Three couples share tales of loves that last

For the most romantic day of the year, The Daily Gazette looked for couples who have spent decades t
Eugene Gierka shares a moment with his wife Helen in her room at the Capital Living Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Rotterdam in December. She died a month later.
Eugene Gierka shares a moment with his wife Helen in her room at the Capital Living Nursing and Rehabilitation Centre in Rotterdam in December. She died a month later.

Valentines stick together. For the most romantic day of the year, The Daily Gazette looked for couples who have spent decades together. We asked them how friendship and love bloomed — and remained steady through the years. Here are three such stories.

When Eleanor-Ann Loughney exchanged vows with Paul Olbrich at the former St. Columba’s Church on May 9, 1964, they dedicated their marriage to the Blessed Mother.

“Heaven knows you need a little help once in a while,” said Eleanor-Ann, 71, sitting with Paul, 78, inside their Rotterdam living room. “It’s always good to have a woman in back of you.”

The two have appreciated the divine insurance during nearly 51 years together. It all started with a blind date in 1963.

Romance-minded members of the 18-Plus Ski Club introduced the couple on a cool spring day. Paul and his friend Peter Schaefer were hoping to show off — they wanted to be the first guys water skiing on the Mohawk River that season.

Eleanor-Ann, a 1961 graduate of Schenectady’s former St. Columba’s High School, dressed in blue jeans for the date with Paul, Peter and her friend Betsy Pepper.

“My father was not happy,” she said. “He said, ‘I can’t imagine anyone taking you out dressed like that.’ ”

Paul might have been more concerned with the weather.

“There was some ice on the water, and they couldn’t go in,” Eleanor-Ann remembered.

And the jeans were appropriate — the boat wasn’t too clean.

The date eventually moved to the Woodlin Club, and Paul changed his game plan.

“We had a good time,” he said.

More good times followed. After the wedding, the couple took a two-month honeymoon through Europe. Part of the trip was a homecoming for Paul, who emigrated from Germany as a teen and graduated from the former St. Joseph’s High School in Schenectady in 1955.

“I don’t know how I did it,” Paul joked. “I couldn’t speak English.”

Family followed — sons Gerard and Sean and daughter Christine.

“We’re very blessed,” Eleanor-Ann said. “We have a lot of good things in our lives.”

Paul worked as a mason and Eleanor-Ann in nursing and health care administration. While spending time together is key for long-term romance, the Olbrichs also believe in individual interests. Paul is involved with falconry and woodworking, while Eleanor-Ann likes to paint. The couple recently tried zip-lining.

“We sort of dared each other,” Paul said.

Investments in each other have kept the Olbrichs’ love vibrant.

“It’s the time you put into it,” Eleanor-Ann said. “There’s a lot of love when you put time into things.”

Learning experience

For Glenville residents Rosemary and Walter Pryne, love began at a school open house.

Walter Pryne taught industrial arts and driver education at Scotia-Glenville Junior High School. Rosemary visited the open house in 1958, and the two clicked. They married on Dec. 26, 1959.

“It wasn’t so long ago,” said Walter, now 86.

The couple found common loves in sports and golden retrievers. The friendly and curious Jack Daniels is their latest retriever, following Josh, Josh II, Kelly and Heartbreaker. There are photos and mementos of retrievers around the house.

There also are some Union College hockey reminders; the Prynes are season ticket holders and love their Dutchmen.

Sometimes, time apart is OK, too.

“I go my way, and he goes his,” said Rosemary, 77. “I’m pretty active at the casino. I can’t wait for the one that’s going to be five minutes away.”

Walter prefers to stay home on casino nights, after early betting trips became financial busts.

“Call him the ‘Kiss of Death,’ ” said Rosemary, who will take the occasional cruise with a girlfriend — Walter also stays off the water.

“Uncle Sam gave me enough cruises,” he said, smiling at the memory of serving in the Navy during the Korean War era.

“We’re active,” Walter added. “That’s the key — keeping active.”

Hockey season gives the Prynes a chance to watch favorite players and see favorite pals in the stands.

“We know the sport, and we like the sport. … We’ve made a lot of friends,” Rosemary said. “And we’re member of the Garnet Blades, the booster club. You get to meet the players and know them.”

Rosemary, also busy in civic groups such as the Scotia-Glenville Senior Citizens and the Proctors Theatre Guild board, says humor is something married couples should cultivate.

“Always do what the wife says — right, Walter?” she said with a smile.

Eternal love

For Eugene Gierka, love will survive until the end of time.

Eugene and his wife, Helen, were married for 69 years. Helen was living at Schenectady’s Capital Living Nursing Center in December when The Daily Gazette began interviews for the Valentine’s Day project.

Eugene had been visiting Helen twice a day for the year she was there, feeding her lunch and dinner every day.

“When I go to bed and get into that bed alone, I almost feel her next to me,” he said. “It tends to make me tear up a little bit and say a prayer.”

Helen died in January, but there are happy memories of a long union, which began in 1945.

Eugene, now 90, was a member of the Army Air Force’s 39th Photo Reconnaissance Squadron during World War II. He was home on furlough in the summer of ’45 when he and a friend went to a dance at the Polish Dance Hall in Cohoes.

“The band had not started playing,” Eugene remembered. “As I looked across the right-side middle of the seated people, I saw this beautiful young girl with dark brown, long hair with a bow on the right side of her head.”

Eugene didn’t hesitate. He introduced himself to Helen Slivienski, not quite 18, and they danced the night away.

It was love, like a thunderbolt. Eugene met Helen’s parents and impressed them by speaking Polish. The two married the next month, on Oct. 20, 1945, in a Polish ceremony at an Italian place called the Marconi Club.

There was plenty of fun over the years.

“We both liked the water, so we used to do a lot of swimming, boating and fishing,” Eugene said. “We also liked bowling. My brother-in-law used to run a bowling alley, so we spent a lot of time bowling.”

There were challenges, as well. Helen’s sister died at age 27, leaving four small children. The Gierkas raised them as their own, then became foster parents.

“We thought of children without a home, and we were blessed to do it,” Eugene said. “It was part of God’s plan.”

Eugene said he knows what keeps marriages working.

“My father gave me an analogy before I got married,” he said. “He told me it was a very serious thing, you were going to spend your whole life with her, so you’ve got to honor that marriage. It’s like a team of horses pulling a load. You’ve got to pull together, and these days we don’t see that too much. People go together for four or five years, they get married and two months later they’re divorcing.”

The Gierkas lived in Latham and the town of Saratoga for most of their 69 years together. For the past 10 years, home has been the Mont Pleasant section of Schenectady.

A love song is something else Eugene talks about when he’s talking about Helen: “A Love Until the End of Time,” as sung by Placido Domingo and Maureen McGovern. It’s a song the two sang together since they first heard it on the radio in 1988.

Eugene used to sing it to Helen in the nursing home. He thought it helped relax his wife.

In December, as Helen prepared for a nap, Eugene talked to her in a calm, soothing voice.

“Do you have a smile for me?” he asked, giving his wife a kiss. “I love you. … Do you love me?”

Helen couldn’t speak, but there was love in her eyes.

Eugene was at her side when Helen died Jan. 8 at age 86. He can take comfort in their past, and their song.

“I try to think of the happier times,” Eugene said earlier this week. “That’s helping me out.”

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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