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After a 65-year love story, Milton and Naomi Dank die three days apart

“They were brilliant, fun, and deeply in love,” their grandson Jacob Finkel said of Milton and Naomi Dank.

Milton and Naomi Dank
Milton and Naomi DankRead moreCourtesy of the Dank Family (custom credit)

Milton Dank and his wife, Naomi, were both go-getters.

He was a World War II glider pilot who helped design the Atlas rocket’s heat shield before becoming a historian and the author of a seminal book about the French Resistance during World War II.

She was executive director of Montgomery County Emergency Service Inc. in Norristown and later an associate director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy with noted psychiatrist Aaron T. Beck.

After a decades-long love story full of adventures around the world, the two died within three days of one another at their home in Wyncote. Mr. Dank, 99, died Thursday, Nov. 28, of pneumonia, and Mrs. Dank, 95, died Sunday, Dec. 1, of lung cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. They were married for 65 years.

“They were brilliant, fun, and deeply in love,” said grandson Jacob Finkel. “He was cogent till the end, and would have been heartbroken by her death. We’re stunned they departed so close together.”

Mr. Dank was born in Philadelphia in 1920; Mrs. Dank was born in 1924 in New Rochelle, N.Y., and grew up there and in the Bronx.

According to family lore, Mr. Dank’s mother, Olga, had spurned the advances of the painter Marc Chagall before choosing husband Carl Dank, and Mr. Dank had equally high expectations for his life partner. He remained a bachelor until his mid-30s, when he met Mrs. Dank.

“He was so taken with her vibrant energy, intellect, and ambition that he asked her out on two dates during their first phone call,” Finkel said. They married in 1954 and later toured China, Africa, and Europe, sometimes with friends or their two daughters. They were each other’s constant companions.

He grew up in Philadelphia and completed two years at the University of Pennsylvania before serving in the Army starting in June 1942. He was a glider pilot over Italy, the Rhineland, and Normandy during World War II, and was awarded the Air Medal with two Oak Leaf Clusters. He was honorably discharged in September 1945 with the rank of first lieutenant.

After his military service, he completed his bachelor of science degree and a Ph.D in theoretical physics at Penn. From 1957 until the early 1970s, he worked in the General Electric Co. aerospace division at Valley Forge. He was involved in the development of the heat shields used on the Atlas rocket.

Later, he wrote books based on his wartime experiences, including The French Against the French, a book about the Resistance that was translated into eight languages, and The Glider Gang, The Dangerous Game, Game’s End, and Khaki Wings. He also authored a biography of Albert Einstein and treatises on flying.

When the Atlas program no longer needed him, Mr. Dank was out of work, so Mrs. Dank became the family breadwinner. She previously had earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hunter College, but wanted more training. While working full-time and raising the couple’s two daughters, she earned a Ph.D. in mental health counseling and administration from Union Graduate School, now part of Clarkson University in Schenectady, N.Y.

She went on to bolster the mental health services available in the Philadelphia area, first as director of Montgomery County Emergency Service, a psychiatric facility that offers crisis intervention, and later as an associate director of the Beck Institute for Cognitive Therapy.

Cognitive therapy, a treatment mode invented by Beck, is a way to minimize the distorted thinking patterns that contribute to depression by replacing habitual negative thoughts with positive ones. Mrs. Dank counseled patients until retiring at age 85.

In their later years, Mr. Dank cared for his wife at home as she struggled with cancer and then Alzheimer’s. He remained healthy almost until the day he died.

“They were just such a nice team,” Finkel said.

In addition to their grandson, the Danks are survived by daughters Gloria Rand Finkel and Joan Reva Butterton, and four grandsons.

Services and burial will be private.