Senior couple enjoys second chance at love
By Karen Mahoney
Special to your Catholic Herald
KENOSHA – When Ken and Shirley Burman met by the swimming pool at Reuther High School in Kenosha, marriage was the furthest thing from either one’s mind.
Both had been married to their respective spouses for many happy years, and lost them within a couple of months of each other.
Both were grieving when they met and fell in love.
According to Ken, 73, he and Shirley, 75, crossed paths five years before their spouses died through the Kenosha Senior Center swimming program; he was a lifeguard and she a swimmer, but at that time, they were just acquaintances.
After losing their spouses to cancer, the two began talking and going to breakfast.
“We never really had a date,” laughed Shirley, “And when I told my girlfriend that we were going to get married, she said, ‘Shirley, you are supposed to hit on the lifeguard when you are 17, not 70.'”
Seven months later, on Dec. 10, 2005, the two were married in front of 200 friends and family in the community room at St. Catherine Commons retirement community, where they would begin their lives as husband and wife.
Although Shirley was a member of St. Anne Parish in Pleasant Prairie, they were married at St. Catherine because the church would not be dedicated until the next day. They also wanted to get married while Ken’s 103-year-old father, Tony, was healthy enough to attend the ceremony.
“Shirley was a volunteer at St. Anne and Archbishop (Timothy M.) Dolan was coming to bless the church, so we went to the first Mass,” said Ken. “During the Mass, the pastor, Fr. Don Thimm, announced our marriage and the archbishop gave us a blessing. He said to us, ‘I am surprised you are here – why aren’t you on a honeymoon?’ I didn’t know what to say, so I just said, ‘Oh, we feel like this is our honeymoon.'”
The couple jokes that the blessing was so powerful that it encouraged Ken to convert to the Catholic faith.
“Fr. Don was wonderful and worked with me every step of the way,” he said. “I am so happy that I now share the same faith as Shirley.”
Locals remember the community as the former home to St. Catherine Hospital.
Overlooking the shores of Lake Michigan and across the street from Kenosha’s Pennoyer Park, a familiar location for outdoor summer concerts and the annual community Mass, the Burmans enjoy active lives at St. Catherine Commons.
“Ken does triathlons and this location is perfect for him to go running, biking, walking, swimming – just about anything,” said Shirley. “Living here also gives us the freedom to do what we like best – travel. We keep a trailer in West Bend and visit it often.”
Lifelong Kenosha residents, Ken, who retired from American Motors in 1997, and Shirley, who also retired in 1997 as a human resource assistant at Snap-On Tool, stay in contact with friends and Shirley’s large and close-knit family, complete with an interesting gender pattern.
“I have six kids – three boys and three girls, 16 grandkids, eight girls and eight boys, and six great grandchildren and you guessed it, three of each,” she said. “That pattern will be coming to an end though as one more great grandchild is on the way.”
When Ken isn’t running marathons, bike riding or swimming with Shirley, he volunteers at the Wildlife Refuge and Horicon Marsh. Shirley plays cards with family, bakes with her grandchildren, and visits the on-campus grocery store if she runs out of an essential ingredient.
“That store is such a convenience and they don’t make a profit on it,” she said. “They just make items available for us so we don’t have to run to the store if we need eggs or coffee, or some other essential. They are so good to us and this place is so well run; I love it here.”
With more than 160 one- and two-bedroom apartments, the social benefits are limitless. Residents can enjoy a full calendar of activities, such as a weekly rosary, Catholic prayer services, shopping excursions, dances, bowling, cards, bus trips, bingo, mystery dinner theatre, and even Wii fitness programs.
“We also have a beauty shop, bank, library with Internet, hobby room, chapel, Wednesday night movies, a fitness room, pool table room, and a café,” said Shirley, adding, “And for those who want them, they offer hot meals every day at noon.”
Meticulous gardens surround a statue of St. Catherine and St. Bernadette of Lourdes, and enhance the European architectural style, including Spanish stone roof shingles. Several apartment styles are available, including a del Mare Villa ranch style apartment home. The expansive lake view is what drew the Burmans to St. Catherine Commons.
“We originally thought we’d live at the Towers (a condo community in Kenosha), but once we saw this apartment and saw that it faced the lake, we knew it was right for us,” said Ken. “The neighbors are wonderful. We are close friends with the people right across the hall and I often go biking with one of them.”
After 56 marathons, Ken admitted it is harder for him to continue the pace. However, it’s not his age that is holding him back – it’s married life.
“My buddies tease me that I can’t be there to compete all the time,” laughed Ken. “But I tell them that they forget what it is like to be newly married. Because we are older, we have each other and don’t like being apart. We do a lot traveling. Life can be good when you are older if you are in good health.”