Lovebirds who connected through Jewish organizations JSL and JARC share their love stories.
Love is not just for Valentine’s Day. Love can happen when you least expect it, as in the case of these two couples who share their stories with us.
Nancy and Manny Kalef
Nancy and Manny Kalef are part of a love triangle.
They love each other without reservation — and they love the Meer Apartments, a senior community in West Bloomfield managed by Jewish Senior Life, where they’ve lived for almost three years.
Both Nancy and Manny married young. His first marriage ended after 27 years when he lost his first wife to cancer; hers ended after 22 years in divorce.
Manny, 89, graduated from Cass Tech in Detroit and then earned a degree in accounting after attending night classes at Wayne State for 13 years. He worked for Domestic Linen Supply for 64 years, starting as a clerk and retiring as vice president for finance.
Nancy, 85, graduated from Detroit’s Mackenzie High. She started nursing training at Grace Hospital but was forced to drop out after one year when she married. Her 60-year career included jobs in office management and human resources. Before she retired, in 2001, she ran her own information technology recruitment agency.
She and her husband knew Manny and his wife, Joan, through Centennial B’nai B’rith.
Nancy divorced soon after the wedding of their only child. About five years later, she ran into Manny at the grocery store and noticed how sad he looked. She asked about his social life, and he said he wasn’t dating much. She offered to go out to dinner with him to show him that it wasn’t difficult. They went to Steak & Ale on Northwestern Highway the next day, then watched a movie in her apartment.
As they parted, Nancy asked Manny if she could give him a hug, and he started to cry; he hadn’t had a meaningful relationship with a woman since Joan died.
They’ve been together ever since, marrying on June 3, 1979, at Congregation B’nai David. Nancy says the secret to their relationship is advice she recently passed on to a granddaughter before her wedding: Always try to please your partner at least 51 percent of the time.
Nancy has one daughter, Judy Lipson, as does Manny, Ellen Feldman (another daughter, Andrea, died at age 34); the daughters have become good friends. Between them, the Kalefs have six grandchildren and nine great-grands.
After marrying, the Kalefs lived in a small Southfield condominium complex for 37 years. She was president of the self-managed homeowners’ association and he was treasurer. By 2016, they were both tired of the responsibility.
They looked at some other retirement communities but knew they wanted to live in a Jewish environment. When they saw their Meer Apartments unit for the first time and realized the dents in the carpet would fit their furniture, they knew they’d found their bashert (meant to be) home.
Their two-bedroom, two-bath apartment can accommodate Manny’s treadmill and office space. Their small balcony overlooks a wetland. Meer, on the Jewish Community Campus, provides dinner five nights a week and a wealth of social programs for residents of its 198 units.
The Kalefs didn’t know many of their neighbors when they moved in, but they’ve become an important part of the community; Nancy is secretary of the residents’ council, and the Kalefs coordinate the building’s recycling program.
“We know this is the last place we are going to live together, and that one of us will be left alone,” Nancy said. “We are gung-ho on the building and on Jewish Senior Life. This is the place to be at our age.”
Carrie Gill & Steve Ludwig
In many ways, Carrie Gill and Steve Ludwig are a typical married couple.
They hold hands while they cuddle on the couch to watch TV in their Farmington Hills apartment. She tells him how to fold the sheets and where to put them away and makes sure his work uniform is on straight.
But Carrie and Steve have developmental disabilities and need help from the state and JARC, a Jewish-founded agency, to live together.
They met at a Halloween dance at the Troy Community Center. Carrie wore a bunny costume and Steve thought she was cute. Steve was dressed as a doctor and, at first, Carrie thought he was a real physician. “I said some silly stuff,” Steve said. “That’s how I got her.”
Carrie and Steve, both 50, dated for a few years before they decided to marry in 2012.
They didn’t take out a license or register their status with the state, explained Steve’s JARC care worker, Bernie Tague, because that could have complicated the benefits they receive for their care.
But, in all other respects, their Sept. 8 “life commitment” ceremony at the Grosse Pointe Community House was a real wedding: Carrie wore an embroidered satin wedding gown and carried a bouquet of roses. Steve wore a tux and gave his bride a ring.
Carrie’s cousin, Bryan D. Gill Sr., officiated, and eight witnesses signed the large document formalizing their commitment to be “partners in life.”
More than 100 guests attended the lakeside ceremony and the party that followed.
Steve is proud he helps support the couple by working as a bagger at the Kroger in West Bloomfield, a job he’s held for 28 years. “I bring home the money,” he said.
They live in the Hunter’s Ridge apartments near 14 Mile and Orchard Lake, where they’re part of the community. They walk the dog for one of their neighbors and cat-sit for another. Another neighbor drives Steve home from work on Fridays.
While Steve is working, Carrie takes care of the household chores — shopping, cleaning, laundry — with help from her JARC staffer Stephanie Lee.
About once a month, they return to the Troy community center for a dance. They like to eat out and to socialize with other JARC clients and staff.
They also enjoy traveling. They’ve been to family gatherings in Seattle and Georgia and, at the end of January, they spent four nights with other clients and staff at a timeshare JARC owns in Kissimmee, Fla.
Only a small number of JARC clients are married, although many have romantic relationships.
Carrie and Steve “are a totally married couple,” said Tague, who has been with JARC for 30 years. “When you see Steve and Carrie together you know that they are just meant to be together.”
“We’re a good team. We take care of each other,” Steve said. “We love each other very much, and we have a great life. We hope to be together forever.”
“Yeah, we will,” Carrie chimed in.