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Cornell professor interviews Hershey seniors for love book - abc27 WHTM

Dauphin County

Cornell professor interviews Hershey seniors for relationship book

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HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) -

Alma Bobb has been a widow for more than 30 years and when she talks about her late husband Jim, it's obvious how much she still loves him.

"He was very special and I still miss him," she said.

At nearly 100 years old, Alma has always had a lust for life and love. She met Jim seven years before she agreed to marry him, and says her time spent away from home as professional dancer in Europe helped her realize where she truly belonged -- in Hershey with the love of her life.

"We got married and I quit my career cold turkey," she said. "We were married for 44 years -- too short. Some people are making it to their 60th anniversary these days."

"You might call this the triumph of hope over experience," Dr. Karl Pillemer, a gerontologist at Cornell University, said. "But it's still what everyone wants -- at least in American society -- to get married, and stay married."

Pillemer says people like Alma are walking Encyclopedias on love and marriage, so he's using their advice to spread the good, the bad and the downright ugly truths of relationships by interviewing seniors all over the United States. He met Alma while conducting interviews at Country Meadows of Hershey.

"We're trying to convey it's lessons for loving from the people I call the wisest Americans who are the oldest Americans," he said.

Pillemer used that idea as inspiration for his first book "30 Lessons for Living," in which he spoke with thousands of people, ages 65 plus, about their life successes and biggest regrets. He says this project was inspired by questions that popped up from the book.

"Lots of young people said 'what I'd really like to know more about is how do people stay married for 60-70 years happily?' So they really like guidance," he said.

Sometimes, Pillemer says, the guidance may surprise you.

"I might get some flack for this, but not to just marry the first man who came along just because she wants children badly," Alma said during her interview.

Pillemer says he often hears things that seem obvious, but so often don't happen in a relationship.

"To have different experiences before you're married and to see what kind of person they are, like if they stand up to responsibility," Alma said.

Alma says she hopes her marriage advice isn't outdated.

"I hope it's important, but I'm sure that young people today have different questions," she said.

Pillemer says while that may be true with specifics, when it comes to the big picture, a 99-year-old like Alma is just perfect.

"I think really a lot of us are hungry for more positive images of aging and this is one way of getting it," he said. "You can see beyond the 'oh that just looks like an old person who doesn't seem useful to me,' if you start asking them their advice about living."

Part of the project includes interviews with people who've been divorced, but found love a second time around. The research team is also talking with people who are in long-term unmarried relationships, including same-sex couples. The only people excluded from the pool are those who've never been in a long-term relationship.

Pillemer's book "Lessons for Loving" is expected to hit shelves in the fall of 2014. For more information on his research, go to http://legacyproject.human.cornell.edu/.

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