Hanging with Cupid: An inside view of some long-lasting marriages

Love and marriage is good for you.

Studies show and experts agree married people typically enjoy better emotional and physical well-being than those who aren’t married. While stress and conflict can be a part of any relationship, a good relationship with low conflict can help lower the risk of mortality and improve quality of life.

Older adults especially benefit from a long-lasting, happy marriage.

We spoke with three couples who have nearly 192 years of marriage between them. Residents of GreenFields of Geneva, Terry and Rockie McConnaughay, both 95, will be married 70 years in May. Miriam, 81, and Marty Lebedun, 86, have been married for 62 years and now reside at Sedgebrook in Lincolnshire. Betty and Dr. Leigh Rosenblum, both 88, have been married for 60 years and live at The Merion in Evanston.

Be Mine

Times may have changed but some of the ways people meet haven’t, whether it’s in college, in a bar or through friends and relatives.

“My brother threw me at him,” says Miriam Lebedun. She explains that she was with her brother at a campus carnival at the Medical Center of University of Illinois in Chicago, where she was attending nursing school. Marty, who had graduated from the pharmacy school, was there as well. Miriam’s brother knew Marty. He introduced the two and then disappeared for the night.

The McConnaughays also met through family members — their siblings. Rockie’s sister married Terry’s brother. They met several times while their siblings were dating, and then both stood up for their wedding.

The Rosenblums were brought together through the military in post- World War II Germany. They met in a bar. Betty was teaching children of servicemen in the American school and Leigh had been drafted by the Army as a physician.

That indefinable thing called “chemistry” began to work. The Rosenblums agree they knew they liked each other right away. Eight months later they married in May, 1955.

The McConnaughays also had WWII as a backdrop. Terry went into the service on Jan. 1, 1942. The night before he left they were at a party together at Rockie’s home. Terry left the party but then came back to tell Rockie that he liked her.

“He was slightly inebriated,” recalls Rockie. “He’s kind of shy and had to be inebriated to tell me that he liked me. She liked him too and told Terry that if he wanted her to wait for him while he was in the service he’d better send her a ring, so he did. He was in the service for four years and when he returned they married on May 2, 1946.

Marty Lebedun fell hard. “For me, it was love at first sight,” he says. “I came home, woke up my mother and said, ‘I met the girl I’m going to marry.’ ’’

Miriam says she knew Marty was someone special. “I knew right away I wasn’t going to date anyone else.”

While Marty may have told his mother he had met the right girl, he played it cool with Miriam.

“When we first started dating, Marty told me he was never going to get married. I was 18 at the time and I said that was fine by me. We’ll just go out. On our third date, he asked when we should get married,” says Miriam.

They dated for about six months before they got engaged.

“We got engaged in the winter,” says Marty. “I had purchased a ring that I thought was nice. We drove to Garfield Park near the conservatory. It was really cold outside. We sat in the car and I gave her the ring. It got pretty heated up when I presented the ring. The windows got fogged up. A policeman came and rapped on the windows and asked what was going on.”

Forever Yours

So what’s kept the flame of love lit? What is it that these partners like about each other?

The Rosenblums prize the space in their togetherness. Betty says Leigh always encouraged her to do whatever she wanted to do. For Leigh, it was Betty’s understanding and support of his busy medical practice. Also key to their successful relationship is “not being too critical and to be willing to talk things out,” says Betty.

The McConnaughays are members of a mutual admiration society. “I’ve always admired Terry. He loves history, reads all of the time and loves ‘Jeopardy.’ I admire how smart he is,” says Rockie. “And he did a good job helping to raise our boys. That’s a big accomplishment.”

As for Terry, his favorite trait of Rockie’s is her likability. “Everybody likes her,” he says. “She’s got a great personality.”

Terry credits the longevity of their marriage to a generational attitude. “Back in our day, people married with the intention of making it last. People didn’t file for divorce because of a disagreement. Commitments aren’t as serious as they used to be.”

Rockie acknowledges the occasional tiffs. “We have had our disagreements. But we worked them out and every night we kiss before we go to sleep,” she says, “We also joke around a lot and stay active.”

What Miriam loves about Marty is his sense of humor. “He makes me laugh every day,” she says. As for Marty? He credits Miriam with his very life.

“She’s kept me alive,” he says. “She’s sent me to doctors when I’ve needed to go. She’s pressured me as women can do. When I get into bed at night and she’s sleeping, I make sure she’s breathing because I wouldn’t know what to do if she wasn’t with me. She does everything for me. It’s an unbelievable bond I have with my wife. She’s my world,” says Marty.

Marty looks across the years and sees the fullness of his life with Miriam.

“We have fun. We laugh a lot,” he says, “We’ve had a lot to cry about too. Tears go with it. Life isn’t always smooth. But if you stay the course through the ups and downs, everything works out. If you use your brain, you understand that you’ve got the best and you don’t screw it up.”
As Read in the Chicago Tribune