Phyllis Waldron discovered there is no age limit on feeling like the new kid in town when she moved to the Florida retirement community Water’s Edge of Bradenton last fall.
“I must have looked like a deer in front of the headlights,” said Ms. Waldron, 85, of the late October evening she met Al Bartschke, her neighbor two floors up. Mr. Bartschke had spotted Ms. Waldron as she was wandering the dining room in search of a place to eat dinner. He gathered his courage and invited her to join his table.
“First I made eye contact with her,” said Mr. Bartschke, 90, a retired tool and die maker who was born in Poland and came to the United States in 1954. He lived in various states, including many years in Michigan, before moving to Florida full time in 2018. “I was hoping it would take me somewhere, but I didn’t know where it would take me.”
They had a lively dinner conversation in which they discussed being widowed after long marriages. Mr. Bartschke’s wife of 65 years, Christa, died of cancer in 2018, and Ms. Waldron’s husband of 55 years, DeWayne, died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in 2007.
“Life is lonely sometimes, so after three weeks of eating dinner together I got brave enough to go over to her house and say, ‘Phyllis, would you like to come to the casino with me?’” he said. “Surprisingly, she said yes.”
Ms. Waldron, a retired bank manager and native of Ohio who moved to Florida in 2011 to be closer to her brother, didn’t have much interest in slot machines. But the prospect of a day trip with Mr. Bartschke appealed to her.
“He’s a very nice gentleman,” she said. “We can talk for hours, just talk. We never run out of things to say.”
At the casino, Mr. Bartschke made a first move. “I took her hand to show her around, and she didn’t pull it back,” he said. “I thought that was a good sign.” By the end of the year, they were holding hands all the time.
In January, at his 90th birthday party, she met his family, including his daughter, two granddaughters and two great-granddaughters. Soon after, she met his son, daughter-in-law and other grandchildren. In March, he met her two daughters and son-in-law, plus her grandson and his wife and her great-granddaughter.
When they announced not long after that visit that they were getting married, surprise among both families quickly gave way to happiness, then disappointment that the pandemic would prevent them from getting to know one another at a big wedding.
On Aug. 15, Ms. Waldron and Mr. Bartschke were married in a beach ceremony, attended by 25 guests, at the Beach House Waterfront Restaurant on Anna Maria Island. Bonnie Sanchez, a minister through the American Marriage Ministries, officiated.
“He is so in love with her, you just want to be around them and soak it up,” Ms. Sanchez said. “They’re the warm and fuzzy we all need right now.”
Their decision to spend the rest of their lives together, though, was made strictly for their own benefit. “There’s no explanation for the electricity between us,” Mr. Bartschke said. “I sure know how to pick them.”