February 14, 2009
Couple’s love spans lifetime
HOMER — For the past 55 years, Ellen and Jack Hepfer have celebrated Valentine’s Day with a candlelight dinner.
But this year, the couple intends to get a little extra sleep and eat breakfast about an hour later than usual.
“We don’t have a kitchen anymore, so we’ll be going down to a Valentine’s Day brunch in the cafeteria,” said Ellen Hepfer, who lives in the Elizabeth Brewster House in Homer with her husband Jack.
In 1952, Jack Hepfer met his future wife in a class at the Andover Newtown Theological School, and within a year, the two got married in a church affiliated with the school.
“Our parents were a little concerned at first because they weren’t familiar with the people we were getting married to,” Ellen Hepfer said. “But we always liked talking together and had a couple classes together.”
She added the companionship has helped keep the couple together for more than 50 years.
“We have separate interests, but it helps that we have a lot of things that we do together,” she said. “It gives us something to talk about.”
In the 1960s, the couple moved to Cortland after Jack Hepfer got hired as a campus minister at SUNY Cortland.
“It was so fun, and we always had college kids over for dinner,” Ellen added, noting that she started teaching English at Homer Junior High School after the couple moved to the area.
Now at age 80, Jack has Parkinson’s disease and cannot read for long periods of time, so Ellen, who is also 80, often reads to him.
“We’ve always read books on our own and had one that we were reading together,” Ellen said, adding the couple recently finished reading a biography of John Adams together.
On the weekends, the couple still meet their children Kevin and Kathryn at a cabin that Jack built for the family more than 30 years ago along the St. Lawrence River.
“We’ve always had a lot of things that we wouldn’t normally be able to afford because of Jack’s interest in building,” Ellen said, adding that he also built some furniture and a boat the family used on the river.
After 20 years of working at SUNY Cortland, Jack Hepfer started working as a family counselor at the George Junior Republic, and when he retired, he built a house in Virgil overlooking Greek Peak where the couple lived for 10 years.
Until a few years ago, the Hepfers also took ballroom dancing lessons together and received an umbrella for winning a jitterbug contest on a cruise in the Caribbean.
“We did a lot of things that we wanted to,” Ellen said. “Now, we can look at the pictures and relive those times without feeling sad that we never got to do those things.”
After being married for more than 50 years, the Hepfers admitted they sometimes get annoyed with each other but try not to yell.
“Sometimes, a tone of voice can be as damaging as the words spoken,” Ellen said.
Jack added that both of them had grown up during the Great Depression and were taught to be frugal.
“It helps that we agree on spending and never bought anything the other didn’t know about,” Jack said.
He added when they first started dating in college, he and Ellen did not have a lot of money and would split an English muffin for breakfast and order a 65-cent blue plate special for dinner.
Jack would also give Ellen a single rose on special occasions because he could not afford a full dozen.
But recently, he was able to give Ellen a dozen roses for her birthday.
“He could afford it now,” Ellen said. “But those single roses still meant as much to me at the time as a dozen.”
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