reed magazine logowinter2007

Love Stories

Ernie and Shirley:
Family Matters

Who: Ernest Bonyhadi ’48, retired lawyer, married to Ilo Lehmann Bonyhadi ’51 (1930–2000) for 52 years

Shirley Georges Gittelsohn ’49, painter, married to Bill Gittelsohn ’48 (1925–2000) for 52 years

Where: Interviewed in the living room of their apartment in John’s Landing, which has an expansive view of the Willamette River near downtown Portland. Shirley’s paintings fill the walls. Among these is her portrait of Ernie. He sits on a terrace in Mexico, blue sea in the background, his hair and moustache very white against his bright shirt and dark glasses. He holds a cigar in his hand.

 
Ernie Bonyhadi and Shirley Gittelsohn

Ernie Bonyhadi ’48 and Shirley Gittelsohn ’49 today.

 

Ernie came to Portland from Austria with his family just after the outbreak of World War II, and graduated from Lincoln High School in 1941. He met Shirley around this time because her older brother was in Ernie’s class at Lincoln and Beth Israel Sunday School.

Ernie had a $150 scholarship to attend Reed, but he had to work for a year to earn the remaining $100 he needed for tuition as a day dodger. He entered Reed in 1942, where he met another freshman, Bill Gittelsohn, Shirley’s future husband. They both joined the army in 1943 to help defeat the Nazis. “Bill was seriously injured in the Battle of the Bulge,” says Ernie. “I was lucky.”

The two returned to Reed on the G.I. Bill in 1946. Ernie met Ilo Lehmann and Bill met Shirley Georges. Both couples got engaged (and attended each others’ engagement parties); then both married in 1948.

Eventually the two families built homes—three doors apart in Raleigh Hills—and, except for short breaks for graduate school, they were neighbors for the next five decades. The kids went to school together (Mark Bonyhadi ’82 also went to Reed). The families took vacations together—a rafting trip down the Deschutes River and regular excursions to the Oregon Coast. And the couples went on Reed alumni trips—to China, to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. “We would spend the day lying at the motel pool, reading the play aloud, each taking a part, and then attend the performance in the evening,” Ernie remembers.

  Shirley and Bill Gittelsohn

Shirley and Bill Gittelsohn on vacation in Cannon Beach in 1948.

Ernie and Ilo Bonyhadi

Ernie and Ilo Bonyhadi getting engaged in 1948.

“Reed was always a central factor of our lives,” says Ernie. He and Bill were both on the board of trustees, and Ernie was president of the alumni board when Shirley was secretary. “In our family, it was Bill who was really the gung-ho one,” Shirley says.

The couples celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversaries together in 1998, holding what they called a “geezerfest” in Cannon Beach, with a bonfire, a DJ, and a big dinner. All the children—Dena Ruby, John, and Judy Gittelsohn; Lyn and Mark Bonyhadi—came.

In June of 2000, Bill died; Ilo died in November of that same year.

“I was very depressed,” Shirley says. “My husband and my dear friend, both gone. My psychiatrist said that I should talk to Ernie, that we should help each other through this, and so we started to get together.”

Before Ilo died, she cooked a freezerful of meals. “Ham and noodles, mushroom soups,” says Shirley. “She fed us for about a year, all the food that Ernie likes. It was very sweet.”

On a table in the riverview condo that Ernie and Shirley now share, there is a tunnel book that a friend made for them. It is a series of accordion-bound pages in a glass box. The pages have cutouts allowing the viewer to see through the book, and each page has photographs of Ernie and Shirley: with each other, with their children, with their grandchildren. Bill and Ilo are there too, each perched atop a page, each sporting a pair of wings. They smile down on their families below.

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