For the first time in their 46 years of marriage, Dave and Deb Bonski can’t be together on Valentine’s Day.
Visitation restrictions due to COVID-19 will prevent Dave from going into Arbutus Park Manor, where Deb has lived for the past few years.
The couple are taking the separation in stride.
“I have all his goodies in a bag here,” Deb said from Arbutus by video conference. “I’m busting to give them to him, but I can’t.”
With help from the Arbutus staff, Dave will pick up his gift bag and drop off one for his wife.
“On Sunday, which is Valentine’s Day, we will have a Skype call to each other, and we will watch each other open the gift bags and give a smooch over the video,” Dave said from their Richland Township home.
To say the couple have a long history together may be an understatement. They actually started out as nursery-mates on the day they were born in what was then Altoona City Hospital.
Because their families were not acquainted, however, the former Deb Ketenheim, of Cresson, and Dave Bonski, of Gallitzin, did not learn of the connection until they were students at Penn Cambria High School in Cresson.
A math teacher was using what is known as the “birthday paradox” in a lesson on probabilities. In a group of 23 people, there’s a 50-50 chance two will share a birthday. With 75 people, it’s almost a mathematical certainty.
In the Penn Cambria algebra class that day, those two people were Deb Ketenheim and Dave Bonski.
“It turns out, both of us were born on the same day of the same year in the same hospital and delivered by the same doctor,” Dave said.
Deb said every year on their birthday, her husband reminds her that he’s older – by about eight hours.
‘Streetlight’ and ‘moth’
Despite the algebra class revelation, Dave said he didn’t get to know Deb until their junior year in English class.
“Wherever there was a big huddle of people, she was right in the middle of it.” he said.
“She was Miss Personality. She was like the old streetlight where the moths fly around. Well, she was the streetlight and I guess I was the moth.”
Deb has a slightly different memory.
“He was the shy one in the class,” Deb said. “He knew all of the answers, and he sat across from me and never gave me one.”
“Well, I gave her answers when she smiled at me,” Dave said.
As the end of their senior year approached in 1970, a friend encouraged Dave to ask “Kesty” to the prom, and she accepted. She even made her own dress.
The two officially began going steady and later got engaged while both were attending college – him at the University of Pittsburgh and her at Pitt’s archrival, Penn State.
“We wore out the road between Pittsburgh and State College,” Dave said.
Careers and family
The two were married July 20, 1974, on the Penn State Altoona campus, with Deb wearing a wedding dress she made from the same pattern as her prom gown.
Dave’s degree in electrical engineering got him a job as a defense contractor with what is now the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia. Deb’s music degree got her a teaching job with the on-base school.
The military contracting career eventually led the couple back to Pennsylvania, where Dave worked for HRB Systems in State College until his job was cut with military downsizing.
He took a job with the National Drug Intelligence Center in Johnstown in 1993, when the couple built a house in Richland. He remained with NDIC until the operation was relocated to Washington in 2012.
“I could have gone to D.C.,” he said.
“But I was familiar with the commuter culture and I just didn’t want to be part of that. So I just retired.”
Through the moves, Deb remained active with music as a church choir director and teaching private lessons.
Their two daughters followed in their parents’ footsteps.
Adrienne Bonski has a degree in mechanical engineering and works for a property management company in New Jersey.
Erin Evans lives in Santa Barbara, California, and teaches music at a community college, along with working as a choir director. Her 12-year-old daughter, Aria, is the couple’s only grandchild.
‘Almost like a date’
As multiple sclerosis reduced Deb’s mobility, she moved into Arbutus to receive care. Dave was able to see his wife nearly every day, and he frequently took her shopping or out to dinner in their wheelchair-accessible van.
That stopped when the COVID-19 pandemic shut down visitation.
When Deb has medical appointments, Arbutus provides the transportation, but Dave is able to come to the doctor’s office.
“We take it as a visitation time – almost like a date,” Dave said.
“And that’s a legal kiss,” Deb said.
“The last appointment I had, he kissed me four times.”
Deb has had two doses of the virus vaccine and Dave has had his first, after both were ill with COVID-19 in November.
“I figure there’s probably plenty of COVID antibodies circulating in our bodies to make it safe to be with each other,” Dave said.
Although it was not easy knowing their life partners were suffering from the deadly virus, Deb said their faith got them through.
“I knew it was going to end,” she said.
“I have the Lord with me and he gives me the strength to cope with whatever is dealt to me. That’s how I survive now.”