummond have been married almost 28 years. Each has a different take on keeping enduring relationship together.
“It’s all the things we all talk about,” said John Drummond, “being loving and kind and considerate, listening to the other person, remembering not just the important dates but knowing what goes on every day so you can ask questions about their day that show you care. ... Everyone wants to be with a nice person. It also helps a lot to marry a wonderful person. I did. I was incredibly lucky.”
Mary-Ellen Drummond credits her husband’s lightheartedness as the fuel that has kept their home fires burning.
“I think that laughter combined with ongoing, positive communication are the keys to making a marriage work,” she said. “During our more than 25 years together, he has made me laugh each and every day, and, whether we’re laughing together, discussing the news, solving a crossword puzzle, debating politics, or just sharing small talk, he keeps me on my toes and smiling.”
After 50 years together, Wil and Carol Johnson have 10 kids and 19 grandchildren, and believe doing things together is the best way to stay together.
“Do everything together,” said Wil Johnson, “whether it’s making the bed in the morning, fixing dinner at night, do it together. And always give the best piece to your spouse.”
Johnson also suggested resisting the urge to respond to unkind words.
“If you feel the comment is not appropriate,” he said, “pick a different time to address the issue, when there are no inflamed feelings that might cause it to escalate. Far better to accept criticism and be quiet, rather than to argue against it.”
The Blackstones recently returned from their 60th wedding anniversary bash in Montana attended by a horde of relations. They’re looking forward to extending their streak of togetherness well into the future.
“My niece, who I hadn’t seen in a long time,” said Milton Blackstone, “kiddingly said, ‘I’ll see you on the 75th. I’ll be there.’ ”
Reflecting on aging and its consequences, Milton said time goes by too fast.
“That’s probably the single biggest change, if you ask me. It’s how fast time goes. My mother used to say, ‘Life is like a dream. You wake up, and it’s over.’ ”