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Love Story: Romance shortened the distance from Long Island to Indiana

William Hempfling and Erna Alant live in Manorville,

William Hempfling and Erna Alant live in Manorville, where they moved after marrying in September 2017. Photo Credit: Hempfling Family

William Hempfling of Manorville recalls his frequent-flyer courtship with his wife, Erna Alant.

In February 2013, my wife, Anne, was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. After an eight-month battle, she died. I was 66 years old at that time and thought that I would spend the rest of my life alone.  

After some time and at the urging of friends, I placed a profile on a dating site, SeniorMatch.com, geared for seniors. I was looking for companionship, someone to have dinner with, have conversations or go to a show.

Shortly after going on the site, I received a response from a woman named Erna Alant who lived in Indiana, where she was a professor at Indiana University. As we began corresponding with each other, Erna mentioned her husband, Tony, had died just days before my wife. She had posted her profile on the senior website at the urging of her two adult children. Like me, she was lonely and looking for companionship.

We exchanged a number of emails, then finally connected via the telephone. Initially, I had a difficult time understanding her accent as she is an Afrikaner, originally from South Africa. Erna left South Africa in 2009 to accept her professorship at the university. During our initial conversations, we shared our feelings about losing our spouses and details regarding our families.

After several weeks of writing and long phone conversations, we agreed it would be nice to meet in person. I flew out to Indiana, and we spent a long weekend taking walks, going out to eat and getting to know each other better. At the end of the weekend, we discussed the possibility of and the difficulties associated with a long-distance relationship. We decided to give it a try!

So began many, many trips on Southwest Airlines for both of us, shuttling back and forth between my home in East Moriches and Bloomington, Indiana. Erna met my three kids and five grandkids here on Long Island, and everyone hit it off. We flew to South Africa so I could meet her daughter, brothers and parents. We also traveled to London to spend time with her son, who was studying at the University College of London.

On Sept. 26, 2017, we were married in a civil ceremony in Bloomington. Erna and I followed up with a celebration that December, when we hosted a small get-together at her home for her close Bloomington friends, her two children and their significant others. We again exchanged our vows, this time with a minister officiating.

A few weeks later, we flew back to Long Island with her kids and hosted our third celebration, a luncheon, with my family and friends.

After Erna retired from Indiana University in April, we purchased a condo in Manorville where we have started our life together.

She began a consulting practice specializing in augmentative and alternative communications. She works with teachers and parents of children with disabilities in school districts throughout the metropolitan area.

I retired in 2009 from my position as the director of human resources at Brookhaven National Laboratoryand started my labor arbitration practice.

This past July, we flew out of the country for a fourth celebration with her family and friends residing in South Africa.

— With Virginia Dunleavy

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