During their 49-year marriage, Tina Indenbaum and husband Gene often had the same thought and said the same thing at the same time.
While planning end-of-life arrangements, the Smithtown couple even generally figured he’d be the first to go as he was the elder by three years.
“If my last words are not ‘I love you,’ it’s because I didn’t have time,” Gene Indenbaum recalled telling her.
He survived her. Tina Indenbaum, 69, died Saturday after collapsing of a suspected heart attack as she waited with her granddaughter at the Bridgeport, Connecticut, ferry terminal to return to Long Island.
Indenbaum, an accountant, was known in Long Island’s community theater circles as a producer at the Suffolk Y Jewish Community Center, where she had been a board member and where she sometimes introduced herself to audiences as their “Jewish mother” if they needed anything.
She had studied in college to be an art therapist in the 1970s, and unable to find job in the budding field, she found the arts in other ways, including drawing cartoon characters on her children’s lunch bags. For more than half her life, she volunteered for the arts as if it were a second job, from painting stage sets for her children’s school plays to serving as treasurer for the Northport Arts Coalition.
As co-chair of Star Playhouse committee, which oversaw the Suffolk Y JCC’s adult theater, Indenbaum recently realized the theater had to evolve and her championship of funding helped keep the performance art alive at the center, said Rochele Seskin, managing artistic director of the community center’s performing arts summer camp.
“She’d be really strong in her opinions and people would not mess with her,” Seskin said. “She was smart. She was so full of life and hyper focused on what needed to be accomplished. You can guarantee if she was producing it, it would get done well.”
Past the age when she could retire, Indenbaum was still working as the controller of nonprofit Children’s Medical Fund of New York, a job she held for 10 years, because she knew how much she was needed there, said Gina Segreti, the nonprofit’s executive director.
“She did everything,” Segreti said. “There’s just not enough good I could say about this woman.”
Her husband, who had already retired as chairman of the psychology department at Farmingdale State College, could not convince her to retire.
“She never wanted to sit still, other than when she was reading,” her husband said. “She loved being around people. There would be many times when we’d be in line in the grocery store and she would start a conversation with a complete stranger.”
The couple met at SUNY Albany, when he was a graduate student overseeing a social distancing experiment and she, a sophomore, was rejected for the experiment because she was friends with a researcher there.
But she was not rejected for Gene Indenbaum’s heart. He asked her friend if she’d date him.
“She was someone who was funny — call it a sparkling personality — who could make me laugh and didn’t sit on ceremony,” Indenbaum said.
On their first date, they were already thinking alike. When another driver cut him off, he swallowed a curse to keep from offending his date, but she started “cursing up a storm,” he said. To end the night, he drove around and they stared at the trees, which looked like a certain vegetable after starting to lose leaves in the fall, Indenbaum recounted: “We would look up and say ‘Look at all the broccoli all over the place.’ ”
At a time when women were fighting for their rights in the 1970s, each found in the other what they desired — an independent partner. He could do much of the cooking. She could get a job instead of staying at home.
They found so much in common, from their nightly reading to show production at Suffolk Y JCC.
“There were times when she would say something and I’d say ‘I can’t believe I was thinking the same thing,’ ’’ said Indenbaum, who also produced plays with his wife.“We’d look at each other and laugh.”
Just before she left to pick up their granddaughter in Bridgeport, for the last time, Gene told her “I love you.”
Indenbaum was cremated. A private celebration of her life will be held Friday. She was to receive the Suffolk Y JCC’s second annual Star Legacy Award next month during a fundraising gala, which will now honor her memory.
Besides her husband, she is survived by her son Jeremy Indenbaum and his wife Erica of East Setauket; daughter Carrie Gaffney and husband Brendan of Silver Spring, Maryland; and brother Barry Sommer of Visalia, California.