Marriage & Life Partners · Relationships & Dating

A First-Time Bride at 75: Ann and Jerry’s Romance

wvfc ann front-14October_Anna_and_Gordon_Wedding_085Ann Belkov and Jerry Lewis. (Photo: Brian Kent)

First published on February 10, 2015.

It wasn’t a traditional wedding. True, the bride wore a white gown of organza and satin (strapless, but with a shrug “so my arms and back won’t show”), carried a bouquet of hydrangeas, and proceeded down a long hallway to the strains of “Here Comes the Bride.” But as she entered the room and faced her guests, she threw her arms out and (to a recording of the Etta James song) cried, “AT LAST!”

At last indeed! On October 14, 2014, Ann Belkov, 75, the retired Superintendent of the Statue of Liberty National Monument and Ellis Island Museum, married Jerry Lewis, 81, a former international development and humanitarian organization executive. He was divorced, the father of two grown children. She had never before been a bride.

In Ann’s day, all girls expected (and were expected) to get married. But Ann wasn’t someone who dreamed of wedding gowns and bridesmaids—or of having a career, either. All she wanted to do, she says, was “survive.”

She grew up in a “dysfunctional family environment” in a poor, mostly blue-collar, neighborhood in D.C. “My father lost his business when I was 14,” she says. “I started working in a five and dime. Marriage or a career was not my interest. I didn’t have any ambitions. I never thought of what I could be or couldn’t be. I just I was.

She spent a year at Montgomery Junior College, then dropped out and, at 19, took off for California to attend a friend’s wedding and live with an aunt. She’d assumed that she would go to college there, but “I had no idea about going to college; I didn’t know I couldn’t afford it.” So she went to the John Robert Powers modeling school and got a job modeling and assisting various dress designers and manufacturers. She dated some, but “never thought of marriage or a career.”

As it turned out, she was to have a “fabulous” career. “I fall into wonderful things,” she says. “There’s been no conscious reinvention in my life; nothing was planned; I just have the habit of being in the right place at the right time. Of course, working hard and being good at whatever I did helped.”

At age 21 she moved back east and got a job as a summer worker for the D. C. Department of Recreation. They liked her and offered her a permanent position as a recreation director and preschool teacher. After nine years with D.C. Recreation, she sought a change; she worked for the Air Force as a service club and youth director during the Vietnam conflict, stationed in Okinawa.

When she returned to D.C., her luck held; she got a job with the National Park Service as an outdoor recreation coordinator. This triggered promotions that eventually won her the post of Superintendent/manager of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park—both encompass Civil War battlefields—in Georgia and Tennessee, respectively—and the Russell Cave National Monument, in Alabama. She lived on the Chickamauga battlefield in a 6,000-square-foot historic house—just Ann and her dog.

Asked if she felt lonely during her long life as a single woman, Ann hesitates. “There were times when I wanted affection and it wasn’t there,” she acknowledges. “What hurts the most is when you do something really well, receive great accolades, and have fabulous experiences . . . but there’s no one to share them with. When I was on the Chattanooga battlefield, we had wonderful symphony concerts in the summer. Twenty thousand people would come to those concerts, and they would be a big success. But I’d go home by myself to an empty house. That was lonely.”

She dated three men when she in lived in Chattanooga. “Nobody very serious. Nobody I wanted to have a long-term relationship with.” Her pattern throughout her life, she admits, was to have relationships with men she cared for—and quickly push them away, intentionally. “I was a very strong woman. I would do things that would make them reject me.” She laughs. “I don’t know why I would do that. I’d be hurt for a little while, and then I’d quickly step back.

“There was one man in Okinawa that I was really madly in love with. We traveled around the Far East together. He had a long-time girlfriend back home. I made a conscious decision not to break my contract with the Air Force when his contract was over, so he went home alone and married his girlfriend.”

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  • Elisa Rodriguez November 20, 2015 at 10:07 am

    Wow! Thaºs really a nice story!

  • Emrah November 18, 2015 at 11:26 am

    believe in love and trust it! So magic story can happen to everyone.

  • Barbara Hammond October 22, 2015 at 2:02 pm

    What a fabulous story! Thanks for sharing.

  • Norma Nelson October 1, 2015 at 3:23 pm

    ……….and they lived happily ever after.
    Loved their story…………

  • TJBattle September 29, 2015 at 8:31 am

    Ah, a great life.

  • hillsmom September 26, 2015 at 1:24 pm

    What a truly touching story. Love it!

  • Ana Palacio September 25, 2015 at 11:09 am

    I love and enjoy this story so much!!!