Fourteen-year-old Carl recognized his classmate Ilene immediately — she was the girl in picture frames at the Forget Me Not gift shop in the Bustleton-Somerton shopping center.
“She was so adorable,” he remembers. “But I was super shy.”
The 1977-78 school year at George Washington High School had just begun. Carl was a sophomore, and Ilene — whose mother owned that gift shop — a freshman. A mutual friend gave Ilene’s phone number to Carl, and told Ilene to expect his call. It took him two months to work up the nerve.
“Hi, Ilene. This is Carl.”
Carl was 75% sure he should hang up and forget this whole thing ever happened. But he didn’t.
“We have language class together,” he said.
“Oh, right,” said Ilene. She was 13, and other than Barry Manilow, didn’t give any boy much thought.
Carl had heard that Ilene was into ice skating, so he invited her to go. His mother drove them to the Ice Palace. There was just one glitch, said Carl: “I had never been ice skating.”
He spent a lot of their date with his butt on the ice as the athletic Ilene skated literal circles around him.
A few months later, Carl found the courage to request a second date. Richard Dreyfuss wooed Marsha Mason on screen in The Goodbye Girl, and Ilene let Carl hold her hand, which he found thrilling and she found OK.
When the weather got warm, Carl showed up hopefully wherever Ilene shot hoops and played street hockey. She was annoyed. “Here he is again,” she would say to the other kids.
Carl had no time to decide to stop spectating; his family was off to Ventnor, where they spent every summer.
A funny thing happened while he was away. “I missed him,” Ilene said. “I had this moment of clarity.” When he returned to their neighborhood, “I found the moxie to call him and apologize for how I was treating him.” Ilene also told him that she liked him.
“It completely melted my heart,” Carl said.
They hung out at each other’s homes and saw many more movies. Ilene would spend a bit of each summer with Carl and his family in Ventnor. In the winter, she taught him to ski. They attended four proms.
After high school, both commuted from home to Temple University, where Carl majored in psychology with history and English minors and Ilene majored in math and secondary education and would later earn an MBA in finance.
Making it forever
On Valentine’s Day 1984, as Carl’s college graduation approached, he told Ilene to get ready for a date at a special, surprise location. Carl drove to a parking lot strewn with broken glass and potholes. He parked in front of the vacant Ice Palace, site of their first date, and asked her to marry him.
She said yes and they drove to Ilene’s parents’ house, where Carl’s parents and sister had joined her parents and sisters, to celebrate.
Carl had saved the money he earned managing a home video store for grad school. He was accepted to the University of Dayton, but Dayton was too far from Ilene. “I took all the money I had saved and we went to Europe with two other friends,” Carl said. It was an extraordinary trip, they agree, one that solidified their love for each other and for traveling together.
With help from his cousin, Carl took a systems analyst job at Shared Medical Systems in Malvern and soon was sent to Japan to design a data entry system. There was no email or texting then, only expensive long-distance calls across multiple time zones, so Ilene wrote him love letters, which he still keeps in his desk.
She did her student teaching at Wissahickon High School in Ambler. When her mentor teacher needed to take leave, Ilene volunteered to teach the full course load herself. Ilene is now in her 36th year at the school, where she teaches math and previously coached cheerleading, soccer, and softball.
The couple married on June 22, 1985, at the Oxford Circle Jewish Community Center, where both sets of their parents had also wed. The rabbi who performed their ceremony had married Carl’s parents and their cantor had been Ilene’s Hebrew school teacher.
“The thing I remember most was when they opened the door and Ilene walked out in her wedding dress. I was in awe of how beautiful she looked,” said Carl, who is now 59. “We have since both lost our dads, but everybody was there then — our parents, our grandparents who are also no longer with us. It was a magical night.”
More than 200 people attended the reception. “The thing I remember most was that we did smash the cake into each other’s face,” said Ilene, 58. “We were not shy about that, and we were both sneezing out icing for the next week.”
The couple bought a Maple Glen townhouse, where they still live, 33 years ago. “It was meant to be our five-year starter home,” Ilene said. But when son Alex was nearly 7 and son Zach was 3, the family took their first vacation together, to England, and made a big decision to keep their not-so-big home.
“We decided we would spend our money on experiences, and since then, we have been all around the world together,” she said. A sampling includes Australia, Scandinavia, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, and Iceland.
“We knew that traveling was the best education we could give our boys,” Carl said.
The couple filled their home with toys, books, games, and ingredients for messy science experiments and crafts. When the family was in Maple Glen, everyone was welcome.
Carl has worked for several companies, building a skill set that includes coordinating meetings and events anywhere in the world. He makes friends everywhere he goes and keeps them, notes Ilene.
“If I had to pick one thing I love about Carl, it’s his ability to maintain and feed relationships, including ours,” she said. “His friends are from elementary school. And he forges new relationships through his travels. He has a friend in Argentina and a friend in England and they are like brothers.”
At the end of 2001, on the heels of 9/11, Carl and his whole team were laid off. “I drove home that day crying,” he said. “But when I got there, Ilene and the boys were outside the front door, doing a little dance from SpongeBob, and seeing them changed my whole attitude.”
When they were alone, Ilene reminded Carl of his smarts and skills. They would switch to her benefits, she said. “Take 18 months to see if you can start your own business,” she said. “Getting laid off could be the best thing that ever happened to you.”
“She is so supportive and so intuitive,” said Carl. “She is so down-to-earth and easygoing. I am in awe of how she works with her students, the way she makes them feel comfortable. I’m so lucky to wake up next to her and spend my life with her.”
“When he wakes me up in the middle of the night because of my snoring, I don’t get the same vibe,” Ilene quips, and they both laugh.
Carl has a master’s degree in training design and development from Penn State and a Ph.D in multimedia design and development from the University of London. He is the rising president of the Alumni Society for the Great Valley Campus, and he produced corporate events, meetings, and exhibits around the world through his own company, AZtech. After COVID-19 halted such events, he began another new chapter as a multimedia producer for Impact XM.
At the height of COVID, the couple limited traveling to long car rides to visit their sons. Zach is a structural engineer and Airbnb host in Atlanta, and Alex is a law student at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Ilene and Carl hope to soon resume family travel vacations, with Portugal and New Zealand high on the list of destinations.