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Long IslandLI Life

Love story: Freeport couple were good sports early on

Lois Harbauer of Freeport recalls falling in love with her husband, Rudi, during a swimming lesson. When I was 22 my cousin introduced me to a man he worked with named Rudi. They were planning a ski trip and invited me along. Rudi, 29, told me he would teach me to ski if I would teach him to swim. The trip went well enough, and Rudi asked me out to the movies when we returned home. Rudi had come to the United States from Germany a year earlier, in 1957, with very little money, but he went out and bought the most beautiful sports jacket and slacks to impress me for our date. I liked Rudi but thought he was too serious. Being a young American girl, I had no understanding of his background. I didn't learn until much later that his teenage years were very traumatic. Rudi was originally from Czechoslovakia, but at the end of World War II the new Czech government began evicting all German-speaking people. He and his family left their home - farmland that had been in their family for hundreds of years - and fled to Germany, where they worked on a farm. There was little food, and it was a meager existence. Rudi persevered and eventually earned a degree in European landscape architecture. We went out a couple of times but I just considered him a friend. Then came summer, and Rudi said it was time for me to teach him how to swim. We went to Sunken Meadow State Park, where I tried for 45 minutes to get him to swim. Every time I took my arms away, he sank. Finally, I said, "I can't do this!" and turned around to walk to the beach, where a crowd had gathered to watch this show. They all started laughing, and I couldn't figure out what was going on. I looked back and saw Rudi swimming out to sea (he had taken his lifesaver's patch off his bathing suit). It turned out he has a great sense of humor, and my heart reacted. We were engaged the next month and married Dec. 7, 1958, at Our Holy Redeemer Church in Freeport. Rudi was head of landscape design at Atlantic Nursery in Freeport until he retired in 1994. I've kept busy trying to keep up with him all these years. He established the Windham Mountain Ski Patrol (first aid and transport) in 1964 and patrolled the upstate ski resort for 45 years. Rudi is an active sailor and has raced 31 consecutive times in the Around Long Island Regatta. I retired in 1985 as a bookkeeper with Mister Marine in Freeport and have since volunteered at Our Holy Redeemer's Social Ministries as an advocate for people in need. Rudi and I still ski together. Our two children and two grandchildren are also avid skiers. Life has been good.

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