Over a dozen family members and friends gathered into the small art studio at the Arden Courts of Potomac memory care facility on Aug. 18. As Frank Sinatra music played in the background, the guests of honor, Jack and Shirley Serber, opened cards before the speeches began and the cake was cut.
The couple, both 100 years old, were celebrating their 79th wedding anniversary, to the day.
They first met at sleepaway camp, that classic Jewish American cradle of true love, when they were 19 years old. Shirley was a swimming instructor, and Jack led arts-and-crafts activities.
“She struck me. I was attracted to her during the summer,” Jack said. He asked Shirley out — and she rejected him.
“I had to convince her I was a good guy,” he said.
Jack didn’t give up, and eventually she agreed to give him a shot. Two years later, they married in Manhattan.
Almost eight decades later, “We still love each other, and we look forward to many more years [together],” he said.
Even though Shirley suffers from dementia, she still remembers a lot about her life with Jack and described him as “wonderful, sexy and humorous.” Jack doesn’t need to be in the home for health reasons, but went there to stay close to his wife.
Local rabbi David Abramson offered a blessing to the couple at the party. Rabbi Abramson was Jack’s “bar mitzvah” tutor when he decided to read from the Torah for the first time in the 1980s.
The couple is close with their ever-growing family. At the party were their three children — Peter, Bob and Pat — along with three of their seven grandchildren and one of their great-grandchildren. While not everyone could attend the anniversary celebration, they all came together in May to celebrate Shirley’s 100th birthday.
Shirley still recognizes her family members, and has taken to calling her great-granddaughter Sloane “princess.”
All of the family present said Jack and Shirley share a wonderful sense of humor, and that they don’t like being separated from each other for very long. When Jack drops Shirley off at one of the center’s activities, he gives her a kiss before he departs.
They also spoke of how supportive the couple’s relationship is, and how much they admired them for staying together all this time.
“Shirley has always been there for Jack. Even when she’s not feeling great, the first thing she’ll ask is if Jack’s doing okay,” said Marc Serber, one of the Jack and Shirley’s grandsons. “It’s really beautiful to see that. That’s really the biggest part of her life.”
“I really do feel like that they’ve always lived for each other,” he said.
The couple are also a huge hit with the facility’s staff. Amanda Hunter, the program director at Arden Courts, organized the whole event. Everybody working at the home signed a card congratulating the couple, which presented to them during the party.
“[Shirley] is with us all the time,” said Hunter. “She loves to talk about her garden. She’ll talk about her kids and her grandkids, and that she loves coffee.”
Jack doesn’t participate in as much programming, preferring to take walks, she said. During the afternoon snack break, he’ll come in to sit with Shirley “and hold her hand and kind of lean in with her.”
So, what is the secret to a marriage that goes the distance like Jack and Shirley Serber’s?
“They love each other, and they care about each other. And they’re patient,” said their daughter Pat Neustadt, of Bethesda.
Shirley did not mince words when the question was posed to her.
“Good sex,” she said, drawing merry laughter from the crowd.
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