Lifetime of love: As 75th anniversary nears, couple reflects on long, happy marriage

Harold & Dorothy Schneider

By Ellen Futterman, Editor-in-Chief

After Harold and Dorothy Schneider got married, they drove north from St. Louis and took a car ferry across Lake Michigan to a hotel, where they planned to spend their honeymoon night. One small problem though: It was midnight, they had no reservations, and the hotel had no rooms available.

Harold explained that this was their wedding night, couldn’t something be done?

“So the hotel people rolled a bed into one of their conference rooms, and that’s where we spent our honeymoon,” Harold recalled recently, noting that the evening was most definitely memorable.

That at age 98, Harold can still recall his wedding night — save the name of the hotel and the town where it was located — might strike some as remarkable. Then again, remarkable is a few superlatives short of describing Harold and his 95-year-old “bride” Dorothy, who hopefully will celebrate 75 years of marriage together in August. 

“We met in 1940, so we’ve really been together more like 80 years,” noted Dorothy, who explained in great detail how the two met.

On Saturday nights, she and a few boys would crash dances after wedding ceremonies at Congregation B’nai Amoona, then on Academy Avenue in the city of St. Louis. “There were so many people at the weddings we would be lost in the crowd,” Dorothy recalled.

One Saturday night, Harold’s cousin happened to be getting married there. While Dorothy was dancing with a friend “a boy cut in,” she said. “There was a common practice in those days. The girls would just continue to dance with whoever cut in. In this case, it was someone I didn’t know named Harold Schneider. Shortly thereafter, he phoned me for a date.” 

Dorothy was 15 at the time; Harold was 18. Both attended Soldan High School, though they didn’t know each other before that fateful night.

And what did they think of each other after they first met?

“He was smart, and he was kind,” said Dorothy. “That’s basically it.”

“She was very cute, and I liked her hairdo,” Harold retorted. “But she wasn’t that good a dancer.”

With Valentine’s Day approaching, the two sat down to reminisce about their romance and long, happy marriage, which produced three children, nine grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren, many of whom continue to live in St. Louis. 

“For me, the high points of being married as long as we have are the kids, the grandkids and the great grandkids,” said Dorothy, adding that even during quarantine, they have been able to social distance with family through a screened-in porch. “They all happen to be good people who care about us and come by to visit as frequently as they can.

“The hardest part is not being able to hold any of the great grandkids.”

From modest beginnings

Harold Schneider married Dorothy Kaufman on Aug. 18, 1946 at downtown’s DeSoto Hotel. Dorothy remembers splurging on a wedding cake from Lake Forest Bakery while her mother, Minnie, sister Ruth and Ruth’s friends prepared “fingertip sandwiches” for the many guests, along with strudel and Minnie Kaufman’s famous kamish (mandel) bread. 

But the wedding didn’t take place until after Harold completed his engineering degree at Washington University and served in the U.S. Navy. He spent several months training as an electronics service technician at the Navy Pier in Chicago, before he was dispatched for three years to the USS Tutuila repair ship, in Japan. 

“Dad told me that when he was based at Navy Pier, he’d get a couple days off, but he wasn’t given clearance to leave Chicago,” said Terry Schneider, the couple’s son. “So he’d hitchhike to St. Louis to see my mother every weekend. He was afraid if he took the train, someone would see him in uniform and report him.” 

As the couple explains it, after World War II finding an affordable apartment in St. Louis proved difficult because there had been no new construction during the war years. So when two rooms above a grocery store became available, they pounced. Mind you, says Dorothy, the two rooms weren’t actually connected.

 “To get from one room to the other meant going through a common hallway,” she said, “where the shared bathroom was also located.”

They learned about their next apartment, a small efficiency in a 100-unit building at 4500 Delmar Blvd., through a family friend. They made friends with many of the other young Jewish couples living there, partying at each other’s apartments and enjoying game nights together. “We never had to leave the building for social events,” Dorothy recalled.

Harold, with his engineering skills and know-how, rewired the apartment to accommodate an air-conditioner. Even better, the landlord agreed to pay the electric bill. 

In 1951, the couple moved with their eldest, Barbara, to a small home in Richmond Heights. It cost $15,000 and was in the Clayton school district. Two weeks later, second child Kathy arrived, followed by son Terry a few years later. 

In 1958, when it became clear the family needed more space, Harold spent the next three years designing and building an addition by himself, which doubled the size of the home.

“My dad is just one of the hardest working people you’ve ever met,” said Terry, explaining that Harold spent his professional career at Monsanto, where he worked his way up from hands-on engineering to operation management to “big picture human resources management,” developing training courses and standards for all Monsanto employees. 

Terry jokes that no sooner did he start first grade, then his mother started job hunting. After high school, Dorothy had worked as a receptionist, secretary and legal stenographer, but stopped to stay home fulltime when she and Harold had children. 

Eventually, she got a job at Brentwood Travel Services, where she developed a following of Washington University physicians and other professionals who were connected to her and Harold’s huge network of friends and acquaintances. The job signaled the start of a 45-year career with the travel agency that took her and Harold, as well as other family members, to places all over the world — multiple times.

“Whenever a grandchild turned 9 years old, they would take us anywhere we wanted to go in the United States,” recalled grandson Adam Schneider, 33, Terry’s son. “I chose Washington, D.C.  Every restaurant we ate out at during the entire trip, my grandparents would tell the waiter it was my birthday, so I got a celebration cake at every meal.”

Family has been our joy

Both Adam and Terry, in separate conversations, talked about Harold and Dorothy’s eternal optimism and zest for life. “You really can’t talk about them without talking about their will and determination and how hardworking and reliable they are,” said Terry. “They are both very smart, forward thinking, positive people who do not quit trying to be relevant and interesting. They are dedicated to each other and so supportive. They go forward every day without looking back.”

Of course, sometimes it’s hard not to look back, being the ages they are and sharing nearly 75 years of marriage together. Yet when they do so, there seems to be no regret. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. 

Both say their greatest joy is each other and their family. They also are proud of the example they set. Their children and grandchildren each married wonderful people, they say, and no one, at least not at this point, has gotten a divorce.

When they “downsized” from their house in Richmond Heights, they landed in a larger high-rise condo in Clayton where they lived independently well into their 90s. They also split their time during retirement between homes in St. Louis and Longboat Key, Fla. 

In fact, when asked what the key to their long, happy marriage is, Harold, the jokester, replied: “We used to live in Florida for six months. She went in the winter and I went in the summer.”

Badum-ching — so much for the borscht-belt humor. Besides, Harold’s longtime hobby has been investing in the stock market while Dorothy is a die-hard Cardinals fan. 

These days, the couple, who belong to Temple Israel, reside in an assisted-living facility in Richmond Heights. Harold is confined to a wheelchair because of neuropathy. Dorothy has limited sight and hearing. The pandemic has made them feel more isolated than ever before, though they are thankful for FaceTime and other technology that allows Harold to keep up with current events and Dorothy to play Words with Friends. 

Unfortunately, they don’t have many friends their age who are still alive.  “We’re old. Sometimes I can’t believe how old we really are,” said Dorothy, laughing.

For Valentine’s Day, Harold plans to buy his sweetheart Dorothy flowers and enjoy dinner with her. In year’s past, Dorothy would bake Harold her mother’s famous kamish bread, but nowadays he will have to make-do with two chocolate chip cookies for dessert.

“Knowing that my wife cares about me and I care about her and that we have a mutual relationship with love and respect” is the best part of our love story, said Harold.

And Dorothy? What words of wisdom or advice can she offer to couples during this month that celebrates love and romance?

“Ignore the things that bother you about the other person,” she said. “And agree.”