A gift from the heart

A gift from the heart

Sometimes, when two people are casually dating, one meaningful act of kindness can solidify a relationship and lead to much more.

Jacquelynn Duquette grew up in Queens, the child of a Catholic mother and a Jewish father. Her family was not well off, and although she badly wanted to go to college, her parents could not afford it. So at the age of 18 she joined the Air Force, expecting to one day attend college on the G.I. bill.

That December, Jackie’s grandmother died, and she was sent home on a bereavement leave. While there, she took a part-time job in a local store, Fishbein’s, in Astoria, to help out over the holidays.

"We’d always shopped there," she explains. "It was a great place — a Tru-Value hardware store, plus they sold groceries and cards. Their motto was ‘One Stop Shopping.’"

Jackie and Robert Fishbein

It was here that she met Robert Fishbein, whose family had owned the store for three generations. Bobby was studying business and finance at St. John’s, but also helped out in the store. He asked her out and the two quickly started dating.

"Fishbein’s was open till midnight," Jackie says, "So we had some pretty late dates."

Jackie stayed in touch with Bobby even after she went back to the Air Force. But then her life took an abrupt turn. Her mother had always had hearing problems — the result of childhood scarlet fever — and when her mom found out she would soon lose her hearing, it was Jackie, the only child who was still single, who was expected to look after her.

Jackie was released from service on a hardship discharge, feeling that her dreams were crumbling. "I was obviously concerned about my mother," she relates, "but my plans for college were now down the drain."

But Bobby was not going to let her lose heart. "I knew a number of the deans at St. John’s and told them about her situation," he says. "They explained that if she started and did well at St. Vincent’s, their two-year school, she could switch to St. John’s after one semester." Bobby showed her how to apply for student loans and even found her housing.

"He was totally there for me emotionally," Jackie says. "And we weren’t even a committed couple yet, just dating. It was very impressive, how he went to bat for me."

Around the same time, Jackie was seeing the completion of another dream: She had always wanted to convert to Judaism, but her parents told her she had to wait until she was 18. After her return from the Air Force, she decided to take action. But locating a sponsor proved difficult. "They didn’t encourage conversions back then," she recalls, "and Bobby said it didn’t matter to him." But Jackie was determined, and she finally found a sponsor at the Forest Hills Jewish Center and began studying with a rabbi. She converted when she was 19, the same year Bobby proposed on her birthday.

"We were married a year later, in 1986," she says, "while we were both still in school."

After Bobby graduated, the couple moved to Ridgewood. He was now fully involved in running the family store, while Jackie soon had four children to look after: Matthew, now 18, Joshua, 15, Zachary, 13, and Daniella, 11.

"We decided to start a family before my last year at St. John’s," she explains, "thinking we could do both. But then I wanted to stay with my children as much as I could. I eventually completed my degrees in psychology and elementary education at William Paterson." She also received her master’s in teaching literacy from Long Island University in Rockland.

Once her children were all in school, Jackie began teaching; she’s now a fourth-grade teacher in Haworth.

Bobby continued at the store until his family sold it. He stayed in retail and is assistant vice president of regional operations for B.J.’s Wholesale Clubs.

In ‘001 the family moved to Park Ridge, but found they missed their connection to Temple Israel in Ridgewood. They rejoined in ‘005, and Zachary made his bar mitzvah there this year. Besides their activities with the synagogue, the couple also do a lot of school-related volunteer work.

"Bobby and I are totally equal partners in our home," Jackie says of their marriage of ‘1 years.

"We share all our chores and responsibilities," Bobby adds. "And we’re definitely best friends."

"Plus he’s still a mensch," Jackie says with a grin. "And he’s really cute, too."

read more: