Love can take many forms, and nowhere is that more evident than at the Glen Cove Senior Center. Whether it’s a classic love story or a modern take on romance, all kinds of relationships blossom at the center — from Olga Scileppi and Herbert Schierhorst’s tale of finding new love later in life, to Helen and Rolando Francisco’s happily-ever-after story that has lasted 51 years.
While the two couples seem different, whether husband and wife or significant others, they share an understanding of how love can bring out the best things in life.
Forming a new family
Olga Scileppi, a retired teacher at Great Neck South High School, met Herbert Schierhorst, 79, a retired stationary engineer and U.S. Navy veteran, in the late 1990s, when she moved into the cul-de-sac where he lived in Glen Cove. At first, Schierhorst was simply a neighbor who waved hello, but when his wife, Florence, died in September 2002, Scileppi, a widow, visited him to express her condolences.
Then, hearing that Schierhorst wasn’t doing well, Scileppi invited him to join the North Shore Kiwanis Club, where she had served as the first female president. Schierhorst had spent years in Oyster Bay, volunteering to do repairs on the historic ship Christeen, so he was more than happy to join Kiwanis. But while he enjoyed helping others, he will be the first to acknowledge that he may have joined because he liked Scileppi. The only problem was that Scileppi wasn’t interested in him.
“I told him I wasn’t open to the idea of a relationship,” said Scileppi, who is coy about her age.
By 2005, the two had become good friends, and when she left on a month-long trip to visit family out West, it was Schierhorst who dropped her off at the airport. When Scileppi returned, three men had prepared gifts for her in hopes of winning her over, she recalled. One had bought a dozen roses. Another had prepared a romantic dinner. The third man had bought her three pairs of socks. Despite their efforts, they had all been beaten to the draw earlier that day, when Schierhorst picked her up at the airport and presented her with a single rose, a bunch of bananas, a dozen eggs, bread and milk.
“She was gone for a month, so I knew her fridge was empty and she would need those things,” Schierhorst said. “It never hurts to be practical.”
“That’s how I knew he was a keeper,” Scileppi said, laughing as she recalled the sight of Schierhorst with the rose and the groceries.
Although they are now a couple, the two avoid the labels boyfriend and girlfriend, preferring to go by significant other. While they live in their own homes, they share dinner every night, and travel together often. Schierhorst had not been on a plane since 1959, when he was in the Navy, but he was adventurous enough to take Scileppi, a veteran traveler, on a Christmas/New Year’s trip to Australia in 2006, where they enjoyed a show at the world-renowned Sydney Opera House.
Schierhorst said he was glad to have met Scileppi, who helped open him to new possibilities, including that of an extended family: Schierhorst never had children, while Scileppi had three. Her six grandchildren call Schierhorst “Popeye Herb,” a tribute of sorts to his career as a sailor, and have accepted him into their family.
Fated to be together
Helen Francisco, 76, and her husband, Rolando, 75, met in the Philippines, when they were both interning at the San Lazaro Hospital in the early 1960s. Although Rolando took notice of Helen, the two never got together, but they reunited in 1966, at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital in Queens, where Helen was working as a blood bank technologist and Rolando was a supervisor in the hematology department.
“He was smart and handsome back then,” Helen joked, “so how could I say no?”
The couple married in 1969 and moved to Glen Cove in 1973, where they raised two children, Gilbert and Marissa. In 2007, Helen retired from Manhasset Hospital, now North Shore Manhasset, and in 2008, Rolando retired from the Elmhurst Hospital Center. With work out of the way, the two began traveling around Europe, touring Italy, France and Switzerland.
In 2009, the couple joined the senior center, and they have enjoyed their membership, taking part in a variety of programs, including the YMCA exercise course. They call the facility their second home, since it also hosts the Travel Club of Glen Cove’s regular meetings. At those get-togethers, the Franciscos join as many as 250 other travel lovers in planning trips both abroad and to local casinos.
As they reflected on their 51 years of marriage, the couple said that the key to a long-lasting relationship is to be open-minded. Rolando said that arguments are inevitable when you’re with someone for so long, but rather than seeing them as conflicts, couples should use them as chances to learn from each other and understand the importance of compromise.
“Don’t just shut your partner out,” Rolando said. “You have to make sure both of you can voice your opinions.”