Valentines celebrate love at the Sandel Center in Rockville Centre


Love was in the air at the Sandel Senior Center on Feb. 14 as dozens of seniors gathered for a Valentine’s Day lobster lunch.

Some shared the afternoon with friends, and some were with family – others were lucky enough to be seated beside their long-time valentines.

“Love, respect, support and admiration,” said Bob Becchina, 81, of Rockville Centre. “Those are the ingredients that have made our marriage successful.”

He and his wife, Rose, have been married for 56 years. The couple has lived in the village since 1965 and has three daughters. They’ve been frequenting the Sandel Center for the last 15 years, and they have spent many Valentine’s Days there. This year, they celebrated with lobster.

“We’ve wined, we’ve dined, we’ve laughed, we’ve cried,” Becchina said. “We’re very blessed.”

Merrick residents Claire and John Kirkwood, who previously lived in Rockville Centre for 32 years, had just celebrated their 63rd wedding anniversary the day before. Valentine’s Day was their “first full day of marriage,” John said.

Claire and John met and married when they were 19 and 21, respectively, and spent their first two years of marriage living in Germany. They now have four children and nine grandchildren, and spend four days a week attending programs at the senior center.

“We do everything together,” John said. “You’d think we’d get sick of each other, but we don’t. We’re joined at the hip.”

“He’s still my Valentine,” Claire chimed in.

Frank and Nora Bertini, who moved to Rockville Centre five years ago after living in Oceanside for nearly 50 years, were another long-time couple that attended the lunch. They met at a candy story in Rockaway Beach and have been married for 62 years. “Long ago, kids would hang out in candy stores,” Frank said.

His secret to a great marriage is to “be a family man.” He and his wife have five daughters, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, all of whom they make sure to see often.

Though not married, Lilly Carroll and Cass Pena, both of Rockville Centre, were also celebrating the holiday at the Sandel Center. They met at the facility seven years ago and have been dating ever since. Carroll is a widow and moved to the village 10 years ago, while Pena has lived there for 47 years.

“Time flies,” Pena said. “This is my treat for her for Valentine’s Day.”