Failed starts with Russian brides can open new doors

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When love comes in your 80s, say "I Do!"

Date: 2007-01-17

I just love her so much," said the groom, gazing adoringly at his bride. "And I am so happy to be married to you," answered the bride, clasping his arm. Calvin "Cal" Netter and Jane Hockstein, the groom and bride respectively, both live at Holley Court Terrace, 1111 Ontario St., a senior community in Oak Park. They have known each other for only five months but, at 85 and 82 respectively, took the time-honored plunge and got married last Saturday.

"It's the first wedding at Holley Court Terrace," says Anna Cotto, Holley Court marketing director. "We have many romantic relationships and many, many close friendships, but this is the very first marriage among residents."

Despite their certainty, both Cal and Jane respected the potentially sensitive feelings of their families and friends.

"She asked my permission. I was kind of surprised" said her son, Gregg Hockstein. "I went to dinner with them, and he is nice." Greg said the only advice he gave Netter about his mother was, "Don't pull her-she's not on roller skates." He and his twin brother "gave the bride away" in the formal ceremony Jan. 14 in the Oak Park Room at Holley Court.

"He drives and he even has her driving again!" Greg says. "She gave up her license six years ago-just didn't renew it-but he went with her to get her license."

The bride's sister, Maureen Walner, said, "She is so happy. Jane is just good to everybody and has many friends here." Jane told her sister about meeting Netter, so Walner has been following the rapid romance. "She acted so surprised that he wanted to spend so much time with her-she looks beautiful, just so happy," Walner observes.

Jane has a special personal style that is outgoing and friendly to all at Holley Court, notes Cotto. "She wears red cowboy boots and dresses very fashionably because she is so fashion-conscious, I asked her what she was going to wear to the wedding, and she said a wheat-colored suit."

Hockstein's daughter, Greer Haseman, a Realtor with Town Square Associates in River Forest, took her mother shopping for her understated wedding outfit. "We chose a St. John knit suit," Haseman said of the sophisticated, beige ensemble. The groom wore a traditional black suit with a yellow rose in the lapel.

"It's just so cool-don't you think?" says Haseman, who was the first of the bride's family to meet Netter. "He wanted to sell his River Forest condominium, and my mother told him, "Well, I have a daughter who is a Realtor," Haseman recalls.

More than 100 guests turned out for the ceremony in a room that usually accommodates up to 90 people.

"Mom has so many friends here," Haseman said. Her mother was married previously for 49 years, lived in Oak Park, raised a family and worked as a customer service associate for Sears. She's been a resident of the facility for a year and a half. "I can't say enough good things about Holley Court," says Haseman. "She just loves it here-she has met good friends and does many social activities. It's a treasure in this area."

Netter's family helped him settle into Holley Court in August, "and he met Jane the next day," says his niece, Susan Giangiulio. "We believe my Auntie Lynn is watching over him and guiding him-everything has been so smooth," she says, referring to Netter's late wife. Giangiulio can't help noticing numerous coincidences that point to "Auntie Lynn's" intervention.

Her husband, who is in the Air Force, was deployed when they first helped situate Netter in Holley Court. Now less than a year later, Giangiulio says, he was recently deployed again and cannot attend the ceremony. "He says it isn't Iraq," Giangiulio says tearfully,

"but I don't know where he is." She travelled from Florida for the ceremony and her identical twin sister, Barbara Olenky, came from Columbus, Ohio.

"Did you notice the willows in the flower arrangements are starting to bloom?" Giangiulio asked her sister. "It's another sign that Auntie Lynn is with us."

Since they met, Netter has sent his bride a dozen roses every week.

"I never knew what color they would be," Jane said. "He is very romantic." Roses, she says, are her favorite flower.

Age is relative, love is eternal

"Chronological age only says so much about a person," notes Erin Snell, Community Outreach coordinator for Holley Court. Love is love at any age. The two met on Aug. 15 in the evening.

"He saw me and invited me to eat dinner with him," she said. "I told him I already had a date with my friend, Dorothy, and he was relieved it was with a woman and not a gentleman!"

The two have been dining out and socializing together ever since. "We have so much in common," says Netter. They both lived in the Oak Park/River Forest area for most of their lives, and share the same religion and politics, among other things.

"Senior living is really not unlike that of the lives of everyone else," observes Cotto.

"We have Manhattan and Martini Mondays," says Kathleen Mullaghy, Holley Court's executive director. "We celebrated Chinese New Year a few days ago with a trip to tour Chinatown, and we had a special dinner here with Mai Tais."

Cotto adds that the chefs prepare healthy food with lower sodium and an emphasis on dietary restrictions. "We have a philosophy of sound mind and body-we live that on daily basis."

While some residents use walkers and are restricted, many are very active.

"We have the oldest member of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra [living here]-a cellist," Cotto says, "and a woman who is a docent at the Art Institute who rides the train to Chicago regularly." She says she has another couple living at Holley Court Terrace where the husband is still a practicing stockbroker.

Holley Court residents are about two-thirds female and one-third male, Mullaghy says. "When a man joins the community, he is definitely checked out," she says, noting that romance at Holley Court, and other senior centers where she has worked, often takes the form of close friendships. "You are wiser at this stage of life. Often the friendships and relationships you form are deeper," she says. "We don't have what you would call 'dating' really here-people eat dinner together or go to social activities together. It is more based on companionship, but, yes, some do have sex."

One resident said, "Everyone here has a special friend who looks out for them-you know, if they aren't at dinner, they say, 'Where's so and so?' We are all social, but there are different groups within Holley Court that people are in."

Champagne reception

Holley Court provided the reception for the residents and invited guests-including champagne, hors d'oeuvres and a white cake from Roeser's Bakery.

"A Catholic Mass is held every Saturday at 3:30, so we tied into that," said Cotto. Indeed, it was beyond standing room only. Some guests sat outside the hall.

"When I was a judge, I once performed 85 ceremonies in one day," said a female resident, nattily attired, while waiting for the couple to enter the reception area. "Of course, those weren't religious ceremonies-just civil weddings."

"Many people here have had important jobs and some were even quite famous," says another resident who didn't want to give her name. "You just know them here as 'so and so,' but when you find out more about them, they had very special talents and had real accomplishments when they were younger." She says Holley Court has all economic levels. "Some are very rich, but then there are some who are just getting by-but, well, you have to be reasonably situated because it is very nice here."

Holley Court, with its chandeliers, thick carpeting and panelled walls, has the feeling of a grand hotel or a cruise ship more than a senior residence.

"We weren't really surprised," says one resident of the Netter-Hockstein marriage. "They hit it off right away, and he gave her a beautiful engagement ring which she showed us all."

Jane is giving up her apartment and will share Netter's. "We have a waiting list for two-bedroom apartments but there are a few one bedrooms available. Holley Court is almost always fully occupied," says Mullaghy.

The couple, who will spend a week in Florida after the wedding festivities, invited all residents to attend their reception and asked for "no gifts." Despite the request, many brought beautifully-wrapped presents and cards. A ribbon was tied onto a little wall hanging that read, "And They Lived Happily Ever After."

That's what newlyweds of all ages hope for.

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