U.S. Army Sgt. Carl Fischerkeller always addressed his letters to Gloria De Prospo where she worked — never to her home. Their families would have disapproved of the courtship of the German-Irish man — off fighting a war in Korea —and the Italian woman who lived next door.
But there was no stopping the couple when he returned home two years later; after six months, the two began their 66-year marriage.
“There’s never been anyone else in our lives,” Carl Fischerkeller said. “It’s a match made in heaven.”
The Fischerkellers moved to Central Florida five years ago to be close to their daughter. A few months later the couple moved into Golden Pond Communities, where he lived in an assisted-living unit and she stayed in the memory-care unit.
When the family doctor determined Gloria Fischerkeller needed more personal care, she ultimately moved into the Orlando Health Center for Rehabilitation, where she has lived for the last 18 months. Carl Fischerkeller visits his wife every Tuesday and Friday at around 9:30 a.m. and leaves after the two enjoy lunch together. The last year has been rough because of the pandemic, and the two were forced apart for months.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “I kept hoping I could get over there.”
Visits recently resumed, but the two must still work around COVID-19 guidelines.
“We go out into the parlor, and then they have a porch, so we have no privacy,” he said. “I hate it. All this time I’ve been more concerned about her mental capacity during this pandemic because we’ve been together for so long. … But in her case, the way she responded this morning was, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’ … I’ve been so much a part of her life that will never change.”
To see his wife, Carl Fischerkeller, 89, was using a taxi service, but it wasn’t always reliable, he said. So he reached out to someone he thought might be able to help: Iliana Ramos Jones, who, at the time, was a candidate for a seat on the Winter Garden City Commission. She responded to his letter, listened to his story and was so touched that she offered assistance. On Tuesdays and Fridays, a member of her large family picks up Carl Fischerkeller and takes him to see his wife, and then someone takes him back to Golden Pond in the afternoon.
Following a recent visit, Carl Fischerkeller told Kathy Jacquart, the receptionist at Golden Pond his wife was upset because she didn’t receive any mail — and he came up with an idea.
Gloria Fischerkeller had saved for decades the letters he sent her during the war, and now he was keeping the letters safe with their belongings. His plan is to send copies of the letters — one per week — so she can be reminded of the beautiful and decades-long relationship that started all those years ago.
A FATEFUL MOVE
When the De Prospo family moved in next door to the Fischerkellers in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, the attraction was immediate, Carl Fischerkeller said. He was a sophomore in high school, she was a senior.
“She told me, ‘The red hair and the blue eyes are what got me, Dear,’” he said with a smile. “The first time I saw her, I knew she was the one.”
He was drafted into the U.S. Army and sent to Korea in 1953, but the friendship and secret budding romance continued despite the distance. She received his letters at the office of Blue Cross, where she worked in the contracts department. Her letters to him were sent from there too.
He said he wrote to her about his days and what was going on overseas.
When he returned to Pittsburgh following his service, their relationship turned serious and they were married six months later. The Fischerkellers had five children in six years.
Gloria Fischerkeller enjoyed having a creative side, and she made 20 elaborate photo albums when the children were growing up. Carl Fischerkeller has all of those, too, in his Golden Pond apartment. Their wedding album is among them.
Gloria Fischerkeller will be 91 next week, and her husband will, no doubt, be there to celebrate with his lifelong partner, making her feel special and loved — like he has for 66 years.