Attn. Lovebirds: How to celebrate 77 Valentine’s Days together

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Saturday, February 13, 2016 12:47 pm EST

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Los Angeles Daily News

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They locked eyes nearly eight decades ago during a coed mixer in Motor City. And they’ve been pedal-to-the-metal lovers since.

 

As couples across the nation exchange kisses and more today for Valentine’s Day, few will share a burning love longer than Bill and Fran Katz of Woodland Hills. He’s 97; she’s 94. In July, they plan to celebrate 74 years of marriage. .

 

“She opened the door and that was it,” said Bill Katz, of that long-ago meeting in their native Detroit, his green-blue eyes flashing at the memory. “It was love at first sight.”

 

“I went home after meeting him at a friend’s house and said, ‘Mother, I’ve met the most wonderful boy in the world,’” Fran Katz said, beaming at the thought. “He acted like a salesman; he sold himself to me immediately.”

 

Their love has shone through lean times and good. Through war and peace. Through family, work and retirement. And from the country club and into assisted living.

 

Since they moved into Sunrise of Woodland Hills five years ago, their affection has permeated the assisted living home, officials say, where they are the oldest resident married couple.

 

They stroll together behind separate walkers. Hold hands on outings to Dodger Stadium. And share tandem meals each day at their table in the northeast dining room: he looking at her, she looking at him, as they’ve done in harness for three quarters of a century.

 

“They’re incredibly adorable, because they’re in love,” said Janet Plant, director of sales and marketing at the Craftsman-style assisted living center atop Chalk Hill. “They’re just devoted to each other. They have a genuine respect for each other. They don’t take each other for granted.

 

“They’re a model of matrimony, particularly on Valentine’s Day.”

 

They met in 1939, the tail end of the Great Depression and the dawn of World War II. He was a 20; she was 17. He was a Katz. She, too, was a Katz, though unrelated.

 

William Katz had sauntered up to the door of a girl’s club mixer hoping to run into a “Fanny” Katz with whom he’d once played softball. But instead the door was opened by the Frances Katz of future dreams.

 

They went steady, two college students too poor to exchange wedding rings. Three years after they met, Bill Katz enlisted in the Army Air Corps, which sent him to Santa Ana to train to fly bombers over Europe.

 

In the summer of ‘42 he took a 10-day leave to see his sweetheart. On a Thursday, he called her from a Detroit train station.

 

“Do you know you’re getting married Sunday?’ Fran asked him, of the July 26, 1942 nuptials before he headed off to war.

 

“I am?” Bill said.

 

“You bet you are,” said Fran, who had already paid $4 for a marriage license.

 

There was only one problem. On the eve of the wedding, Fran’s mom Lillian Katz asked about the ring. Bill and Fran didn’t have one. So at nearly 9 p.m. they raced out to Kresge’s 5 and 10 (predecessor to Kmart) and begged the manager to let them into the shuttered store.

 

The ring, of an undetermined alloy, cost a dime. Plus 1-cent wartime luxury tax. A backyard marriage cost a lofty $65.

 

And then the young Army lieutenant left his bride to go to Corsica, from where he survived 53 missions piloting B-25 bombers over Nazi-occupied Italy, before rejoining Fran at military posts in Oklahoma and Texas.

 

After the war, they returned to Detroit. Despite being accepted at Columbia University in New York and an Army recommendation he join a new “think tank” that would become Rand Corp., Bill Katz joined the family’s dry cleaning supply business.

 

In 1950, they had a son, Josh Katz. And after Detroit erupted in riots in the 1960s -- Fran recalled a man pushing a liberated grand piano down the middle of their street -- they sold the business in 1969 and retired to sunny California. He was 50.

 

Their love endured in San Diego, Oceanside and in Woodland Hills, where they recently settled to be near their son, in Calabasas, and a grandson Max, in Hollywood.

 

Across the decades, Bill loved golf and reading. She loved classical music, especially Mozart. Together they supported the local arts -- and treasured each other.

 

She would make him his favorite dish, potato latkes. He would say, “‘Put a little more onion in it, and a little less salt,’” she said. “I made ‘em just the way he liked ‘em.”

 

He, in turn, took her out to her favorite Chinese and Italian restaurants.

 

“I loved him. And he loved me,” said Fran Katz, elegantly dressed one day this week with a string of pearls. “He never hollered at me -- then,” she joked. “We just fit. I chased him all over the country. He didn’t have any faults -- then.”

 

“I loved everything about her -- her body, her voice,” added Bill, dressed in a bright orange polo shirt bracketed by suspenders. “Our compatibility, we both love music, dance, books, theater.

 

“I was a lousy dancer, but I enjoyed holding her.”

 

Decades ago, before a long-ago flight across the Atlantic on a Lockheed Constellation propellor plane, Fran cast her sheath of wartime love letters into a furnace. If the plane went down, she said, she didn’t want to read their private thoughts.

 

Today, there will be no Valentine’s Day cards. No roses. No chocolates. There will only be the Sunrise of Woodland Hills’ Valentine’s party. For the nonagenarian lovebirds, each day surpasses the pastel Hallmark holiday.

 

The secret to their abiding union?

 

“Knowing when not to holler at him,” Fran said, laughing.

 

“Love. Just love. Lots of it,” Bill said, with a grin. “I think my (Valentine’s) card days are over. Kissing is enough.”

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