Newlyweds Sandra Bergelson and Gerry Pomper built a romance for the books: the octogenarians bonded over a Japanese literature course at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at Rutgers University a decade ago, and love blossomed.
“We have been very, very fortunate having met each other and loving each other,” Bergelson said. “This unexpected second life we started 10 years ago has been absolutely marvelous.”
The couple exchanged vows in November at Sophie’s Bistro in Somerset, joined by close friends and family — including all six of their combined children and seven of nine grandchildren. Retired Superior Court Judge Barnett Hoffman, who taught several OLLI-RU courses the couple took, officiated. (Hoffman and Pomper have been friends since their 30s.)
Bergelson, 87, and Pomper, 88, knew each other through OLLI-RU years earlier when both were happily married and active in the program with their spouses. Both were widowed after 56 years of marriage, Bergelson in 2012 and Pomper in 2013.
Bergelson joined OLLI-RU in 1996 when she retired from her administration job at Rutgers, taking two or three courses a year. She is chair of the organization’s advisory council, which she has served on since 2002. Pomper, a retired Rutgers political science professor, has been with OLLI-RU since 2004 when he first taught a course on presidential elections. Retiring from his tenured position as distinguished professor in 2001, Pomper continued as an adjunct until 2014. Then he began teaching two OLLI-RU courses a year while also taking a class or two a semester.
In 2014, both enrolled in Rutgers Professor George Schroepfer’s modern Japanese literature course. A passage of Shusaku Endo’s Deep River read aloud deeply affected Pomper, and he shared how it stirred thoughts of his wife’s death. That evening, Bergelson called him.
“Sandy said she had a different slant. I said, why don’t we meet and have lunch to talk about it,” Pomper recalled. They met at a Japanese restaurant and afterward, Pomper invited Bergelson to his home for dessert. He introduced her to Amie, his Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. “Amie fell in love with her, and she with Amie,” Pomper said.
On their first “heavy” date, as Pomper called it, the couple saw a revival of The King and I at Lincoln Center in Manhattan. Lyrics from “A Puzzlement” would provide the inscription on their wedding bands: His reads, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera” and hers, “and so forth.” While Bergelson officially moved in with Pomper in 2017 when she sold her house, she has been living in his Highland Park home since 2015, when she cared for him after he slipped on ice and injured his arm.
The pair enjoys traveling the world, attending Broadway shows, and taking classes together and separately at Rutgers Lifelong Learning Center on the New Brunswick campus and online. While Bergelson enjoyed a course on the Constitution, Pomper opted for one analyzing The Great Gatsby and Great Expectations. Together, they are taking Schroepfer’s course on current Irish novels this spring semester.
Pomper proposed last September, just two months before they wed. “We just decided to be with each other the rest of our lives,” he said. “I wanted her to be with me as long as we can breathe, learn, and love.”
OLLI-RU offers more than 300 courses a year to adults age 50 and up, providing intellectual, cultural and social engagement in an informal environment. There are no tests or grades, and courses are offered in New Brunswick and Freehold, and online. OLLI-RU members pay a reduced fee for classes and receive other benefits.