Classmates reunite in West Boca assisted living facility after 70 years

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Monday, July 25, 2011


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West Boca — Sol Harris, 90, and Florence Seussman, 89, last saw each other at their 1938 graduation from Liberty High School in New York's Catskills. Two years ago, after 70 years, the two high school friends discovered each other in the same assisted-living facility west of Boca Raton.

They reconnected while playing a "brain fitness" game at Brighton Gardens at Stratford Court Boca Pointe in 2009. Activities coordinator Tereza Guimaraes asked residents to name cities that started with the letter "L."

Seussman offered her hometown of Liberty, where she lived for more than 60 years and where she raised a son and daughter before moving to Florida. Later, Harris approached her and asked: "What do you know about Liberty?"

It was where she came from, she said. She told Harris her maiden name.

An astounded Harris said, "Oh, my God, you're Florence Yeager, my best girl friend in high school." Turning to Seussman on Monday, he said, "You don't think so, but you were my best girl."

Guimaraes was amazed at the coincidence and researched their pasts, putting together a binder with old class photos, a roster of the 66-member Class of 1938 and historical information on the village of Liberty and the school.

She unsuccessfully tried to pitch the pair's story to the Oprah show and has tried to find other classmates for the two.

"I have never had a story like this. I still have goose bumps," Guimaraes said, "I believe in destiny. It was meant for both of them to be together and give one another emotional support."

Other coincidences: Harris and Seussman's birthdays are both in August, 12 days apart, and each has a daughter named Barbara. They have their fights like married couples, although they live apart, but there is a lot of care and support.

Harris' daughter, Nancy Landry of Deerfield Beach, says she's seen a remarkable change in her father and Seussman ever since their lives crossed paths … again.

"I've seen dramatic improvement on both of their health, a lot of positive changes," she said. "It's amazing what positive things have come out of this relationship."

Last year Harris had surgery for colon cancer, his second cancer. Seussman suffers from Parkinson's disease.

"I felt like I was floating in space when I went into assisted living," Seussman said of the few months before she reconnected with Harris. "I didn't know which way to turn."

Reuniting with Harris "was just a very natural process."

The two meet daily for lunch and dinner. Harris said he is too "miserable at breakfast, so I eat by myself."

"You do very well in the mornings, I think," Seussman counters.

They play bingo together and take naps on the outside porch. Harris pushes Seussman around in her wheelchair; Seussman lifts Harris' spirits.

In Liberty, Seussman went on to be a homemaker and married an attorney. Harris joined the Air Force and flew B-29 bombers, but World War II ended before he went abroad. He left Liberty in 1958 and lived in Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and settled in Florida, where he lived in Miami, Sebring and Boynton Beach.

He was a salesman for a women's dress company.

His wife died of leukemia in 2008 before he moved to Brighton Gardens.

"My wife said a couple times, 'You'll find somebody else after I'm gone, I promise you,'" Harris said. "And who do I find? So we hang around together. Reminisce all the time.

"What else do we have to do here? Eat, sleep and reminisce of years ago," Harris said.

So they recall when Seussman was hired to work in Harris' "papa's" ice-cream parlor, where he was the "chief ice-cream scooper."

"I had the strongest arm," he said.

But Seussman's father objected and didn't let his daughter take the job.

They also remember the names of all the stores on Liberty's Main Street. And that time when they went bike riding together and Seussman turned around after two miles, leaving Harris to pedal for another 10 miles.

"Sol's happy to talk of these days. That's one of the reasons he likes to be with me," Seussman says. "I remember a lot of the same things that he remembers."

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