In our May 2016 issue, we introduced you to Ronnie and Hank Arond, a real-life fairy tale
that should inspire us all. Our interview with the Aronds continues below. In the photo above, Hank has just plucked a fragrant gardenia from the shrub near the entrance to the Ebb Tide. The flowers are Ronnie’s favorite.
This sense of humor and approach to life has clearly been with both halves of this amazing couple since probably, well, birth, and may well be an inherited trait. Ronnie recalls that her two sisters were nurses, as was she, and “my mom called us ‘my three milk bottles’”.
The Aronds have a great granddaughter as well. We’re sure you’ll be shocked to know that she is “the smartest, prettiest girl ever” and – wait for it – won the first humanitarian award her elementary school ever gave. Would you expect anything less?
Both Hank and Ronnie remain very active in their communities and in civic ventures. “We were in DC for Martin Luther King, Junior’s famous speech,” Ronnie recalls, “and we are still very active.”
About that “active” thing – Ronnie teaches (!) synchronized swimming. Really. She’s also been teaching yoga for over 40 years.
Just – let that sit for a moment, pun intended. This woman, married for 72 years, TEACHES (present tense!) synchronized swimming and yoga.
Hank’s additional pursuits (yes, there are more) include playing the violin. “He’s the greatest violinist and the greatest sailor!” Ronnie exclaims.
Yes, sailor. Sailing, however, is something that they’ve given up – about two years ago. Hank taught himself to sail (that doesn’t surprise you, right?). They remember getting their 30-foot sailboat, “brand new, a Pearson 30,” they recall. At this memory, the gleam in Hank’s is obvious.
Hank remembers, “My father never played an instrument, but he sang. When we were young, he decided we were all going to be musicians. All three of us had to take one year of piano lessons. I was nine, my sister was eight, and my brother was 11.” At that point, Hank’s father assigned them each an instrument: Hank, the violin; his sister, the piano; his brother, the cello.
Hank performs on the violin to this day. “It’s hard to stay old!” he tells us. Clearly this is the case, as Hank will celebrate his 93rd birthday in July. During his working days, Hank served as an electrical engineer for a company that did a lot of work for DuPont; he also played in the Great Neck Symphony for about 30 years.
Ronnie also served our country; she was a second lieutenant. Hank, however, was “just an enlisted man.” Did she go overseas, we ask? “Yes,” she replies. Oh my! we think, until she adds, “I served in Staten Island before they built the Verrazano Bridge.” In all seriousness, Ronnie had “a very dear friend who was killed in Okinawa, and that’s when I decided to serve.”
“We’re very fortunate,” Ronnie notes, and we can’t help but think that while, yes, that is true, there is something to be said about how one’s approach to life so often makes one’s own luck. “We’ve seen the biggest changes in the world,” she adds. We ask her if that is solely what prompted her, and she recalls thinking “I thought about war, and I thought. What’s it all about? What’s the point?”
Last year, the couple took an Honor Flight (Ed. note: this is an amazing program; learn more here: honorflight.org/).
Ronnie grew up in Washington Heights (an area of northern Manhattan) and tells us, “There were these Native Americans who built a lot of skyscrapers.” Indeed, this is the case – read more of this fascinating and little-known history and tradition here: whitewolfpack.com/2012/09/the-mohawks-who-built-manhattan-photos.html. Why the seeming sidetrack into this conversation? In a word, racism. “We’d have parties on Saturday night [in Washington Heights], and someone would say something awful and it would really hurt me,” Ronnie recalls.
Life has not been a bed of roses for Ronnie and Hank. Ronnie tells us, “I lost my two sisters in their 50s and I wondered, ‘Why am I still here?’” Hank recalls being at Fort Monmouth in New Jersey when he was in the Army, and thinking, “Anything can happen at any moment.” Hank had Top Secret clearance, by the way. Well, of course he did! We are convinced that these are two folks who can do anything, and do it incredibly well. As a young girl, Ronnie saw her share of need. “We were very poor,” she recalls. “We lived in six different homes. They’d give us a month’s rent free, so a lot of people moved a lot.” These homes spanned not just Washington Heights but the Bronx and “even Rockaway Park” in the early 1930s, when Ronnie was ten years old.
We ask Ronnie for her advice to young people on experiencing adventures. She thinks for a moment. “Collect them. Do them. Don’t ever say no to something.”
Throughout our interview, whenever Ronnie talks, we steal glances at Hank. Without fail, he is gazing at her and smiling, the love in his eyes palpable.
We ask what sort of memories they think of most. “All of them,” we learn. “The good – the bad…remember them all!” Ronnie adds, “If I hadn’t had the experiences, I wouldn’t have the fun of telling you these stories!”
What sort of advice in general would they give today’s young people? Uncharacteristically, Ronnie and Hank both fall silent for a moment.
Indeed. These are wise words from a couple who has certainly walked the walk, and done so with grace and humor for seven decades.
“We are greedy for life,” says Ronnie. So, how else do they keep busy? Because, of course, there’s more than just teaching swimming, and going swimming (every day!) and teaching yoga, and spending time with family. There’s entertaining at various senior venues, of course. The couple brings their “routine” to those who need it most, including some violin playing on Hank’s part.
At this point, the moment we’ve been waiting for arrives. Out comes the violin. Hank plays “Fiddler on the Roof” for us, while Ronnie looks on, as enthralled as she must have been on that first fateful evening upstate so long ago. To be honest, he may have played another piece as well. But by then, we’d set our notebooks and cameras down, determined to be as engaged in life and as delighted by these small (but really, oh so large) moments that speak to a life well lived as Ronnie and Hank clearly remain.
Throughout the interview, our minds kept wandering to the fates that aligned to present us with the honor to meet such a lively, passionate, engaging couple.
Thank you, Ronnie and Hank, from the bottom of our hearts, for making the time to chat with us and sharing your remarkable story. Next winter, perhaps Ronnie can teach us synchronized swimming. Who’s in?