Her conquering hero

Her conquering hero

What’s a girl to do when everyone’s cheering the hometown hero, and she believes he won’t even look her way? Playing a waiting game — and ending up at the same college — might be the answer.

Yvette Gitlow and Lou Tekel grew up in Spring Valley, N.Y., and attended school together. Yvette knew Lou, but he wasn’t a close friend.

"This was during World War II," she says, "and Lou left high school during his senior year to join the Air Corps. At graduation, his father accepted Lou’s diploma while his son was flying missions over France and Germany."

Yvette and Lou Tekel

Lou served with distinction as a ball turret gunner in B-17s, completing 35 missions, and even having to bail out twice. After Lou came home to Spring Valley, his father held a party at their synagogue to celebrate his son’s triumphant return. When Yvette’s mother asked her if she was going, she muttered, "He wouldn’t know who I was" — even though he’d written her a letter from abroad.

"It wasn’t very personal," she explains, "Still, I did write back, but my letter apparently kept following him all over Europe without ever reaching him."

After high school, Yvette had begun attending NYU, and though she did not know it, so had Lou, after his discharge from the Army.

"A friend from Spring Valley pointed him out to me on campus," Yvette recalls. "She said, ‘Lou Tekel’s going here,’ and we actually met up under the big clock."

It wasn’t long before the two were seriously dating, going out to eat at the restaurants on Sixth Avenue, and taking the bus home together on weekends. "We both knew from the start that it was special," Yvette says.

Lou was eager to get on with his life and assume the adult responsibilities the service had prepared him for. A year after he entered NYU, he and Yvette were engaged.

"He completed college in two and half years," she points out. "He started with day classes, but had no patience for the 18-year-olds — he’d been to war and back, after all — so he switched to night classes composed of ex-GIs and other older students."

The couple were married in September of 1946, while they were still at NYU. After graduation, they moved to Maywood, and had a son, Harvey. Two years later they found their permanent home in Haworth, where daughter Tova was born.

While studying engineering at college, Lou had worked at the UJA in Manhattan and pumped gas on weekends. He later joined Yvette’s father in the Gitlow family’s commercial laundry business.

Yvette, who had studied retailing and merchandising in school, soon found herself deeply involved in community service. In 1981, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development built a low-income apartment complex in Suffern, the Rockland Jewish Home for the Aged — which, incidentally, was sponsored by an organization Yvette’s mother founded — and Yvette has been its president for the past ‘4 years. Thirteen years ago, the couple sold their commercial laundry business, and Lou became the manager of the complex.

"We’re very proud of it," Yvette says, "Several years ago Andrew Cuomo chose it as one of the 100 best-managed housing complexes in the country — out of 3′,000 projects." HUD recently awarded the organization a major grant, and an additional 80 units are in the works.

"We’ve always led a very Jewish-oriented life," Yvette says proudly. Fifty-one years ago she started the first Northern Valley Chapter of Hadassah, and was also first president of the women’s division of the precursor organization of UJA Federation of Northern New Jersey. She’s been on the national board of Hadassah since 1979.

Lou is also no stranger to community service — he’s been honored by a number of Jewish organizations and institutions, including B’nai B’rith and Yeshiva University and the Zionist Organization of America. He is still very active on the UJA board and in the couple’s synagogue, Cong. Beth Israel of Northern Valley in Bergenfield. Both the Tekels have also been honored by the Jewish Home at Rockleigh.

"We visit Israel every year," Yvette adds, "with one of our affiliated groups."

And Lou still sees his Air Corps unit, the 100th Bomb Group, at their annual reunions. His old leather flight jacket with 35 bombs painted on the back — one for each mission — was recently sent to a British war museum at the air field where he’d been stationed.

The Tekels two children have blessed them with four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. One of their grandsons actually works with Lou in Suffern at the senior complex. "It’s a treat to see them together," Yvette says.

After more than six decades as man and wife, the Tekels each have a take on what makes a marriage work. "I told this story at our 60th anniversary party this September," Yvette relates. "I’d always had trouble with my legs — as a child I spent four years in bed because of it — and I had to wear ugly remedial shoes, even in college. One day I saw Lou had on a pair of ugly shoes, and when I asked him why, he said, ‘I thought it would be nice if we both wore the same shoes.’" She smiles at the memory, then adds, "He has always been there to guide me. I never felt set apart — he always made me feel like I was 100 percent."

"You have to work at a marriage," Lou says, "You start out as two strangers who have to learn to accommodate each other. And not every day is wonderful. But with Yvette, over the past 60 years, there have been more wonderful days than not."

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