NEW YORK – David Shamrakov will never forget the first time he saw the woman he would marry.
They were both young medical students in their native Ukraine. He spotted her from across their biology class and knew in an instant he had to introduce himself.
“Her eyes were like diamonds,” says Shamrakov, 82.
“This man was very, very smart – and handsome,” adds his wife, Faina, 83.
The Shamrakovs have now been married for 58 years and credit their mutual taste for the medical profession, music, reading and theater with keeping their bond strong decade after decade.
“I don’t know what the secret is but when I met her for the first time, she was so nice I fell in love with her,” says Shamrakov, who came to the U.S. with his wife in 1993. “I respect her. I know I can’t do something if I know she’s not going to respect it.”
The Shamrakovs are among 300 couples who will gather for a Valentine’s Day champagne party in Brooklyn that’s become an annual celebration of enduring love. It’s a select group: All of them have been married at least half a century.
“To me it’s the ultimate love story,” said Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who has organized the Valentine’s Day party for the last 11 years. “In these days of high divorce rates, this shows that true love, commitment, communication and all that can make for a lifelong marriage. That’s what they’ve proven against the odds.”
On Thursday, Markowitz and his wife will renew their vows (they’ve been married a mere 13 years) and then he will make a ceremonial proclamation to the graying, grizzled veterans of love.
“I say, ‘I hereby declare you married forever.’ Everyone kisses, if they’re able to, and that’s it.”
Among the couples who will attend the love-filled function are Murray and Esther Redlitz, who have been married 66 years.
“He has a wonderful personality, he’s always on the bright side,” says Esther, 86, holding her husband’s hand. “I’m the pessimist, he’s the optimist.”
That the Redlitz are together is no small feat – the two are both Holocaust survivors from Poland who met under the worst of circumstances, trying to find missing family members after the Russian Army freed their concentration camps at the end of World War II.
Most of their family members didn’t survive the camps, so their marriage a few years after the war was as much about survival as it was about love.
“We didn’t have nobody,” says Esther, recalling how Murray was the one constant as they made their way through Poland and Czechoslovakia before coming to the United States.
“The love we have for each other will be here till the day we die,” adds Murray, 86, who owned an emblem printing business in Manhattan and ran it with his wife for 26 years.
The borough’s longest lasting love pair may be Fortuno and Maddalena Corso, who tied the knot in Italy as teenagers 72 years ago.
“I liked her and so I got married,” says Fortuno, 89, a retired construction worker who still speaks Italian with his wife, who doesn’t speak any English. “You’ve got to love each other and you’ve got to work at it together.”