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

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.”