Paul and Karen Arfin of Hauppauge knew immediately that they were meant to be together. Paul explains.
In June 1967, I was director of the Community Development for Youth, a nonprofit organization in Huntington, when I interviewed Karen Wildman for a summer job counseling at-risk teens. She was 22, lived in Elwood and had just graduated from SUNY Oneonta. I was 27 and lived in Huntington.
Several people applied for the job. As part of the interview process, I invited Karen to chaperone a dance to see how she related to teens. After the dance, I asked her to have a drink at Finnegan’s Bar in Huntington. It turned out to be our first date and the beginning of a lifetime commitment to one another.
I hired Karen and we continued dating. Every night after work we’d go to a diner for hamburgers. Our weekends were either spent at the beach, a Mets game or taking trips to the Hamptons or Manhattan. I proposed to Karen just two weeks after we met.
We were married on Sept. 3, 1967, in Levittown at the home of friends of Karen’s family. As we walked across the backyard lawn before relatives and friends, a folksinger and guitarist played “Try to Remember,” a song from “The Fantasticks,” a musical we had seen in New York. We traveled out West for our honeymoon, visiting friends and camping in national parks in Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico.
One day in Gallup, New Mexico, while driving to a campsite at dusk, we passed a billboard depicting a grizzly bear, baring its teeth and claws. The sign said “Home of the Grizzlies.” We thought back to our family’s concerns about bear encounters but kept driving.
It was late in the season and the campground was deserted. We set up the pup tent, ate fried chicken, then called it a day. After 30 minutes of listening to rustling sounds outside the tent, we decided to pack up and get out of there. We quickly pulled the tent down and took off to find a motel. On the way back we got a better look at the billboard sign. The grizzly bear referred to the local high school’s mascot! We had a good laugh but did not go back.
In 1970 we moved from Huntington to Sound Beach. I received my master’s degree in social work that year from Adelphi University in Garden City, and Karen received her master’s in social welfare from Stony Brook University in 1976. We have two daughters, a son-in-law and two granddaughters.
Karen was a counselor and social worker to children with special needs from 1985 to 2005 at Eastern Suffolk BOCES. She also has maintained a part-time private practice in psychotherapy for more than 30 years.
I founded several nonprofit initiatives, including the Community Programs Center of Long Island, where I was CEO for 22 years. I retired in 2002, after which I founded several other nonprofits. In 2005 I was inducted into the Long Island Volunteer Hall of Fame and wrote my memoir, “Portrait of a Peace Corps Gringo,” and a reference book about Long Island, “Unfinished Business: Social Action in Suburbia: Long Island NY 1945-2014.”
This year Karen and I celebrated our 49th anniversary with a riverboat cruise through Eastern Europe. For our 50th anniversary next year we plan trips to Colombia and Spain.
— With Virginia Dunleavy