By Jessica Creagan
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY -- Loving someone for more than 19,000 days is a long time and might seem like a repetitive chore to some, but the loving rarely looks the same from day to day, a Vero Beach couple said.
On March 25, Donald and Jean Siegel will celebrate 53 years of marriage and while Valentine's Day is a good reminder to show special care to each other, they believe it is much more important to display that love every day of the year.
"Valentine's Day is for amateurs," Mr. Siegel said with a chuckle.
The Siegels have known each other since their high school days, but didn't start a romantic relationship until friends set them up several years later.
"He dated all of my girlfriends in high school though, he even dated my cousin, true story," Mrs. Siegel said with a smile.
Over the years, the Siegels raised three sons, had successful careers in business, real estate and civic service and moved to Florida from New York to begin a new phase of life, retirement.
The couple volunteers at the Humane Society of Vero Beach and Indian River County, sometimes together, sometimes solo, but both of them agree their two adopted shelter dogs enrich their lives and caring for the dogs is another way they enjoy spending time together and is a form of loving each other.
Living in Vero Beach has given them more opportunities to be outdoors year-round and do things together, again making time to keep their relationship strong.
Last year, the Siegels were shocked when Mrs. Siegel received a breast cancer diagnosis, but instead of losing hope, they banded closer together and braved the doctor's visits, treatments and tests together.
"Don has always been so supportive of Jean. When she was diagnosed, I remember that he was always there for her," said Janet Winikoff, education director of the animal shelter said.
With her treatment complete, Mrs. Siegel's doctors gave her an excellent prognosis and Mr. Siegel knew it was cause for celebration.
"When I heard she was feeling better I booked a cruise. The doctors say she has a strong immune system; I say she's got it for putting up with me for 53 years!" Mr. Siegel said.
"Being on this road to recovery is like another chance at life and it really helps you appreciate the everyday," Mrs. Siegel said.
When it comes to building a strong and lasting marriage, there are two pieces of advice the couple agree are key.
"No. 1 is communication," Mrs. Siegel said.
Talking and listening to the other person with respect can help overcome differences and avoid problems down the road, they said.
"And you've also got to have a good sense of humor, you've got to learn to laugh at each other and laugh at life," Mr. Siegel said.
"Life is like a hand of cards. It's what you do with what you are dealt that matters. It's all in how you play the game and I think we play a really good game," Mr. Siegel said.