Is he planning to retire? Not anytime soon, says 94-year-old Gerald Kravet.
Neither a recent car accident that put him in a wheelchair nor the destruction of his furniture store could stop Kravet from working. On Nov. 23, he and his wife Marilyn, 93, celebrated their 73rd anniversary. The couple recenty sat down in their Boynton Beach apartment to discuss their long and storied lives.
“I’m only in a wheelchair for about a year now,” he said. “Before that, I moved around a lot.”
Workers from the start
Born in 1925 in the Bronx, Gerald was as active as most other boys and young men as a kid.
“I used to love playing basketball when I was a young kid,” he said. “I was in the Army for three years, I’m a World War II veteran. Then my wife came along.”
Marilyn, also originally from the Bronx, recalled the time she first met him.
“We lived a few blocks from each other — he knew all the girls that I ran with, I knew all the guys that he ran with, but we never knew each other,” she said.
“He came out of the Army on March 13, 1946 and we met on March 27, that was a Wednesday night. Somebody was making a party on Saturday, March 30 and Gerry didn’t have a date, so he came over to my house — by this time I was living in Manhattan — because he needed a date for this Saturday night party…he needed to look me over on Wednesday because I may not have been Saturday night material.”
Marilyn had a friend’s wedding to go to that Saturday, but Gerald said he would pick her up afterward.
“He said ‘I’ll pick you up at the wedding,’ and I said ‘sure,’ never dreaming that he really would,” she said. “So there I am at the wedding and a little page boy came over with a bouquet of flowers for me…That was March 30, my birthday is in April…in May he gave me a very fancy watch…then I got a ring and we were married that November. He didn’t exactly want to get married, but I did.”
Marilyn was working as a court stenographer at the time, the same job her father had, and then got a job at RKO Pictures, one of the five major motion picture companies at the time.
Gerald was working various sales jobs and worked part time at a local nonprofit.
“I made $40 a week, my wife made $40 a week and $80 a week was a lot of money back then,” he said. “Today, you’d starve to death.”
Gerald works from home now, but he is in the same industry he has worked for much of his adult life: selling mattresses and bedding. After his furniture store in Delray Beach burned down in a 1992 fire, he began working at his former supplier, Sherwood Bedding. The company is based out of Orlando but Gerald cold calls prospective clients from home and reports to his boss Leon Ellman at the company’s Fort Lauderdale location.
For years, Gerald would walk into hotels in New York, speak to a manager and often sell beds in bulk. After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, he lost many of his accounts and began refocusing on other clients, including colleges, cruise ship companies and military bases.
Gerald said he sells directly to some colleges as well as companies that build on- and off-campus housing. His biggest client now, he says, is Carnival Cruises and its various brands, to the tune of about 50,000 beds per year.
“The main account I have today is on the ship lines,” he said. “Only my beds are on the [Carnival Cruise] lines.”
Gerald’s boss at Sherwood Bedding, Leon Ellman, says he met Gerald in the late 1970s or early ’80s.
“I’ve been in the bedding business for a long time,” Ellman said.
“He decided to close his business and we hired him as a salesman…I thought I’d give him an opportunity to sell. He started off selling bedding for us and he does an unbelievable job. More than anyone expected he could do and he still, believe it or not, at this age is extremely aggressive and a great salesman.”
Ellman said he’s “very proud” of the relationship he has had with Gerald over the past few decades.
“He’s a relentless salesman, he works extremely hard, he’s got a wonderful work ethic, he’s maybe slowed down, but not noticeably,” he said.
“But he looks after the customers, has a wonderful attitude toward keeping his customers, dealing with our factories and seeing that they get delivered what they’re promised and everything is done right. He’s got a great work ethic and I’m proud of what he’s achieved. It’s an honor to still have him working for us.”
Staying active with family
Gerald and Marilyn’s son Jeff lives in Connecticut but tries to visit his parents as often as he can. Jeff said when his friends all talk about their kids, he talks about his parents.
“I figure everybody has kids but not everyone has parents that have been married 73 years,” he said. “And not to mention how active they are.”
Between Gerald and Marilyn, they continue to go out to eat, play gin rummy, scrabble, bet on horses and other activities. Gerald played golf until his car accident last year. Though the two agree on many things, they dispute whether this is the cause or effect of how active they always were.
“A lot of people say that the reason he’s still working and his mind is so agile is because he’s working,” Marilyn said. “But that’s not true, I think that’s putting the cart before the horse. I think the reason he’s working is because his mind is functioning.”
The couple’s family seems to agree.
“One of my favorite memories is when my grandfather, father and I would golf together, and Grandpa Jerry would announce our arrival at the pro-shop by saying ‘Kravet, Kravet and Kravet are here!’ with such enthusiasm,” said their grandson Andrew Kravet.
“I’ve always appreciated Grandma Marilyn’s sharp wit and the way she always speaks her mind. Together, Grandma and Grandpa have held each other up — literally and figuratively — for decades.”
“Being a couple is their foundation for building a lifetime of fun,” said their daughter Elaine. “Jerry is not afraid of change or to reinvent himself at any age. Distance from family is not a barrier to a close relationship. He continues to keep up with all the news and provides guidance and encouragement to all.”
“Even in times of personal challenges and physical weaknesses, my grandfather has always found strength in his eternal optimism that tomorrow will be better than today,” said Lauren Katz Treves, Elaine’s daughter, and Gerald and Marilyn’s granddaughter.
“His upbeat attitude has shown us that work is not something to be begrudgingly completed but embraced with enthusiasm,” said Jenna Morgenstern, Elaine’s other daughter and another of Gerald and Marilyn’s grandchildren.
Despite Gerald saying he likely would not drive again, he renewed his driver’s license recently, which is set to expire on his 100th birthday. While he does not plan on driving anymore, he does not plan on stopping.
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