A not-so-final word: Taking the project beyond the classroom

The semester at Rowan University is wrapping up, as is my Online Journalism I course for which I created this blog.

However, I have enjoyed the project so much and found it to be different enough — in terms of the topic of profiling couples who have been married for many decades — from anything else online that I plan to continue it as an independent project.

So if anybody knows of an interesting couple who would be willing to participate, feel free to drop me an e-mail at sternrobert@mac.com or leave a message on the blog.

Thank you for reading, listening and watching the posts on here as I experimented with various media forms and online tools.

I am especially grateful to all the couples who have shared their stories so generously.

In closing, here are my favorite posts on this blog from this fall:

1)  No secret to their success, except marathons and dancing

2)  Keeping marriage together Seinfeld-style

3)  A little chalk and a lot of chemistry

4)  Sweet 61 (My first blog entry with video)

5)  What do you value in relationships? (My first instant poll) Although the poll itself hardly got any participants, much to my chagrin, I was glad to try engaging visitors through a poll and to learn how simple it is to create an interactive poll.

And maybe reposting the poll will get some of you to spend 30 seconds to answer it.

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Sweet marriage brings South Jersey couple joy for 61 years

Sarah and Ed Fiscella’s marriage of 61 years started off as the puppy love of teenagers drawn by physical attraction.

She was 14 and he was 16 when the two of them first met in 1944, at a friend’s “Sweet 16″ birthday party in West Philadelphia, where they both lived.

Soon after the party, they started “seeing each other” — they didn’t call it dating back in those days, Sarah explained.

He was drafted into the Army right after he graduated from high school in 1945, serving on the Pacific front in the closing months of World War II and for about another year or so after that in Japan.

During his deployment, he and Sarah stayed close by writing letters to each other on a regular basis.

She graduated high school in 1947 and the following year they got engaged — after he formally asked for and got her father’s blessing.

“Back in those days, getting married was just the normal thing to do,” she said. “That’s the way it was for everyone.”

They got married in a large ceremony at St. Donato Roman Catholic Church in Philadelphia on May 29, 1949.

Way off the mark

Her father, however, wasn’t convinced that the marriage would last much more than a year and told Ed so.

Looking back on that wildly errant prediction now, they both laugh at just how wrong her father was and how right they were for one another.

And, while their love to each other has been strong throughout the years, Sarah Fiscella wonders if her father’s low confidence in the depth of their commitment made her just that much more determined to have the marriage last.

She credits the closeness with their children, love, trust and patience that they have for each other for making their marriage a success.

“We feel for each other, 61 years later, the way we did when we first met,” she said. “Right, hon?”

“I don’t know about that,” he replied impishly, making her chuckle.

Actually, he said, they are as happy together now as they’ve ever been, maybe even happier.

He said one reason, in addition to those Sarah listed, it has worked so well between them is that they both worked, with him especially putting in long hours, which gave them plenty of time apart over the years.

They lived in Philadelphia for several years before moving to Upper Darby, Pa., where they raised their two children — Ed Fiscella Jr. and Renee Marie — and lived for 48 years.

They moved to Sicklerville, N.J., four and a half years ago so they would be closer to their son, who lives 10 minutes away and can be over quickly in case his parents, who are now 83 and 80, need his help.

Their children have five children of their own now, and one of them is a new mom herself, giving Ed and Sarah Fiscella their first great-grandson and expanding the circle of love and pride they feel for their family.

Ed Fiscella worked in hotel management for most of his 35-year career, climbing his way up from trainee apprentice to food and beverage director for numerous Hilton hotels in the Philadelphia area.

Cooking up a storm

He developed a fine talent for cooking, something that his wife has savored over the years.

“He can whip up a meal and make it look good too,” she said. “Our favorites are pastas. And he makes great meatballs.”

He is a former president of the National Association of Catering Executives, which in 2003 inducted him into its hall of fame.

Sarah worked as a secretary for a doctor’s office and later as a transcriptionist in the radiology department at Delaware County Memorial Hospital, where she worked for 20 years and ended up being supervisor of the hospital’s transcriptionists.

Even after retirement, she worked for another 10 years on a part-time basis doing medical transcription for Philadelphia-area hospitals.

Neither of them has a college degree — although Ed, the oldest of three brothers, took courses at the Cornell University’s Hotel School and the Denver School of Culinary Arts.

Sarah, the second-youngest of six siblings, said she would have loved to have gone to college, but her father, who was a shoemaker who immigrated from Italy, was a traditionalist who did not think women needed to go to college.

Back in those days, that mindset was common, so she didn’t make a big deal of it.

And in any case, she said she is quite content with the course of her life, in no small part due to her marriage.

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An interactive timeline look at the longevity of marriage

Go ahead, give it a whirl!

I’ve put together a little interactive timeline feature that offers some revealing trends and statistics about marriages in the United States and just how many of them reach various milestone anniversaries intact.

When you get to the timeline, which I called “Marriages: How many are made to last?” you can click on any of the timeline entries for statistics related to that specific period.

You can also scroll down the timeline page and see the encapsulated details listed in sequence or choose the “List” view option from the top left of the timeline.

Alternately, you can view each entry like a slideshow by selecting the “Flipbook” option at the top left of the timeline. Scroll over the title of each slide in the Flipbook view to read the details for that time period.

The timeline, which is on www.dipity.com offers a look at what share of first marriages reached select major anniversaries, as of 2004.

Generally speaking, the more recent the marriage, the less likely it is to reach milestone anniversaries. Not surprisingly, the higher the anniversary, the lower the share of marriages forged long ago enough to make it to that anniversary actually do so.

The data, which is broken down by gender into five-year periods starting with 1955-1959, is from the U.S. Census Bureau and includes anniversaries reached in 2004 or earlier. The Bureau’s statistics only include data up to the 40th anniversary for the earliest marriages in the survey — those that started in the 1950s.

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U.S. marriage prospects at historical low, study finds

Americans are less likely to be married today than at any time in the nation’s history, according to a new survey and data analysis from the Pew Research Center.

Only 52 percent of U.S. adults 18 and older were married in 2008, compared with 58 percent in 1990 and 72 percent in 1960, according to the Pew survey, conducted in partnership with Time magazine and released Thursday.

Over the last five decades, the percentage of adults in the U.S. who were separated or divorced nearly tripled from 5 percent in 1960 to 14 percent in 2008.

And the percentage of adults who never married increased from 15 percent in 1960 to 27 percent in 2008, according to the Pew report.

Increasingly, Americans are having their first marriage later in life than they used to or not marrying at all.

Just 26 percent of those in their 20s were married in 2008, compared with 68 percent who were married in their 20s in 1960.

These trends are reflected in the public’s attitude toward marriage, with 39 percent of the respondents in the Pew/Time survey saying that they believe marriage is obsolete. Back in 1978, when the U.S. divorce rate was near its all-time high, Time magazine posed that question in a survey of registered voters but only 28 percent of respondents said they believed marriage to be obsolete.

One corollary of the decline in marriage has been an astronomic rise in the percentage of U.S. children born to unmarried mothers over the last five decades.

In 2008, 41 percent of children were born to unmarried mothers, compared with just 5 percent in 1960, according to the Pew report.

Marriage is significantly more likely among college graduates than those without any college experience, while black adults are about 43 percent less likely to be married than white adults.

The marriage gap based on education or race has widened significantly over the years, according to the Pew report.

Among adults, both married and single, the top reasons for getting married are love, followed by making a lifelong commitment and companionship.

Here are links to the full Pew report and the Time magazine article.

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Test your knowledge about marriage statistics

So how in tune are you with the current state of marriage in the United States and with historical trends? Take my short, five-question, multiple-choice quiz (below) to find out.

Unfortunately, WordPress does not allow embedding of the quiz directly into the blog, so you have to follow this quiz link. Once you complete the quiz, you can see your results and find out all the correct answers.

Sources for the statistics in the quiz come from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Pew Research Center and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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International affair: Princeton couple’s long marriage started with chance encounter in Paris

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So many occurrences we cherish in life begin with a perfect alignment of the stars, the magic of being in the right place at the right time.

That’s the case for Jacques and Rosalie Fresco, who lived on opposite sides of the Atlantic and first crossed paths in July 1957 while both were spending a short time in Paris.

(Article continues below sound clips.)

Listen to Jacques Fresco:

Listen to Rosalie Fresco:

Rosalie, who grew up an only child in South Wales in the U.K., had just finished her first year of teaching home economics in London when her parents took her on her first trip abroad, a family vacation in Paris.

One evening, while her father stood examining his guidebook in front of the Musée de Cluny, an American stranger offered his help with a little geographic orientation.

That was Jacques Fresco, who was spending a few months in Paris that year doing research in biochemistry at a lab in the Sorbonne.

Jacques, now 82, who at the time was employed as a researcher at Harvard University, was even farther from home than Rosalie, who is seven years younger.

The oldest of three siblings, he was born in New York, attended the Bronx High School of Science and studied at New York University, where he got a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, a master’s degree in zoology and a doctorate in biochemistry.

He went on to work as a researcher at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research and teach at New York University Medical School before going on to do research and teach at Harvard and, for the last 50 years, at Princeton University.

After offering to help Rosalie’s father get his bearings, he and Jacques struck up a conversation and, at her father’s invitation, strolled together several blocks to the Seine and then to the square in front of Notre Dame Cathedral, Jacques Fresco recalled.

That’s where, under a gas lamp, Jacques Fresco first encountered Rosalie and her mom, who joined the men in the conversation while the hours ticked by.

The group parted company around midnight when Jacques realized he had to rush to catch the last subway that night. In his haste, he didn’t exchange contact information with Rosalie and her family.

One or two days later, however, he managed to track her down by phone in her hotel room because he knew the general area where they probably were staying and the husband of his lab director had informed him that there’s a small hotel in that neighborhood favored by the British.

Much to her delight and his, they began dating right away and got married by the end of that year, on Dec. 22, 1957, by a rabbi in The Bronx since they are both Jewish.

They moved to Princeton after he got a job teaching at Princeton  in 1960. He remains on the Princeton faculty in the department of molecular biology.

Rosalie Fresco received her bachelor’s degree in home economics and nutrition from the University of Wales at Cardiff.

After she married Jacques, she worked briefly in a chemistry lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology then became a stay-at-home mom for the couple’s three children, all of whom are now happily married with eight kids of their own among them.

Jacques and Rosalie said they are both thankful for that chance encounter in Paris and the strength of their marriage.

“We are truly blessed,” Rosalie Fresco said.

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Notes on the blog: Gratitude, curiosities and frustration

Some weeks, interviews fall into place with no hassle at all. Others, subjects are a little more difficult to come by. This is one of those weeks, with only one couple profiled on here instead of two.

So, I’d like to take a moment to express my gratitude to those who have been willing to offer a glimpse into their personal lives for the rest of us to enjoy and perhaps learn from.

In many cases, couples I have approached about participating in this project have declined politely to be interviewed, afraid of putting too many private details about themselves in an online public forum.

Such worries, especially from people in their 70s, 80s or 90s are not surprising but they are disappointing. But they make me all the more appreciative of those who do grant interviews.

If you’ve been following this blog from the beginning, you may have noticed that most of the couples featured are Jewish, like me.

That’s not by design at all, but simply a matter of pure coincidence. As a result, I’m trying purposely to broaden the diversity of the couples profiled.

Another peculiar oddity that has popped up in this blog is the Bronx High School of Science in New York City.

A previous interview featured here was with a woman who happened to be a retired teacher from that high school and the post that I will put up after this one, on Jacques and Rosalie Fresco of Princeton Township, N.J., includes yet another connection with the Bronx High School of Science because that is the school Jacques Fresco attended.

And I had also written a post mentioning that that high school has more Nobel laureates than any other after stumbling on a recent article about that topic in The New York Times.

Lastly for this note, when I first set out on this project, I figured that senior citizen centers would be an easy and obvious choice for me to reach out to in order to find couples who have been married four decades or more.

Unfortunately, I did not anticipate that my access to seniors who use those centers would be restricted by overprotective directors at the facilities. Since these facilities are public buildings funded by local municipalities and their patrons are adults, I should be able to walk up to anyone there and see if they’re willing to be interviewed.

As a courtesy, however, I have gone to the directors of these centers first to let them know about my project and reason for being there, only to be told in multiple cases that I can’t simply go up to the seniors despite the fact that I would leave it entirely up to them whether to be interviewed or not.

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