Rosenblum: Wait is over for octogenarian brimming with life -- and love

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 11, 2012 - 8:47 PM
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Joan Ungar and Ed Simon

Recent news about women waiting longer to get married, if at all, resonated with Joan Ungar of Minnetonka. She waited. And waited.

On Sunday, Ungar will marry her beloved, Ed Simon, surrounded by about 100 family members and friends at Lake Minnewashta Regional Park in Carver County. She'll use the happy occasion to celebrate her birthday, too.

Her 80th birthday.

Ungar never expected to be single this long. She dreamed of marriage and children, her heart sinking a bit every time another girlfriend tied the knot. But the right guy didn't come along until now.

"It's been a real struggle for me," Ungar said. "That's why this is such a big thing."

To clarify, Ungar's 80th birthday isn't until next Tuesday, July 17. And she hasn't been single, exactly, for eight decades. She had a four-month marriage in her 40s.

Close enough. The woman who greeted me at her art-filled townhouse, barefoot and wearing yellow overalls over a white T-shirt, was more giddy teenage girl than world traveler and full-time therapist.

This is what love does to you -- at any age -- and it's worth writing about.

"Ed really sees me," Ungar said. "He's very open, especially at 82. He really likes my friends."

"This is a whole new life for me," said Simon, a widower. "Joan has brought me from loneliness to a life I never expected."

For those of you who can't wait to find out: They met online.

Ungar grew up in Los Angeles and graduated in 1954 from Smith College in Massachusetts. She worked overseas for eight years for the U.S. State Department, then moved back to California to study art and begin a lifelong exploration of spirituality.

After the brief marriage, she followed her spiritual trainer to the Twin Cities in 1980. She worked as an art therapist, earned a master's degree in human development from St. Mary's University and made peace with the fact that marriage might elude her.

"Before, I thought you married and somebody filled you up. But you have to fill yourself up first. I learned how to be happy single," Ungar said.

Simon followed a different path. Born in New Jersey, he served in the Army, then married at 21, working in merchandising and raising three children with his wife, Dione. His work took him from Brazil to Belgium. Their daughter died in 2003, of complications of diabetes, then Dione three months later, of heart disease.

Simon "ran away" to Florida to escape his pain, but it didn't work. "It wasn't a real life for me."

In 2010, his son Eric, living in Minneapolis, persuaded Simon to move here. Simon also has a son in Israel. He took a small St. Paul apartment and felt ready to date. "I didn't know what I wanted. I just knew I was lonely," he said.

He tried Match.com, then a site for Jewish singles called JPeopleMeet.com. When Ungar's profile appeared, "there was just something about the look on her face," Simon said. "And her profile kind of intrigued me."

He liked that she is an artist and world traveler. He liked her spiritual nature, too. "He thought I might be weird," Ungar said, "which I am."

After several e-mails and phone calls, they met for lunch. He was ready to marry her almost right away. She resisted.

"It's hard for me," she told him. "I'm scared of being trapped. Not growing. Being ordinary."

"I understand," he told her, "but I feel just the opposite. I think it's an opportunity to grow."

She listened hard to that. Standing in her kitchen on Feb. 25, she said breezily, "If we're going to get married, why don't we get married on my 80th birthday?"

They moved in together in April, merging furniture, art, quirks. She created a little office area for Simon, where he hangs photographs of his kids and grandkids. He got to keep his big lounge chair, too.

"Ugly as sin," Ungar said, smiling.

They love to ride bikes. They like the same plays and movies. They both hated "Bridesmaids." They're liberal politically. Both play bridge. He volunteers at the VA Hospital.

Their wedding will be a family affair, with rings designed by Simon's granddaughter, Daphna Simon. They will be married under a chuppah (traditional Jewish canopy) by a spiritual friend, accompanied by Ungar's nephew, Casey, a part-time cantor. Two of Ungar's girlfriends from Smith are coming, too, having promised long ago that they'd be at her wedding.

Recently, Ungar found a "soul card" she created in 2009. Soul cards use images and words to help the creator come to terms with powerful feelings at that time. Her card featured a white-haired couple and a clock about to strike midnight. The man is on one knee, the woman leaning in, as they kiss. The words she wrote three years before meeting Simon were these: "I am the one who holds on to being a bride after 80. Wisdom: It's never too late. Me: I wish I could believe this."

Now she can.

gail.rosenblum@startribune.com 612-673-7350

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