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St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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From a 4-month courtship to a 73-year marriage

From+a+4-month+courtship+to+a+73-year+marriage

As regular readers may remember, I’m a sucker for a good love story. And I was pretty sure I had found one when over lunch earlier this month, my friend Dorothy Firestone happened to mention that she and her husband Billy were getting ready to celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary.

Seventy-three years! As my late, great father would say, “That’s nothing to sneeze at.”

Also nothing to sneeze at: Dorothy is 94; Billy is 96. 

The two met at the best place to meet a potential spouse: a wedding. In this case, it was the wedding of Ruth Korngold and Mike Travis, which took place on June 24, 1950, at the bride’s parents’ home in the 6900 block of Delmar Blvd.

If you’re wondering about these details, both Dorothy and Billy have amazing recall, despite being in their nineties. They share a gorgeous condo in Clayton, where Dorothy likes to cook, entertain and write, including a recent food story for the Jewish Light, while Billy, who ran his own paper shredding business for 69½ years (from ages 22 to 91) and still drives, is known to enjoy a good cigar on the condo balcony.

But I digress.

As the couple tells it, Dorothy and Billy were both friends of the bride. Dorothy had gone to the University of Illinois with Ruth, and Billy knew her as part of a larger group of friends he socialized with after returning from 1½ years of serving with the U.S. Coast Guard.

“At the wedding, a friend of mine who went to school with Dorothy said to me, ‘Do you know Dottie Peskind?’” recalled Billy. “I said, ‘No. Trot her out here and I’ll take a look.”

“Can you believe that?” countered Dorothy, laughing.

“So he trotted her out, we met and we talked, and I told her I would be glad to take her home,” continued Billy.

Home for Dorothy was Belleville, where her family ran I. Peskind & Sons, a clothing and shoe business, on Main Street. But that night, because of the wedding, she was staying at the home of a friend named Lovie who lived in Clayton.

“Do you know the meaning of a bad hair day?” Dorothy asked. “That’s how hot a day it was when the wedding took place. It was a very bad hair day.”

Regardless, Billy was eager to take Dorothy home for the evening, if only to get to know her better. But first, because of the heat, he wanted to stop at his home to change his shirt. He lived just a few blocks west from where the wedding was taking place.

“I sat on the porch and waited for him because his parents weren’t home,” said Dorothy, proudly. (Usually when she tells this story, her daughter Amy Rosen and her daughter-in-law Marilyn Firestone, applaud.)

But the thing was Billy really wanted Dorothy to meet his parents, who were at a nearby party. So he took her there. 

“Billy was definitely smitten,” said Marilyn, who has been dubbed the family historian. “It really was love at first sight.”

At that first meeting, they learned that Dorothy’s father had once taken out Billy’s mother.

The day after the wedding, a Sunday, Dorothy’s parents held a graduation party in her honor. Billy still hasn’t forgiven her for not inviting him.

“I remember at the party my Aunt Rose asking if I had met any nice men,” said Dorothy. “And I said, ‘Yes. I met one last night.’”

Despite not being invited to the graduation party, Billy called on Monday, asking Dorothy out for the following weekend.

“I told him I was busy that Saturday, so he asked for Friday, and I was busy then, too,” said Dorothy. “So we settled on Thursday night. Then he called on Tuesday and said was it OK if he made a trial run.”

“I didn’t know where Belleville was,” said Billy, laughing. “I needed a practice run.”

When he came to Belleville that Tuesday, he didn’t come empty-handed. He walked into the Peskind home carrying an entire watermelon. No big deal except that Dorothy’s mother, whom Dorothy described as “quite bright and intelligent” was a firm believer in fortune tellers, who were ubiquitous back then. 

“The fortune teller told my mother, who never told me this (at the time), that she would know (the man I would marry) because he’s going to walk into your home carrying something like this,” said Dorothy, stretching out her arms and palming her hands as if she were carrying a whole watermelon. 

Two weeks after that first date, Billy asked Dorothy if she would go steady.

“I said, ‘No. I’m 21. I’m too old to go steady,’” said Dorothy. “Then he said, ‘If I asked you to marry me, what would you say? And I said, ‘Yes.’”

Three weeks after they met, they were engaged. Roughly four months after that, they were married at the Chase Park Plaza Hotel by Rabbi Julian H. Miller of B’nai El Congregation. The date was Nov. 11, 1950.

Together, they raised three children and now have four adult grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. And while both agree that theirs is not only an enduring love but also a deep friendship, it hasn’t been without tragedy. Their middle child, son Jim, a neonatologist, passed away from Non-Hodgkin lymphoma at the age of 32. He was married but had no children.

Yet true to Firestone fashion, Dorothy and Billy and their adult two children, Fred Firestone and Amy Rosen, and their spouses, still keep in close touch with Jim’s wife, who is remarried to a man each describes as terrific. In fact, during the summer they all met up in St. Louis.

When I asked Billy and Dorothy what they most appreciate about the other and what has kept them interested in each other after all these years, Billy had a bit of trouble finding the right words.

“I can’t give you an answer,” he said. “I can’t say this or that. It’s the whole package. We still just really enjoy spending time together.”

Dorothy struggled less with my questions and was much more direct.

“I think there has to be an enormous physical attraction and an enormous degree of actual friendship,” she said. “And it helps if you both like to eat the same things.”

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About the Contributor
Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief
A native of Westbury, New York, Ellen Futterman broke into the world of big city journalism as a general assignment reporter for the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner in the latter part of the 20th century. Deciding that Tinsel Town was not exciting enough for her, she moved on to that hub of glamour and sophistication, Belleville, Ill., where she became a feature writer, columnist and food editor for the Belleville News-Democrat. A year later the St. Louis Post-Dispatch scooped her up, neither guessing at the full range of her talents, nor the extent of her shoe collection. She went on to work at the Post-Dispatch for 25 years, during which time she covered hard news, education, features, investigative projects, profiles, sports, entertainment, fashion, interiors, business, travel and movies. She won numerous major local and national awards for her reporting on "Women Who Kill" and on a four-part series about teen-age pregnancy, 'Children Having Children.'" Among her many jobs at the newspaper, Ellen was a columnist for three years, Arts and Entertainment Editor, Critic-at-large and Daily Features (Everyday) Editor. She invented two sections from scratch, one of which recently morphed from Get Out, begun in 1995, to GO. In January of 2009, Ellen joined the St. Louis Jewish Light as its editor, where she is responsible for overseeing editorial operations, including managing both staff members and freelancers. Under her tutelage, the Light has won 16 Rockower Awards — considered the Jewish Pulitzer’s — including two personally for Excellence in Commentary for her weekly News & Schmooze column. She also is the communications content editor for the Arts and Education Council of St. Louis. Ellen and her husband, Jeff Burkett, a middle school principal, live in Olivette and have three children. Ellen can be reached at 314-743-3669 or at [email protected].