Finding love late in life

Byrne, 65, of south St. Louis. The two met in 2001 when both were working in the same department at Anheuser-Busch Co.

Carol Denker had had it with dating. Married and divorced three times, she assumed she would be living out her golden years alone. And that was fine with her.

Just a decade earlier, when she was in her fifties, she had gone from being a middle-class Jewish wife, mother and therapist to a drug addict with no place to live. Yet somehow she managed to find her way back.

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At 62, she had a home in a Philadelphia community she cared about and was no longer hooked on tranquilizers. She also had done an about face in her career to become editor of a local newspaper that she and some friends had bought. She was happy.

A friend urged her to sign up with J-Date, the Jewish online dating service. Reluctantly, Denker filled out a profile. A couple of weeks later, a guy name Warren from Denver was asking her to instant message.

Fast-forward to today. Carol Denker, 65, has been married to Warren Wexler, 64, for about two years and the two share what they call “a love of each other’s spirits.” Their relationship isn’t perfect, but at this point in each of their lives, she and Wexler are more tolerant of the other and have a real sense of how precious time is. They do not — as most of us try to do but are not always successful — sweat the small stuff. Denker says she feels a deep love for Wexler she didn’t know she was capable of feeling at any age.

Those feelings led her to interview dozens of couples across the country for a new book called “Autumn Romance” (A-Shirley Publishing, $29.95). It tells stories in words and pictures of men and women between the ages of 50 and 87 who have fallen in love.

Denker says that in our youth-driven culture, mature love has been ignored. Through 29 “love stories” of older adults, she hopes to show that wrinkles and liver spots matter little in the face of kindness and, if you’re lucky, a sense of humor.

“What the stories showed me is that our bodies are a vessel. Even though we try to look our best, color our hair, stay slim, when you get close to someone it’s the spirit you connect with,” says Denker, who was recently in St. Louis to promote her self-published “Autumn Romance. “These couples connect so deeply it doesn’t really matter what they look like because they are seeing through to the soul. It’s hard to say without sounding corny, but age is something we have to put up with. Inside is a vibrant soul that may have gotten more interesting and more able to love with age.”

One of the two St. Louis area couples Denker profiles is Nanka Castulik, 67, and Bob Byrne, 65, of south St. Louis. The two met in 2001 when both were working in the same department at Anheuser-Busch Co.

Similar interests and outlooks led the two to become good friends, having lunch together every other week. At the time they met, Byrne was married. Then, in 2005, after retiring from A-B, he moved across the state to a farm he and his wife bought near Kansas City. His wife died of cancer not long after, in the beginning of 2006.

On a trip back to St. Louis to have his glasses worked on, Byrne called Castulik to have lunch. She, too, was retired from A-B, and delighted to hear from her old friend.

But something neither of them had expected happened at that lunch. They began to see each other in a completely different light.

“It was even a stronger sensation than that,” says Byrne. “We were close friends who spent a lot of time talking about life but never really discussed our personal lives at all. My marriage was happy enough. So being together was not an issue until we were both available. It was like an eye opening experience.”

“We refer to it between ourselves as the day lightening struck,” adds Castulik, who was twice divorced and then happily single for many years. “I had no interest in Bob or anything, but he was a good companion. There was a lot of professional respect. We shared a lot of common interests. Neither one of us felt anything more between us so it was kind of a surprise when we saw each other and this thing happened between us.”

Eventually, Byrne sold his farm and moved back to St. Louis. The two married in 2007. When asked how this relationship is different than others in the past, Byrne quickly responds “we’re a lot wiser,” then adds: “In the past, my relationships were really rooted in differences. Nanka is very much the same as me. Our backgrounds are technology based. We have a lot of the same interests.

“With us, it’s more of a meeting of the minds. There are enough differences to keep it interesting but we like to do the same things and our values are very similar.”

At the end of the book, Denker includes six advantages the couples say they have over younger counterparts: time to devote to the relationship, living in the moment, wisdom, self-knowledge, correcting past mistakes and gratitude.

Spirituality, adds Denker, also figures into the equation. “It was more evident in these stories than I thought it would be,” she says. “These people have had more time to live and contemplate life. They’ve coped with joy and suffering and learned a lot in the process.

“There are those who believe that you get back what you put out in the universe. One thing the couples in this book have in common is that each is open hearted. Despite perhaps saying something to the contrary, none was ready to give up on love.”

For more information, go to A part of the proceeds from sales of the book go to Twilight Wish, a nonprofit group based in Pennsylvania that helps seniors in need as well as fulfill their wishes such as seeing a family member in another city or meeting a long-time admired person.