First reported 2/14/2010 6:00 p.m.

Love is in the air – nearly five centuries’ worth – at Belmont Village Senior Living in Oak Park.

On Friday morning, staff of the retirement home honored eight resident couples that together boast 493 years of marriage. The couples each range from 49 to 67 years of wedded bliss.

“We just wanted to celebrate the genuineness of their love for one another and mark the milestones of these marriages,” says director Janay Hacker.
Rudolph and Martha Chàvez were married on Jan. 3, 1961. They met at a club where Mr. Chàvez was playing the conga.

“I noticed him playing the drum and he had a big cigar in his mouth,” says Martha Chàvez. “Then he asked me to dance.”

They saw each other for six weeks until she finally proposed. Her then-fiancé, who had just left the Marine Corps, sold his blood for $5 a pint to save up for the wedding. He borrowed a suit and a car for their wedding day, and gave his new bride a $6 ring during the ceremony at the old Methodist church on Polk and Taylor streets in Chicago.

“My mother didn’t want me getting married at all. She came over from Mexico four days after the ceremony and was so angry,” Martha Chàvez says, smiling that she stood up to her mom and stood up for her man.

Rudolph Chàvez worked as a truck driver and later at the Field Museum geology lab for 10 years. After that, he joined his wife working for the Chicago Board of Education.
Martha Chàvez worked at the elementary school her two sons attended in Little Village. She says they raised their kids to be close to each other and feels they were good examples for their sons.

“You can’t make anyone be the way you want. So unless it’s a big problem, you have to work through it,” she says smiling at her husband and jokingly elbowing him: “You weren’t a womanizer, were you?”

Martha Chàvez says that many people today don’t take marriage seriously and don’t put the needed work into relationships.

 “Especially if you have children, you can’t split without hurting them,” she says. “Marriage is not easy, but that’s the way it is. The love we had for our kids made us want to work things out. We didn’t want our kids in the middle of squabbles.”

The couples each posed for the camera holding their wedding photos, holding hands, and even kissing.

“It was really nice to see them looking at their wedding photos. And we didn’t have to convince them to smooch!” Hacker said. “Everybody is on a date tonight.”

Drs. Herbert and Ruth Lerner met in their junior year of medical school at the University of Chicago. She had just come from Prague and was finishing her studies.

“She was beautiful,” Dr. Herbert Lerner says of the woman he married. “We met at lunchtime and found we both liked to play tennis. She used to beat me all the time.”

He described the small wedding ceremony in his mother’s parlor and how they were both so busy working. They had to run around the day of the nuptials in December 1950 to convert a birthday cake into a wedding cake.

“I don’t remember how I proposed to her, but we just fell in love,” Dr. Herbert Lerner says.

As they were positioned for pictures, Dr. Lerner looked at his wife of 59 years smiling up at him.

“Oh, boy, you look so good,” said Dr. Ruth Lerner. “Are you free after this?”

After the photos were taken, the couples were treated to a private lunch of lobster, steak, roasted vegetables, champagne and chocolate-covered strawberries.

At the luncheon, Rudy Chàvez Jr. read a letter to his parents aloud, thanking them for being examples of enduring love.

Dr. Lerner read a short Valentine’s Day poem to his wife: “Though your psyche is in decline, your beauty is divine. Will you be mine? Will you be my Valentine?”

Each of the couples earned audible admiration and laughter from everyone in the room.

“Seeing the steady love, how it’s lasted all these years, it’s so emotional,” said photographer Lia Landis. “I learned a lot about life today, about the stages of life and marriage. Mrs. Chàvez asked me how long I’d been married. And when I told her 15 years, she told me we were still in the honeymoon stage.”

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