When Nancy Schiller spotted a handsome, blond lifeguard on the beach at the old Camp Centerland, she fell for him right away.
Chemistry, his attentive style and care for his family drew her to him in 1946. Two years later, while they were studying for college exams at the library that was once inside the distinctively round Cyclorama Building, he surprised her with a diamond ring she didn’t think they could afford.
Thursday, Nancy and Harvey Schiller’s 65th wedding anniversary, their son David surprised – no – shocked them both by taking his parents back to the Cyclorama without telling them where they were going.
“Can you believe this?” said Nancy, looking around and taking hold of her husband’s hand. “No,” he said, before bending his head slightly, too choked up to say more, at first.
The Schillers went from stunned to smiling, and soon were telling stories, surrounded by about 20 friends at a table with plastic cups of champagne and a gardenia plant in honor of the flowers Nancy carried as a bride. It was the first the couple had been inside the place since it stopped being the reading room for the now-defunct Grosvenor public library in 1963.
The Cyclorama, built in 1888 to display panorama paintings, now holds the modern offices and cubicles for the Lumsden & McCormick accounting firm. It doesn’t look much like the old black and white photos on the wall that showed the place as a wide-open reading room with bookshelves lining the curved walls.
Harvey Schiller looked around and remembered how it used to be. The retired pharmacist studied there all the time, sometimes cracking up with friends in the quiet, after he got out of the Army and was in pharmacy school at the University of Buffalo.
On New Year’s Eve 1948, he came with Nancy and friends to do some work before going out for the evening to celebrate.
To the relief of his future father-in-law, and jeweler, Schiller had just used his Army pay to cover the cost of the ring that had been set aside, waiting to go on Nancy’s finger.
When Harvey slipped on the sparkling diamond in the library, she was thrilled.
“I was so surprised and excited because we had never talked about a ring,” she remembered. “That night we got together with a lot of friends. … So it was a very special New Year’s Eve.”
Thursday, friends happily stood around them once again, admiring copies of an old photo of the Schillers as a jubilant young couple.
After they met as summer camp counselors, their love story unfolded as if it was meant to be.
“I don’t know whether it was luck or hard work or just a lot of love,” Nancy said. “I’m very grateful that we’re together.”
The couple, both 86, has two sons, a daughter, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. They all live so many different places – from a son in Los Angeles to a granddaughter in Jerusalem – that it’s hard to get together to celebrate.
So for this anniversary, her local son, David, decided it would be nice to gather friends and family, rent a minibus and take his parents for a surprise visit, first to the Cyclorama, and then to Cradle Beach Camp – the site of Centerland, once a camp for Jewish kids.
As Nancy Schiller thought back on the 1940s, beginning her life with her husband, the hard parts seemed drowned out by the good things.
After Centerland camp ended the summer of 1946, Harvey joined the Army and served in Okinawa, Japan. He named the truck he drove “Nancy” in her honor. She studied psychology and early childhood at the University of Buffalo. They wrote each other every day. Days without mail were followed by letters arriving in bunches.
After Harvey came home, he worked on his pharmacy degree, and they planned their life together.
Her parents’ reaction to the news of their New Year’s Eve engagement became a classic family story.
Her father sat straight up in bed, turned to her mother – not his daughter – and said, “Does she know what she’s doing?” Her mother said, “Yes,” and he promptly went back to sleep.
Thursday, as people sipped champagne and talked about old times at the Cyclorama Building, Harvey Schiller remembered how the wedding reception invitation he posted at his fraternity led to an unexpected swell of 30 frat brothers at the party. They pleased everyone with a rousing version of what Schiller called “the sweetheart song.”
Nancy Schiller listened, turned to her husband happily and said, “It sounds like we had a nice life.”
He smiled back. “It’s been pretty good so far.”
As the party wound down, the guests – some young, some older, some using canes and walkers – headed to the door slowly, lingering and talking happily about what just happened.
Outside, even the waiting driver stood by the minibus and marveled about the afternoon to someone on his cellphone.
“Sixty-five years married,” he said, “That’s a long time.”