Monday, February 11, 2008

Making it last: from junior high to grandkids, Tucson couple celebrates

Published February 8, 2008 in Volume 64, Issue 3 of the Arizona Jewish Post.

It all started with a bad blind date at the Jewish Community Center, back when it was still on Tucson Boulevard. Judy, then a 14-year-old student at Mansfield Junior High, was suffering through an awkward evening with another boy at a B'nai B'rith Youth Organization mixer when 16-year-old Tucson High sophomore Ted Direnfeld approached her and asked her to dance. "I wasn't very nice," Ted recalls, chuckling. "I stole her away." The two have been together ever since, sharing more than five decades of love, friendship, and family.

The Direnfelds remember their youth in the 1950s as a time of simplicity. At first, Ted didn't have a car, so the young couple had to rely on Ted's older sister for rides. Like many other young Jews in Tucson, their social lives revolved around BBYO, which frequently hosted social events and community service activities. Ted was involved in AZA (Aleph Zadik Aleph), the boys' branch of the organization, and Judy was active in the local and regional chapters of BBG (B'nai B'rith Girls). They talked on the phone every night. "I never dated anybody else," says Judy. "He was the only person I ever dated."

A taste of freedom came along with Ted's first car, an old '36 Chevy Club Coupe. "As we got older and knew we were going to get married," Judy says, "he stayed later at night and snuck out so my parents wouldn't know how late he was there." The car ran so noisily that the only way Ted could leave undetected was to push it down the street, jump in, and get the car going.

In 1956, the year Judy graduated from high school, Ted asked her parents for their daughter's hand in marriage. "I was sitting in her folks' kitchen, and the subject came up as to what I was going to give her for a graduation present," he remembers. "And I said 'a ring, and engagement ring.'" They were married a year later at Congregation Anshei Israel, where Ted had celebrated becoming a Bar Mitzvah. The congregation has since remained an important part of their lives; all of their children have been named, become Bar Mitzvah, or married there.

The couple has three children: Robert, a physical therapist (married to Amy Broad); Debra, a chemical engineer; and Barbara, who works in sales (partner, Sherry Campbell). They also have two grandchildren. Elayna is a freshman at the University of Arizona, and David is a junior at Catalina Foothills High School.

Ted studied at UA for two years while working at Dee's Shoes, the family business. Judy also attended the UA for a year before spending two years working at RCA, a government contract agency, as a typist and proofreader for government manuals for Fort Huachuca. When Ted entered the family business full time, the business kept expanding. As the children got older, Judy began to help by doing the books and sometimes filling in for store workers. Ted is now the sole owner of Dee's Shoes, while Judy volunteers at Tucson Medical Center, where she is a "cuddler" for babies in the nursery.

On Nov. 4, 2007, they celebrated their 50th anniversary at their home with 75 friends and family. They say the event was particularly special because all the original wedding attendants were present, including their best man, who flew in from China.

The secret of a long-lasting relationship, Ted and Judy agree, is "compromise." After five decades of marriage, they still take the time to do little things to show their appreciation for each other. "Ted always helps out around the house," says Judy, and will sometimes surprise her by coming home with flowers. Ted adds that it's important for couples to know that "there will be difficult times" in addition to joyful ones. The Direnfelds' closeness is obvious in their habit of finishing each other's sentences. "After 50 years, you learn to be a mind reader," Judy says. "Sometimes we'll sit in silence for a long time without the need to say anything, and suddenly we'll start to say the same thing at the same time."

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