Community Voices

Man celebrates birthday by telling his grandparents’ story

Norma and Joe Reisman have been married over 70 years. Here they are in 2012 with their grandson, Andrew B. Dennis, who had just started law school at the University of Miami.
Norma and Joe Reisman have been married over 70 years. Here they are in 2012 with their grandson, Andrew B. Dennis, who had just started law school at the University of Miami. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

Andrew B. Dennis celebrated his 29th birthday Sept. 19, but more than anything he wants to give a gift: to honor his cherished grandparents by telling their story.

Dennis almost shares his birthday with his beloved grandfather, Joe Reisman, who turned 90 years old Sept. 17. His grandmother, Norma, turned 90 in January.

Joe and Norma have been together in Miami for almost all of their lives. They met at Shenandoah Junior High School.

But they almost didn’t end up together. Dennis said his grandfather spent his first year of college in Gainesville at the University of Florida.

“Apparently, Joe got word that Norma was seeing other people at the University of Miami, and he immediately followed his heart back to Miami and asked for her hand in marriage. Because they were too young to get married in Florida at the time, without parental consent, they eloped to Georgia at 19 years old and exchanged their vows,” Dennis said in an email.

JoeAnd NormaCake_edit1.jpg
Joe Reisman and his wife, Norma, with their great grandchildren, enjoy a University of Miami Hurricanes-themed cake at the recent shared family birthday party. Photo provided to the Miami Herald

They celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary in July and their grandson calls their tale an authentic Miami love story.

“They are both very sharp,” he said. “Norma reads the Miami Herald front to back every single day. She cherishes a small article the Herald published decades ago about her parents coming to Miami with 10 cents and living a good life in Miami.”

And Joe can recite passages from the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and even Shakespearean sonnets. Norma still pronounces her city “Miama” instead of Miami, their grandson said.

“She wears a jacket if the weather drops below 70 degrees. She remembers when the Burdines downtown, now Macy’s, was the only place in the entire city with air conditioning. She used to go there with her friends to literally chill out.”

Norma and Joe were the first in their families to go to college.

“They value education and saw to it that all of the children, grandchildren and now great grandchildren attend college and earn advanced degrees. Almost all of them still live in Miami and contribute to the community, and of course come to visit.”

The family members also are huge University of Miami Hurricanes fans. A shared birthday cake at the most recent party was orange and green, and had little football players placed in the icing.

Like his uncle, father, and grandfather, Dennis, who also has an MBA degree, is a graduate of the UM School of Law.

“When I graduated in May 2016, I walked across the stage with Joe and my father, in full robes and hats. It was a memory I will cherish forever,” he said. “Joe and Norma built a legacy and my entire family is grateful to them for their guidance, love, and support.”

While he thinks of them as the King and Queen of Miami, Norma is always “Grandma” to him. And Joe is “Joe” to everyone, even Emma, the youngest great-granddaughter.

“It’s interesting to look back at life with a historical perspective,” Dennis said. “When I was a toddler, my house was ravaged by Hurricane Andrew. When Joe and Norma were toddlers, the American economy collapsed overnight when the stock market crashed.”

“They grew up during the Great Depression. When they were falling in love in high school their friends, who had just graduated, were overseas fighting in World War II. Norma says that she took classes at the University of Miami in converted army barracks. Joe said he was the youngest in his classes because most of his classmates were people returning from the war who were just starting college for the first time too.”

Dennis said his grandfather graduated UM college and law school summa cum laude in four years total, “which does not surprise those who know him.” The tuition at the time for law school was $250, he said.

Joe had a hard time finding a job after graduating for two reasons: he was young and even younger looking, Dennis said.

“The second reason was that anti-Semitism made it difficult for a young Jewish man in Miami to find work. Despite these challenges, Joe thrived as a lawyer for many decades until the Miami traffic forced him to retire.”

Perhaps the secret of their long marriage is that Norma and Joe worked together. Her parents owned a furniture store on Eighth Street in downtown Miami when she was a child.

“She learned how to run a business from a young age and has always kept the books for all of Joe’s enterprises. They operate as a dream team.”

These days the whole family gets together almost every Sunday for pizza night.

Norma and Joe “absolutely love each other,” Dennis said. “They also love their friends and family. Currently, there are four generations of us living here in Miami.”

The recent shared birthday celebration also included great-grandson Ryan Sanders, 14, whose birthday is also Sept. 17th, like Joe’s.

“Every year we have a celebration of the three birthdays, but this year the occasion is all for Joe as he celebrates this amazing life milestone,” Dennis said.

“I know that whatever heights I reach in my life are attainable because I stood on the shoulders of greatness,” he said. “I love my grandparents so much and am extremely blessed that I have been able to grow up with their presence in my life.”

Open House at senior center

Join in the fun at activities designed for active seniors, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Senior L.I.F.T. Center, 12480 SW 127 Ave., Kendall Breeze Mall.

This group is celebrating 30 years of organizing activities, lunches, classes, road trips, cruises, and other excursions all for the benefit of active Miami residents ages 50 and up.

L.I.F.T. stands for Living, Involvement, Fulfillment, Togetherness and this group plans to make Sept. 23 just that. Open House activities will include games; snacks; entertainment hula, line and tap dances; and an auction. For more contact 305-235-8855 or seniorliftcenter@gmail.com. Or visit seniorliftcenter.com.

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