Portrait of a Marriage
Each spring Sharon Clark and Glenn Gruber relive the wedding that tied them together 30 years ago on the lawn of the Pasadena Museum of History.
By Scarlet Cheng 02/01/2012
Every year two Pasadena lovebirds, Sharon L. Clark and Glenn A. Gruber, acknowledge how important and wonderful those threads are by celebrating their wedding anniversary, June 21, on the lawn of the Pasadena Museum of History. They share a bottle of wine, some cheese and bread, and look over their beloved album of wedding photos — taken 30 years ago. What a day that was. The ceremony took place on the back steps of the museum, he clad in a dark suit and full beard, she wearing a long, white dress, her mother’s veil and her grandmother’s gold pin: a lover’s knot with an opal in the middle. Some 60 friends, relatives and colleagues had gathered, and there was food, laughter and dancing.
The couple had already lived together for four years, but now they were embarking on a new leg of their journey together. “We felt as though it was different,” says Glenn, 62. “Living together is one thing, but the whole ceremony cemented it, it was a commitment.”
“We felt committed before, but we felt much more committed,” says Sharon, 79. “We didn’t anticipate that marriage would increase that sense of commitment.”
The East Coast natives had moved out west together back in 1976. Due to New York’s financial crisis, Glenn had been laid off from teaching physical education at York College in Queens, and Sharon was fed up with her role as head of the dance department at George Washington University in Washington, D. C. They piled their things into two cars and drove to California. Four years later, Glenn asked his parents what they would think of their getting married. “Since they didn’t object, I thought it would be all right,” Glenn says, laughing. The wedding was jointly celebrated by a rabbi and a minister (Glenn is Jewish and Sharon comes from a Quaker/Unitarian background, but neither practices).
Today the retired teachers live in a white stucco house in Bungalow Heaven, a 1926 home full of mementos and memories. Both are casually dressed; her long tresses tied in a side ponytail, his moustache all that remains of the beard. They are an affectionate couple, putting their arms around and teasing each other, chatting and laughing easily. The dining room is decorated with Japanese prints and kimonos, things Sharon collected during her one year of teaching in Japan, before she met Glenn. (She has also lived in France and Germany.) On a small side table is the silver tea set that belonged to Sharon’s grandmother — a silver anniversary present from her children. A sewn sampler on the wall was made by a great-great-aunt in 1849. The Mission-style dining room chairs were hand-made by Glenn, who crafts furniture in his workshop.
Photographs of Glenn’s childhood are on a bedroom wall, and a dresser mirror is hung with his medals from Masters swimming. To this day, he swims five days a week at the Rose Bowl Aquatics Center and participates in a dozen meets a year. Glenn holds a number of national and world records in several relay events and has won national championships in the U. S., Canada and Germany. Sharon travels with him to these meets, which is also a way to visit new places and meet new people.
A wall in the kitchen is devoted to photos of their nieces and nephews and their children; the pair have none of their own. “We got along so well, a child would have disrupted our dynamics,” Glenn explains. “Neither of us really wanted kids,” Sharon adds.
Sharon was brought up in Presque Isle, Maine, “a teeny, tiny town where two rivers come together.” Glenn was born in Newark, New Jersey, and later attended Trenton State College.
“We met in college,” he says.
“But I was the teacher,” says Sharon. “Modern dance, folk dance, I made sure all the physical education majors took dance. This is physical education — learning through the physical, not sports, not gym.” She observes that the body learns through movement itself, and Glenn adds that a lot of thinking and problem-solving can be taught through physical exercises, such as the creation of new games.
After Trenton, Sharon moved to Washington, D.C., for a job. In the spring of 1974 Glenn was in town and dropped by for a visit. Sparks flew, and that was the start of a long-distance relationship, making good use of the Eastern Airlines shuttle. “It was a lark to me, it was fun,” says Sharon. “We had a good time, and we liked to do things.” She has an especially fond memory of their first date. “He took me to Harry and Tonto, the movie, and he put his arm around me, like a real girl.” She’s gushing here.
“I was 24 at the time, and Sharon was 17 years older,” he says. “That was a pretty good deal.” While their age difference may surprise some people, Glenn doesn’t see it as an issue at all. “Age is just a number,” he says. How have others reacted? “I’m sure there are private thoughts,” says Sharon, “but most people are polite and don’t say anything.”
When Glenn lost his job in New York, he decided to make a fresh start in California. Sharon, who’d been unhappy in her job, asked if she could go along. “We moved out here and lived in a trailer in Huntington Beach,” says Sharon. Eventually, Glenn got a job in the public school system, and they moved to San Gabriel and then Pasadena. For 26 years he worked as a teacher in adapted physical education for children with developmental delays, assistant principal and principal; he’s now retired. Meanwhile, Sharon, with her two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. in anthropology, went to work for MCI in sales, and then in 1979 started her own company, Sharon Clark Associates, which specialized in marketing research. “I’m a very, very good salesperson,” she says.
What did they see in each other?
“She’s vivacious,” says Glenn. “She’s up for anything.”
“Well, within reason,” she quickly adds.
“She’s always had a lot of energy.”
“He’s a wonderfully kind man,” Sharon says. “When I brought him home to meet my mother, she told me, ‘That’s the nicest young man you ever brought to me. You’d better behave.’”
What’s the secret of their long and happy marriage, at a time when the institution is on the decline?
“Two words,” Glenn says with a grin. “My fault.”
“No games,” Sharon says.
“When we argue, we don’t go for the jugular,” Glenn says. “We aim to make it work.”
“We’re very civil to each other, we always say please and thank you,” Sharon says. And most of all, she says, “We have a wonderful time together!”