When Carol R. Ehrenkranz decided to start a Senior Chat Room at the Gulfport Multipurpose Senior Center where older people could gather to get to know one another and share their backgrounds, experiences, interests and opinions on life, she had no idea how successful her chat room might be.
All she knew is that in her business, – a 22-year-old company she started to provide low-cost personalized services to seniors in need of such necessities – she witnessed firsthand how lonely many older people were living by themselves and doing next to nothing. She hoped the chat room would stimulate socialization among seniors in the greater Gulfport area.
More than a year later, her hourlong Senior Chat Room, held Friday afternoons at 2 at the senior center, 5501 27th Ave. S., has done that and more. Not only are the weekly turnouts for the chat room tremendous, but recently a romance has blossomed between two chat room regulars – Arda Unjian, 98, and Arlene Wilbui, 93, both of Gulfport. Yes, you read that right: Arda is 98 and Arlene is 93.
Arda, originally from Armenia, is a former longtime Detroit resident, who earned a master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Michigan and for a time worked as a draftsman. After World War II, he decided to start his own business and had a successful career owning an architectural firm, designing various types of health-related buildings, primarily nursing homes and a hospital, for 40 years. When he wasn't working, he was boating. He owned several boats througout his life and even competed.
Arlene is originally from Exeter, NH, where she was employed for many years as a shoe worker for a company that manufactured dancing and children’s shoes. This included creating shoes for the famous June Taylor dancers and ballet slippers. She also worked for many years as a waitress for a fine dining restaurant called Kurtz. In addition, during the early years of her married life she raised five children, four girls and one boy, and today she is the proud grandmother and greatmother to a number of children in her large family.
So how did these two older people decide that in spite of their advance ages they wanted to date one another? According to both of them, Arda made the first move. He said, “What won me over immediately was her smile.” He also stated what he quickly learned about her that he admires is, that she is full of life and “a very happy person.”
For her, Arlene says, “Arda is so sweet. And he is a true gentleman. I am very independent, but he insists on opening doors for me. I haven’t quite adapted to his gentlemanly kindness yet.”
The two also share a love for music and dancing. In fact, Arda had a longtime dancing partner, who was the love of his life for 22 years, named Dee Dee. The two of them did almost everything together, from entertaining at nursing homes and retirement centers, to often going to theater or concert performances. She died earlier this year at age 89. Suddenly, Arda found himself without a partner, someone not only to share the dance floor with, but also to share life with.
Then, as Arda put it, when he met Arlene, “It was a miracle.” Not only was he taken with her beauty, he says, but he has found someone who has so much in common with him and with whom he can share life experiences, making the most of each day.
How long will these two new love birds continue to remain so? For now, Arda and Arlene will tell you they are loving every minute of it.
For information on the weekly Gulfport Senior Chat Room, call Carol R. Ehrenkranz at (727) 347-3424 or e-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.