It was winter 1952-53, and Bob Hegel was working in ticketing at Idlewild Airport, now John F. Kennedy International, in Queens. He was invited by a co-worker to a New Year's Eve party, and it was there he first met the woman, Shirley, who would become his wife.
While the details are hazy so many years later, Hegel recalls being immediately smitten.
"She was a very attractive girl," he said. "We seemed to have a good conversation.
That night, he asked her out. They quickly became infatuated with each other, and six months later, they were married. On June 25, the Brigantine couple celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.
In recognition of this rare occasion, daughter Jeri Reid organized a surprise party and family reunion at the Laguna Grill in Brigantine, one of the couple's favorite restaurants on the island, for June 9.
Reid, who lives outside Louisville, Ky., had a spare week of vacation after a business trip fell through, so she decided to visit her parents, planning the party to coincide with her trip. She was worried they might suspect something, as they had just visited her in Kentucky a few weeks before for her son's graduation, but as they left for lunch that afternoon, the Hegels were unaware of her plans.
As they walked into the dining room, Shirley, who has the better vision of the couple, was the first to notice the family.
"She just jumped, when my mom realized," Jeri said. "My dad hadn't realized it, in the distance, what was going on. He was kind of upset we weren't sitting outside. He finally realized it, and he just continued to say, 'I can't believe you guys did that.'"
The couple's sons, Jeff and Jim, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and friends were all there waiting for them. More than 30 showed up to the celebration, Reid said.
The couple were shocked and glad to see everyone, Shirley said.
"I was very surprised. We both were," she said. "There were lots of people there."
After the couple married, they relocated to Ringoes, Hunterdon County, where Bob worked as a compositor for the Bucks County Courier Times and later taught printing at Bucks County Technical School. Shirley worked at the Florence Township school as a home economics teacher.
After a few year in Ringoes, the pair moved to Levittown, Pa., where Bob took a teaching job at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf. Shirley remained at the Florence Township school, where she worked 31 years.
The couple moved to Brigantine to spend their retirement years there in 1995 and have been there ever since. They love the people, Shirley said, and the flat ground, which allows them to ride their bikes. They're still active and work out at the Brigantine Fitness center.
Sixty years into their marriage, they're still going strong. Despite their decades of success at it, Shirley says there is no secret, at least as far as she knows. They've simply made it, and hope to keep going for many anniversaries more.
"I really don't know," Shirley said. "We just keep going on."
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