Aging Matters: Love the second time around

Connie Marchese Baum and Frank Baum at Grand Canyon.
Connie Marchese Baum and Frank Baum at the Grand Canyon.
Courtesy of the Baums

Most people like companionship and that doesn’t necessarily change with age. Especially among seniors who had good and long marriages in their younger years.  

I got to observe that firsthand decades ago when my father remarried a year after my mother died of brain cancer. He had been my mother’s primary caretaker for five years and was distraught and lonely. 

His sister (my aunt) used to get my father and her best friend together for Sunday afternoon lunches. She was not trying to play matchmaker, but both had just lost their spouses and she thought lunch out would be a nice thing to do.  

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But those lunches led to marriage a year later. They were happily married for 20 years until my father passed away.  

It turns out their experience is not uncommon. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 22% of men and 19% of women over age 70 had married twice, while 8% and 6%, respectively, entered into a third marriage.  

“As the life expectancy of old persons has steadily increased and they are living into their 80s and 90s, so too have they had to reconsider traditional ways of spending their later years,” said gerontologist Stephan M. Golant, a University of Florida professor. “Just as we now accept second careers, we also have discarded the notion a late-life divorce or loss of a spouse, means we should not seriously reconsider partnering or marriage and initiating a new intimate relationship.” 

Warren and Charlene Zurheide, both widowed, moved to The Villages, met and later married. Courtesy of Charlene Zurheide
Courtesy of the Zurheides Warren and Charlene Zurheide, both widowed, moved to The Village at Gainesville, met and later married.

Many older people are on dating sites. Some meet, date, move in together or even marry. Connections have been made. In early August, Forbes magazine published a list of the best senior dating sites of 2023, which include Senior Match, eHarmony and Elite Singles. 

The popularity of senior dating sites might be a result of the increasing rate of “gray divorce,” a term used to describe couples over 50 who are going their separate ways. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 38 million people in the United States live alone. Sixteen million of them are over the age of 65.  

ABC no doubt has this group in mind as it plans to air The Golden Bachelor in the fall, a dating/reality TV show featuring a “golden bachelor.” The subject is a good-looking man of 71—perhaps too good looking, some pundits joke. 

Many older couples also still meet the old-fashioned way—in person. 

When Warren and Charlene Zurheide tell their story, it sounds more like a high school romance or an early Beatles song.  Warren, now approaching 90, and Charlene, 85, both were residents of The Village retirement community in Gainesville when they met.  

“When I first saw her, we were going to lunch at the Lake House (a building on campus) and I saw her sitting there and I thought wow, because I had been looking,” Warren said. “I thought she’s got to be visiting here. She looks too young to live here.  

“Then I saw her again three weeks later with other people. And then the following month I saw her sitting in the audience for a resident’s meeting, so I knew she had to be living here. And I said woo-hoo, now it’s serious!” he said   

But it took a little longer for the two to meet.  

“I had been here a couple of months, and I was trying out different activities to see what I liked,” Charlene said. “I went to Coffee Central and was sitting next to the man in charge of outdoor activities. Bocce ball was up next, and I had never played before.” 

That was about to change.  

“He sent me down to the courts and Warren was there and setting things up,” she said. “I came walking up to Warren and he looked at me in disbelief. The first thing Warren did was get my name, phone number and where I lived.”  

The two played bocce ball, went to lunch afterward, and they’ve been together ever since.  

“He searched for me, and I found him,” Charlene said. 

That was St. Patrick’s Day 2016. Warren had moved into The Village in 2014, while Charlene moved in a year later. After 14 months of courtship, they got married; and have just observed their sixth anniversary. Both had long first marriages, over 50 years each, and both were caregivers for their respective spouses before they passed away. 

They live in a “blended” two-bedroom apartment with his furniture mixed with hers, except for a model train set Warren has put together in their guest bedroom. They are never apart. In fact, Warren can only recall one day of separation after they first met, when he had previous plans to go on a trip to Disneyworld.  

Their adult children approve of the match, so it’s a win-win for everyone.  

Anne Carlson Bonus and Bob Bonus who met at Oak Hamoock. Courtesy of Bob Bonus
Courtesy of Bob Bonus Anne Carlson Bonus and Bob Bonus who met at Oak Hammock.

Another win-win is the marriage between Bob Bonus and Ann Carlson Bonus, also ages 89 and 85. They met at Oak Hammock at the University of Florida, where both had been living and were caretakers for their respective spouses.  

“There were common areas and we had mutual friends and we also knew about each other in skilled nursing,” Bob said. “So, you get to know people that way. She came and used to read to my wife, and that was on a casual basis.” 

Ann says the couple’s first “date” was when she asked him to go with her to the car wash, something he had never done before.  

A young Jim Gibbs and Rita Jo Perry dated while in college and got back in touch 50 plus years later.
Courtesy of the Perrys A young Jim Gibbs and Jo Rita Perry dated while in college and got back in touch 50 plus years later.

“We took bus trips to nature sites and museums, and that makes it easy to get into a beginning relationship,” she said. “And you can always have a meal together because you are in the same place at the same time.” 

Ann said living in a community can make things progress more quickly because “you can have three dates a day for different things, whether it is a walk or a meal. Outside you might have just one date in a week.” 

Bob is a retired surgeon, while Ann was a teacher. She jokes that it was love “at second sight,” talking about his “sweet bedside voice.”   

They too were quick to marry, taking their vows on Ann’s 79th birthday six years ago. But each keeps a place in their heart for their first spouse.  

“Bob and I have been married 120 years,” Ann jokes. “We had good marriages, and we are not throwing those years away.” 

Sometimes finding love later in life can happen when an old romance is ignited.  

Jim Gibbs, 85, and Jo Rita Perry, 84, first met and dated each other 65 years ago when they were college students working a summer job at Montreat, a conference center in western North Carolina. They were boyfriend and girlfriend that summer, but as so often happens with summer romances, in the fall they went their separate ways and their lives took them in other directions.  

Jim and Jo Rita have a mutual friend with whom they had independently maintained contact. When Jo Rita found out from this friend that Jim’s spouse had passed away, she sent him a condolence card, including her address and phone number. 

It turned out Jo Rita lived in Virginia now, and so did Jim, about three hours apart from each other. And Jo Rita lived in an area of the state that Jim wanted to visit because of its proximity to many historical locations.  

Jim got in touch with Jo Rita and asked if they could meet for lunch. They did, and the rest is history – at least as far as their interests go in music and American history. They have been traveling together now for almost three years and enjoying every minute of it, but have chosen not to marry. 

“We maintain separate residences,” Jim said. “We have been traveling two and a half years and we get together probably twice a month, at least for a week at a time.” 

Jim Gibbs and Rita Jo Cox Perry on a Road Scholar trip last year to Montreat, North Carolina.
Jim Gibbs and Jo Rita Cox Perry on a Road Scholar trip last year to Montreat, North Carolina.

Travel provides a common connection point for new couples. Connie Marchese Baum, 75, and her husband, Bill Baum, 72, credit their second marriage to their mutual interest and to a Road Scholar trip.  

“We both signed up for a Road Scholar trip to Kentucky in 2009, and that’s where we met—and we just hit it off,” Connie said. “We kept in touch and we decided to go on another trip we were interested in, and we did a little bit more of that. And things progressed.” 

Both are choral music singers and have been participating in a choral music program at Abingdon, Virginia, every year.  

“We sing together with a group all week,” Connie said. “And then we perform at the end of the week. We have a fun talent show night and we thought why not get married there, and that will be our act in the talent show. 

“It was fun. And we didn’t tell anyone except for the program director because we just wanted to be last on the talent show program,” Connie said. 

As Connie tells it, Bill, a pianist, sang “I’ll Have To Say I Love You With A Song.” Then he introduced the justice of the peace.  

“And everybody just kind of fell out,” Connie said. “They are people we have gotten to know very well. They were just really excited for us. [The ceremony] was short and sweet.”  

Editor’s note: This is the 11th story in Mainstreet’s Aging Matters series. It was independently reported by Ronnie Lovler and underwritten by Elder Options. Some reporting was made possible by Lovler’s acceptance as a fellow into the 2022 Age Boom Academy, a program of the Columbia Journalism School, the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center, and the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.  

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Connie Morrison

I love these stories, Ronnie!!