He’s 101, she is 99 going on 100 – and they’ve been dating for 11 years. How’s that for the enduring spirit of romance?
Susan Lindenbaum and Ellis Gusky are native Pittsburghers who attended the same school but never met till decades later in California.
“It was a blind date,” Lindenbaum recalled with a chuckle and a strong voice by phone from a Los Angeles retirement community. “A friend of our daughters knew we both liked to play bridge and thought we should meet. And so we did, at the Beverly Hills Bridge Club. It grew into a long, loving relationship.”
Gusky, a retired musician, was 90 then; twice-widowed Lindenbaum was 89. “I’ve always liked his enthusiasm for life,” she said. “It’s good to find a person of the opposite sex, and we have stayed best friends.”
Each has slowed down a bit. Both now use walkers and have given up driving, she only three years ago. Nor do they go out “three or four evenings a week,” as before, to restaurants, concerts and “lots of movies.” But they always have dinner together and never feel confined, thanks to family and Access transportation.
Each maintains a separate apartment at Belmont Village, a large Wilshire Boulevard residence, where they were cheered as the oldest active couple on Valentine’s Day. (March 15 figures to be even more of a red-letter day for Lindenbaum. Her daughter, Barbara Wellisch, plans a “big do” for her 100th birthday.)
Gusky was 101 this past Dec. 18. His has been an active century. Born on the South Side, moving with family to Squirrel Hill, he loved sports and music, and graduated from Allderdice High School in 1932. (The then Susan Goodman was Class of ’33.) Gusky attended Duquesne University but had to drop out when his father died.
A clarinet and saxophone player, he joined well-known bands (Russ Morgan, Ted Fiorino) and toured widely in theater, radio and movie orchestras, even filling in with the Pittsburgh and NBC symphonies. Under the stage name Bob Ellis, he led his own band at Las Vegas hotels and eventually joined the management of L.A. radio stations headed by his son-in-law Saul Levine. On a trip to Pittsburgh in his 90s, Duquesne University awarded him the bachelor’s degree he had missed the first time.
Lindenbaum married high school sweetheart Bernard Palley, but he died young, leaving her with two small children. At the urging of cousins, she moved to California in 1948, met and married shoe merchant Sidney Lindenbaum, a widower also with two kids. Their 49-year union was enriched by a “blended” family, as she puts it, and today her blend includes nine grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren. Gusky has two grandchildren.
In her youth, a woman’s career was viewed as “taking care of husband, children and home,” Lindenbaum says without regret. But she also played golf and tournament bridge, becoming a life master at the latter. She still plays social bridge at least once a week. Sadly, she lost a son, Michael, at age 41, leaving a wife, Mary, and son John. Gusky’s only child, Anita Levine, died three years ago.
When Belmont Village profiled Gusky at age 100 in its campus newspaper, it highlighted a personal motto that his girlfriend says he still lives up to: “The best is yet to come.”
Jack Markowitz is a retired business editor living in Squirrel Hill.