70 years and they still say 'I love you' twenty times a day
Part-time New Hampshire residents to celebrate wedding anniversary and their 'rich life' together
October 05, 2011LITTLETON — For most couples, starting a relationship off on a falsehood would spell trouble. But for Stan and Ellen Mittleman that lie sparked 70 happy years of marriage, a lifetime of song and laughter, and, here and there, a few camels and elephants.
At 90 and 91, they still say "I love you" to each other twenty times a day, said their youngest daughter, Nancy Mittleman. And even during a conference call from Oregon to New Hampshire, their affection for each other was audible in their voices.
The two were attending Ohio State University in 1938 when they met on the porch of Stan's fraternity house. He asked her where she was from: "Lawrence, Long Island," Ellen said. "Me, too," he replied.
"I knew he was lying," said Ellen during the phone interview last week. "There were only 600 people living in that town and I knew them all."
Stan — actually from Brooklyn — said he just wanted to get a little closer to her, while Ellen said she knew he was teasing.
"He was infatuated [with me]," she said.
They dated for three years in college while he was studying pre-med and she was seeking a degree in landscape architecture. Then, within three weeks of deciding they wanted to get an apartment together in Hewlett, Long Island, they were married on Oct. 4, 1941, in Lawrence.
"In order to live together, we had to be married," said Ellen, and the apartment coming on the market was not something they wanted to miss.
Beyond 1941, it might be simplest to say that they lived happily ever after, but that would shortchange Stan and Ellen's "very rich life" and their ties to the North Country.
Stan never ended up going into medicine. World War II came along, he said, and that plan was sidetracked.
He was called to service in 1944 and was assigned as a combat photographer to the U.S. Army Signal Corps — taking pictures of the war in Europe and Asia as well as of top figures such as Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower. Eventually, Stan photographed the Japanese surrender onboard the USS Missouri — the end of World War II in August 1945 — and in 1946 he finally was able to go home and meet his first daughter, Kathryn, who was 9 months old.
Stan and Ellen then had two more children, John and Nancy, and they raised their family in New York, though Nancy said they stayed at Newell's cottages on Forest Lake in Whitefield during the summers she was growing up.
Eventually something about the North Country must have reeled them in, because in 1970, Stan and Ellen decided to sell everything and buy a Franconia motel known as Raynor's Motor Lodge — now the Cannon Mountain View Lodge. It was then that they found the time to travel after foliage season and during mud season, Nancy said.
"We've had many happy years," said Ellen and Stan, "and we've traveled completely around the world."
Europe, Asia, Australia, the list goes on: They've ridden elephants and camels, walked along the Great Wall of China in a snowstorm, snorkeled over the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, watched giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands and visited Egypt's pyramids and India's Taj Mahal.
Then when 1984 rolled around, Stan and Ellen were ready to retire. They sold the motel and bought a piece of land on Forest Lake in Dalton, opposite where the Newell Cottages were.
Today, they live with Nancy and her husband, William Stiffler, in Oregon for the winter and come back to New Hampshire for the summer. They laugh a lot and sing a lot, said Nancy, and to her, they are the epitome of a loving couple.
"All the kids and the grandkids take them as an example of love," she added.
Ellen said they still own and use the property on the lake, and their family — which now includes seven grandchildren and 6 great-grandchildren — love to visit.
However, Ellen said, "I'm not sure if they come to see us or to jump in the lake."
The couple also continues their volunteer work at the Newport Performing Arts Center in Oregon after spending 35 years volunteering at Littleton Regional Hospital. They also helped Meals on Wheels in New Hampshire, until they were older than many of the people they were serving, said Nancy.
And now for the perennial question: What is their secret to a long and happy marriage?
"Whatever we argue about in the evening we forget in the morning," Stan was quick to say.
But as far as the challenges they faced together go, the couple was hard-pressed to think of an example, and eventually had settle to on Ellen's knee and hip replacements: With all that metal in her body, she has had trouble getting through airports.
Nancy gave a reason why they struggled to find an answer: "Dad always says 'gotta roll with the punches and move on,'" and clearly they always did.
That outlook might have stemmed from the couple's upbringing during the Great Depression.
While Stan's family did okay because his father worked as a teacher, "for a long time I wouldn't eat eggs," said Ellen.
Her father, Jules Star, an immigrant from Prussia, was hit hard when the stock market crashed and his stockpile of cowhides, which were destined to become shoes and purses, dropped in value.
"He lost it all," said Ellen. Most of the hides just ended up rotting.
So, for a long time their main source of food were the eggs her family — she had one sister and two brothers — received from a local farmer.
Eventually things started to turn around in the mid to late 1930s, but not before Ellen had to suffer embarrassment from wearing hand-me-down clothing and from getting her hair cut at a barbershop, which was a big deal at the time for an eight to 10-year-old.
Ellen remembers needing the haircut before school started, but the girls' beauty parlor cost $1.25, which her family couldn't afford. Instead she had to go to the barbershop, where a haircut cost only 35 cents, and the chair where she sat was right in front of the window where everyone could see her.
"I had a tough life," said Ellen.
"Until she met me," added Stan.