Two dozen couples said "we do" in unison last Thursday at a ceremony to renew their vows after more than 50 years of marriage.
Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Bayside) officiated at the ceremony, held at the Services Now for Adult Persons center in Glen Oaks.
"Do each of you reaffirm your commitment by pledging your love in front of those gathered here today, and promise to continue living your lives with patience, understanding - and occasional disagreement - and respect for one another?" Weprin asked before a crowded dining room of senior spectators.
The couples, all members of the senior center, affirmed their vows andkissed on cue.
"It's a miracle," joked Auburndale resident Harry Engelhardt, about his 52-year marriage to his wife, Helen.
When asked to name their secret to long-lasting love, Helen Engelhardt said, "We share a lot of the same plans and thoughts," and then added with a laugh, "And, it's a miracle."
For Libby and Harold Barkan of Bellerose, the key to staying married for 60 years is respect, said Libby, who met her husband at summer camp.
"No matter what happens, even if you argue, argue respectfully," she advised. "Don't tear each other down."
Some couples acknowledged that romance and marriage had changed greatly since their courtships, before singles bars, cohabitation and the Internet became a reality for young people looking for soulmates.
"Today, it's too much emphasis on sex, not love," said Lee Servillo of Queens Village.
"We respected the women we went with," said Patrick Servillo, Lee's husband of 50 years. "Now, they go to bars and the Internet."
The Servillos met at a church function, like Ruth and Dave Greenstein of Bayside, who met at a synagogue dance 56 years ago in the Bronx.
"I took her home and asked her for a date. It was right around Valentine's Day," Dave Greenstein recalled.
Ruth Greenstein said that when she showed her mother the flowers and candy Dave brought her, she remembers her mother asking in amazement,
"Is this going to be serious?"
"And we've been married ever since," Ruth Greenstein said.
"What it proves is that romance and commitment are alive and well in Queens County," Weprin told the audience before the ceremony.
"It's a very important lesson for us all, and for me it does the heart good," said the assemblyman, who has been married for nine years.
Weprin shook the hands of the golden anniversary couples as a class of third-graders from PS 115 in Glen Oaks handed the seniors boutonnieres, candy and Chinese good-luck charms.
Asked to comment on marriages that had lasted about eight times the duration of their lives, most of the children thought quietly and then piped up with the words, "romance," "love" and "caring."
"It's a really long time that they're married," said 8-year-old Michael Vessia, who when asked how he thought the couples managed to stay married for so long, responded, "They like each other a lot."
His classmate Noelle McClenan believed the secret was "to be nice to each other and care for each other."
Or, as Dave Greenstein quipped, "Do as you're told."
Reach reporter Ayala Ben-Yehuda by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.
©2003 Community News Group
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