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Children recount parents' 73-year love affair, devotion, marriage

8/22/13 | By Sheila R. Cherry, Associate Editor

GLEN RIDDLE—Sometimes you know exactly what you want the very first second you spot it. That was the case for young Stephen Gural when he spotted the pretty brunette coming out of an ice cream shop while he was visiting a friend in New Jersey. That was nearly eight decades ago.

Stephen’s chance sighting of Frances Kulima led to a romantic pursuit, love affair and marriage that would end only as Stephen died still proclaiming his love for Frances, days after their 73rd wedding anniversary.

It all began when he first laid eyes on a teen-aged Frances in the tightknit New Jersey town where she lived and where he was visiting friends and relatives. Stephen had been in the process of helping his family migrate from their farm in the Ukraine to Manitoba, Canada, at the urging of a Jewish neighbor, according to his daughter Darlene Hughes. It was the early 1930s and the neighbor was telling everyone he knew that the political climate in Ukraine was devolving with the expansion of Germany’s military power and strongly urging them to leave. The Gural family heeded the warning, choosing North America and sending Stephen ahead to make arrangements for the family.

The family had just as many relatives and friends in the United States as it did in Canada, but at that time it was easier to take refuge in Canada. During one visit to the States, as the family history goes, when Stephen first laid eyes on Frances he nudged his friend Sal and said, “That’s Frances Kulima. That’s the woman I’m going to marry.”

And he did.

Within the time in between they had three children, Dennis, Lorraine Caldwell and Darlene Hughes; five granddaughters; and six great-grandchildren. For the couple’s apparently very devoted children and grandchildren, recounting the love story of the two first generation Americans born to Ukrainian and Polish immigrant parents seemed to be a catharsis of sorts.

The couple loved to travel and did so frequently, according to their children. Lorraine said her most poignant memories were the road trips the family would take, with the Gurals, their three kids and each grandmother in the car. With all those family members in the back seat they traveled to visit even more family, in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, Yonkers, New York and the Jersey Shore.

The trips were usually punctuated with fussy children and their mother trying to separate them, according to Lorraine.

“We probably drove mom and dad crazy, but they kept taking us along,” she chuckled.

Then in early 1990, Frances was diagnosed with dementia and Stephen became her caregiver and moved with her to a retirement community in Toms River then to Bel Air before settling on the Eastern Shore.

According to son Dennis, as Frances began to experience less and less connecting and communication, Stephen spent 15-hour days cooking, cleaning, encouraging Frances to stay active with mental and physical exercise, and doing everything necessary to help her keep on living.

Nevertheless, Frances was admitted to the hospital in May after a fall and nearly died after suffering a staph infection and sepsis, but she rallied back enough to be transferred to the Salisbury Rehabilitation and Nursing Center (Salisbury Genesis) three weeks later. But as the family focused its attention on Frances’ care, Stephen, temporarily relieved of his two-decade caregiving vigil, began to show signs of frailty. Nearly one month to the day Frances was admitted to the hospital, in June, Stephen was admitted with pneumonia and heart failure. He was transferred to Genesis four days later.

With the help of the Genesis staff, Stephen was wheeled to Frances’ room to hold hands every day, Darlene said. On June 22 the staff helped the family arrange a small celebration for the Gural’s 73rd wedding anniversary.

Stephen died on June 29 at the age of 96. Then it was Frances who pursued him, dying on July 14 at the age of 93.

Rob Stofer, administrator of Salisbury Genesis said the staff said it was a wonderful party and that they felt lucky to witness it and to play a small part in hosting it. He said the facility hosts many celebrations throughout the year because it has lots of meeting spaces where visiting families can gather in private, including outside areas.

“We do parties all the time,” Stofer said, adding that 100-year birthday celebrations tend to draw the most family members visiting from outside the Eastern Shore area. He said they can either cater parties or allow families to bring in food.

Darlene said she never saw her parents argue and frequently spotted them holding hands, and professing their love for one another and their children.

In eulogizing his parents, Dennis said “Dad always got a rise and laugh wherever he was and he enjoyed doing this his whole life through, which is one reason he lived so long and they got along so well.”

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