Not every high school romance manages to grow and thrive, but this North Jersey couple made an easy transition from dating teens to globetrotting soul mates.
Paula Millenthal grew up in Union City and then Cliffside Park. "But I actually spent a lot of time in Hoboken," she says. "I had family there and went to school at Stevens Hoboken Academy. We also attended Cong. Adas Emuno."
Paula and Bill Cantor, left, at Amherst College’s prom weekend in 1957 and at the YJCC’s Candlelight Dinner.
In 1947, when she was in fifth grade, she met sixth-grader Bill Cantor, who was from Jersey City. Although they remained friends through high school, by the time Bill was a senior, something had changed between them. He realized he wanted to ask her out.
"I had to wait until I had a driver’s license. Otherwise it took three buses to get to her house." He adds with a grin, "Nobody was worth that." So one month to the day of his turning 17, he took Paula on their first date.
"We were pretty much a couple after that," Paula confesses. "We continued to date even after Bill left for Amherst." When Paula started attending Cornell as a zoology and psych major, they saw each other during breaks and even managed to meet during school term. "That was in the days before the Mass Pike or Thruway were finished," Bill says. "I drove all the back roads in New York State, through rain and snow. It took true love to keep us connected."
"He also wrote me a lot of love letters," Paula adds, "which we still have."
In 1958, after Bill’s graduation, he and Paula were married. Bill, who had been pre-med at Amherst even though he enjoyed all his liberal arts courses began attending Seton Hall College of Medicine in Jersey City.
Their daughter Juliet was born during Bill’s second year there, and since Paula could no longer work, their parents helped them out financially. Having a baby was no hardship for the couple, however. "We took her to all the med school parties," Paula says with a grin. "Bill and I were like the grownups of the group. We still see some of our closest friends from back then."
In Bill’s final year of medical school he joined the Air Force, which offered a program that included financial aid. After he received his medical degree, the family of three drove out to California, to Travis Air Force Base, where Bill began his internshp at the base hospital. This was where their son Geoffrey was born. San Antonio was their next stop, where Bill trained as a flight surgeon. Then it was back to California, where he worked as a flight surgeon for three years. "It was that experience that led to my specialty, which is ear, nose, and throat," he says.
In 1966, Bill left the Air Force and completed his training in Philadelphia and then Boston.
"There was some culture shock involved in coming back East," Paula admits. "It was very tempting to stay in California. Finally we returned to New Jersey, which truly felt like home because we had close friends and family."
The Cantors settled in Woodcliff Lake, where Bill and Paula still live. Their children and their respective spouses and five grandchildren live nearby.
Bill has been in private practice for many years, while Paula describes herself as a "professional volunteer." She first got involved with Temple Beth Or in Washington Township, and her credentials include officer and then president of the Mid-Bergen Section of the National Council of Jewish Women, president of the Women’s Division of the United Jewish Community (now UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey), and the first woman president of the federation.
She subsequently became involved with the Bergen YJCC as a board member, officer, and finally as its first woman president. "The trend started back in high school," she says, "when I was the first female president of the student council."
"She’s three for three," jokes Bill, who is also a volunteer in UJA-NNJ and who helped create its doctors’ division.
While with the UJC, Paula led women’s missions to Israel and now, with the YJCC, has been organizing and guiding family trips to Israel for the past 16 years with another past president. For the past five years. Bill has been leading trips there for medical professionals.
"As you can see," Bill says, "Paula and I share a long list of common interests. We’re devoted to our family, we love the theater and traveling, we’re attached to Israel and the Jewish community. But we also have our individual interests. Paula is a talented painter."
"And Bill is an accomplished musician," she points out. "He plays the piano and sings. He’s even done cabaret. Our lives are very full. I continue to paint, he continues with his music. We share values about life and how to appreciate it.
"It must have been bashert," she adds. "One time back in high school when Bill and I were standing on the lunch line, he turned to me and announced, ‘I’m going to marry you one day.’"
"I never make an idle threat," he says with a smile.