UNION, NJ — In a world where marriages don’t seem to last very long, when a husband and wife have been together for 70 years, it’s remarkable. A Union couple is set to celebrate this milestone on Thursday, Aug. 19.
Union High School Class of 1947 graduate Charles W. Sommer Jr. and his wife, Rose, Bloomfield High School Class of 1947, both now 92 years old, wed on Aug. 19, 1951. Charles said theirs was a whirlwind romance.
“We both were 22 years old when we got married,” Charles said in an Aug. 13 interview at the Sommer home. “We got married in Bloomfield Sacred Heart Church. We met at work, and we were employed by Firemen’s (Insurance Company) Loyalty Group in Newark. I was an assistant casualty underwriter in the casualty department and my wife, Rose, was a filing clerk. She had an occasion to come around to my department, and we struck a friendship. Within six months, we were engaged and, six months later, we were married.
“In 1950, I was in the Air National Guard, and I had to report for summer camp, and I was going with two other friends from Bloomfield, so I arranged to stay overnight at Rose’s house,” he continued. “That’s how I know that it was probably around August of 1949 that we met. Then, of course, we were married in 1951 and we continued working together for about five years.”
For their honeymoon, he said, they went to Atlantic City for two weeks. When they returned, they had to find a place to live, so they got a furnished room in Bloomfield — just a bedroom and a kitchenette.
“We weren’t able to cook or anything like that, just a hot plate was there, and we had to go out for our meals,” said Charles. “Then we decided we couldn’t live like that. So, we then moved to the (Maple) Garden Apartments in Irvington and we were on the sixth floor there, when they were called Parkway Apartments, when they were first built. We were one of the first occupants. We had a one-and-a-half room there.”
Rose said there were struggles when her husband was making $25 a week. He left his employer to eventually make $50. Luckily, Charles’ father, Union Tax Assessor Charles Sommer Sr., was able to help the newlyweds get on their feet. His son went on to have a 50-year career in the insurance business, starting out as a casualty underwriter, then a life producer, then working for three major insurance companies, retiring in 1998.
The couple then went to live on Montrose Terrace in Irvington, a side street near the parkway, in a second-story, one-and-a-half apartment. One-and-a-halfs were typically a bedroom, a kitchen and a den. The couple stayed there for a short time before deciding it was time to have a baby. Rose became pregnant in 1955 with the couple’s first child and stopped working soon after.
The couple then moved to Sheridan Street, near Chancellor Avenue, where their new baby, Susan Junice, had her own room.
“The baby got a bedroom, and we slept in the dining room,” Charles said. “There, we had a first-floor apartment and that consisted of a living room, dining room/bedroom, a kitchen and a bathroom. We stayed there for four years and then moved to Union.”
In Union, the couple rented the first floor of a house on Steuben Street off Morris Avenue near Union High School and were there until 1967. Charles owned five lots on Sinclair Avenue at the time and was able to build the house they currently live in today. The couple ultimately had three children, Susan Junice, David and Brian; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Rose has some precious mementos, including the yellow socks she knit for Charles in 1949. She cherishes the heirloom and the accompanying note she wrote.
“To Charlie dear, it took me time with each stitch in mind to make these socks for you. All day and night. So, treat them well, and enjoy them, too. As all my efforts were for you. Rose,” the note reads.
Despite her 2005 pancreatic cancer diagnosis and her recent Whipple procedure to treat the disease, Rose is a survivor. It’s hard for her to walk distances without her cane, but that didn’t stop her from grabbing another cherished heirloom, her high school yearbook. One page in it has Frank Sinatra’s autograph. Rose had traveled out west with her yearbook after her high school graduation to see her sister, Clara, who lived in Albuquerque, N.M., and the two went to Los Angeles to find Frank Sinatra’s house in Malibu Beach.
When the pair found him, Sinatra signed a special message to Rose in her yearbook: “To Clara and Rose, Best wishes of Bloomfield High. Always, Frank Sinatra Jr., June 22, 1947.”
Charles and Rose admit that getting married when they were 22 years old wasn’t easy.
“We were like two children getting married,” said Charles. “I was an only child, and Rose was one of six. It was a huge difference. I got to the point where, when I met Rose, I realized that she was the one. The only problem that we had was because of not being paid enough.
“We don’t regret anything. We’ve had our problems just like everyone else. As far as regrets are concerned, we’ve never regretted anything,” he continued. “We rely on each other, and family can only help you but so far. We just hope we can continue. We’re very proud of our family — our children, the grandchildren and the great-grandchildren that we have. Everyone has grown up the way we taught them. It’s been a wonderful life with Rose.”
“We’ve had our ups and downs, but we came through, especially with my illness,” she said. “This illness took the life out of me, and just walking from the door to the next house is important for me to do, but it’s hard. It hasn’t been easy, but this is where we are — 70 years.”
Photos by EmilyAnn Jackman
Editor’s note: This story was updated to correct a spelling error.