Here’s a story to help you feel young at heart no matter how old you happen to be.
While paging through The New York Times recently, an article by Vincent M. Mallozzi really impressed me. It was about an elderly man and woman who had fallen in love and decided to get married. You may find this hard to believe, but the bride was 98 years old; the groom was 94 years old; and they had met eight years ago while working out at the gym — which is where they still exercise twice a week.
It was hard to figure out what was most surprising about these senior citizen newlyweds. Was it the fact that they had fallen in love around the age of 90? Was it the fact that they had each lived such full and accomplished lives? Or was it the fact that they were so healthy and spry while most people their age tend to be infirm, in a nursing home or in pain?
Let me tell you a little bit about Gertrude Mokotoff and Alvin Mann, who were married at the city hall in Middletown, N.Y., on Aug. 5.
Mokotoff was born in Brooklyn in 1918. She graduated from Brooklyn College and earned a master’s degree in biology from Columbia University. In 1941, when she was 23, she married a cardiologist. They lived in Manhattan until 1952, when she persuaded her husband to relocate to Middletown.
In addition to raising four children, she worked as a biology professor at Orange County Community College in Middletown and started the first training program for electron microscopy technicians.
When she reached the age of retirement, she entered politics instead and eventually became the first woman mayor of Middleton. She served two consecutive terms and, while in office, spearheaded the creation of a modern library for the town. In 2002, after 61 years of marriage, her husband died.
Mann’s story is completely different but equally impressive. In 1943, when he was 19, he was a second engineer on a variety of ships during World War II. In 1947, he married and began a secretarial service business in Manhattan, even though he hated big-city life. In 1960, he bought a home in Cuddebackville, N.Y., near the Catskill Mountains.
But after 20 years, his marriage ended in divorce. The couple had one son. He then married an art historian and artist from Great Neck, N.Y., a marriage that gave him two step-daughters. In 2007, she died after 45 years of marriage. So far, there’s nothing truly remarkable about Mann’s life, right?
But in 2016, he earned the honor of becoming the oldest person to ever graduate from Mount Saint Mary College, in Newburgh, N.Y. The college also awarded him an honorary doctorate earlier this year.
Here’s the kicker: At 93 years of age, he drove 80 miles round-trip twice a week for more than two years in order to accumulate the 30 credits he needed to earn the history degree he’d first started working toward back in the 1970s. And today, Mann’s neighbors are even more amazed that he still drives his old Ford tractor, chops down trees, cuts grass and stacks his own firewood.
Mokotoff’s maid of honor was her 71-year-old daughter. Mann’s best man was his 71-year-old son, and Mokotoff walked down the aisle to a guitar rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
“Age doesn’t mean a damn thing to me or to Gert,” the groom said. “We don’t see it as a barrier. We still do what we want to do in life. … We do not let anything we cannot control bother us in the least.”
— Marilyn Murray Willison is a columnist, motivational speaker and journalist, and author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes. Click here to contact her, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.