Sixty years ago, she put her boyfriend's commitment to the test by moving away - here's what happened next

Jerilyn and Bob Pelikan
In 1964, Jerilyn Young was a flight attendant for United Airlines. Photo credit: Jerilyn and Bob Pelikan

By Francesca Street of CNN

The other flight attendants told Jerilyn Young that her boyfriend Bob Pelikan was never going to settle down.

It was 1964. Jerilyn, who worked for United Airlines, was sitting on the floor of her apartment in Newark, New Jersey, chatting with her three roommates.

Their apartment building, which neighboured Newark Airport, was inhabited almost entirely by flight attendants. It was a vibrant, buzzy and fun place to live. The flight attendants worked together, went out in New York City together and counselled each other on their personal lives. 

"The talk going around about Bob the bachelor was how independent he was, and that I shouldn't date him, because he would break my heart," Jerilyn tells CNN Travel today.

Bob Pelikan lived on the 10th floor, Jerilyn - who was 20 at the time - and her friends lived on the first floor. All the flight attendants knew Bob. He was 25, tall, confident and charming. He owned a convertible red Porsche which he parked in front of the building. He played the ukulele.

But the first thing Jerilyn had noticed about Bob was his eyes.

"The kindest eyes that I had ever seen," she says. "I would just call him a gentle giant. He was so in charge of his life, and yet gentle at the same time. I was just over the moon, immediately." 

But Jerilyn's friends were wary.

"Some of the other women just thought he was the quintessential bachelor that would never have a real, serious relationship," says Jerilyn. "They thought he was not ever going to go out with any young woman more than once or twice."

That day in 1964, Jerilyn was sitting in her apartment with her roommates discussing what she should do. On the one hand, she knew there was more to Bob than his bachelor image. In fact, she found other people's perceptions of him almost funny, because they differed so much from her own experiences.

But on the other hand, her friends had her best interests at heart - and it was true that Bob did have a bit of a reputation in the building. He'd had girlfriends, but nothing ever seemed serious. Jerilyn did want confirmation they were committed. 

An idea started brewing - didn't distance supposedly make the heart grow fonder?

"I felt I had to get his attention by moving away," says Jerilyn. "I thought he would miss me, and that would make our relationship strong."

"So, I immediately put in for a transfer to San Francisco. And my thinking was - when I'm leaving, that will really pique his interest. What a chance I took."

Living the dream 

Jerilyn had dreamed of being a flight attendant since she was a child growing up in California. She remembers sitting in the back of her father's old Ford car.

"I would sit there feeling the breeze from the window on my face and dream of flying to other countries. It is the strongest memory I have from my childhood," she says.

Jerilyn flew in a real airplane for the first time at 17, traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco. She was in awe.

"That cemented my dream of becoming a stewardess," she says. 

Then, at 19, Jerilyn saw a newspaper advertisement from United Airlines. The airline was looking for flight attendants. Jerilyn went to LA Airport, interviewed for the role and got the job the same day.

"I was beyond excited. I'll never forget running to a telephone booth and calling a girlfriend of mine and just screaming on the phone, 'I got the job,'" recalls Jerilyn.

Jerilyn spent six weeks training in Chicago, bonding with the flight attendants who were later to become her roommates in Newark. Then she took to the skies for the first time in late 1963.

"I was thrilled," recalls Jerilyn. "I would be able to meet all these people, experiencing that joy of travel and I'd be able to see things I dreamed about my whole life." 

Jerilyn loved working as a flight attendant. And in her downtime, she enjoyed spending time with her new friends in the bustling Newark apartment building and beyond.

"I was just having the time of my life, being in New Jersey, close to New York City, and seeing plays and just living a wonderful life," she says. "We went over and saw 'Hello Dolly' and all the big plays at that time. And that was a dream come true. I'd never been to New York City before. I had four roommates, and they were just the best."

Jerilyn and Bob Pelikan
The next chapter of Jerilyn and Bob's romance began at LAX Airport. Photo credit: Jerilyn and Bob Pelikan

Crossing paths

Bob Pelikan moved into the Newark apartment building at a similar time to Jerilyn. He was an engineer at a small New Jersey manufacturing company. While studying at the University of Illinois, he'd got his private pilot license. He didn't have much opportunity to make use of it. But he loved flying, and living close to the airport was a good compromise. 

From his 10th floor apartment, Bob enjoyed watching the airplanes taking off and departing from his apartment window. Sometimes his radio set even picked up the air traffic control intercom reports.

"It was a nice apartment building," Bob tells CNN Travel today. "The way you socialized was to hang around the lobby where the mailboxes were, and you could meet people that way, or down in the laundry room."

Bob met and dated a few other flight attendants who he crossed paths within the building. But Bob and Jerilyn met not by the mailboxes or in the laundry room, but at church.

Jerilyn spontaneously decided to accompany a friend to the nearby Presbyterian church one Sunday. When the two walked in, Jerilyn's friend spotted Bob, and they ended up all sitting together. 

It was when they were introduced, sitting in the church pew, that Jerilyn first noticed Bob's "kind eyes." Afterwards, they all went for lunch, and then Bob invited the group back to his apartment. He played the ukulele for them. Jerilyn and Bob's eyes kept meeting.

"It was kind of spirit to spirit, like my inner self recognized something in him," says Jerilyn.

Bob fell for Jerilyn that day too.

"I met her that one Sunday and decided she was the one," he says. 

But at the time, Bob was dating someone else. And it took a little while for him "to end that without totally breaking her heart," as he puts it.

"But after the few months it took for me to extract myself from another relationship, we started dating," he says.

Over the next six weeks, Jerilyn and Bob spent time together whenever they could. Jerilyn would start the day by peering out her apartment window, looking for Bob's red Porsche and seeing whether it was parked outside.

"I was always looking out the window to see if he was there or not," she recalls. 

Jerilyn was falling for Bob, and she believed he was falling for her too. But for Jerilyn, there was still that worry - was Bob taking their relationship as seriously as she was? Was she just another flight attendant in the building to him?

She kept being told by her colleagues: "He's playing the field."

"That just made the intrigue even more for me," says Jerilyn today. "Because then I had a job - and I wanted to get him interested. And I was just crazy about him."

That's why she decided to apply for the San Francisco transfer. 

When Jerilyn told Bob about her upcoming move, he was shocked. And then immediately he worried about never seeing her again.

"It scared me to death, I thought I was going to lose her," he says. "I knew I needed to move fast to cement our relationship before she moved. So I invited her to join me for a week at my parents' summer home in northern Michigan."

Jerilyn agreed.

"And so, we jumped in the Porsche, top down all the way to Michigan. And that's where we really fell in love," says Bob. 

Jerilyn and Bob spent just over a week at the cottage on the lake at Bay View, Michigan.

"It was so beautiful," says Jerilyn. "I was living a dream come true."

"We had 10 days to get to know each other and we fell hopelessly in love," says Bob.

Then, Jerilyn packed her bags and relocated to San Francisco. Her best friend Genie, who she'd lived with in New Jersey, moved with her. 

When the two women landed in San Francisco, they made their way to the hotel they'd booked to tide them over until they found an apartment. There, the reception desk informed them that there was a telegram waiting for Jerilyn.

It was from Bob.

"I opened it in the lobby. I turned to Genie and excitedly said 'It worked!'" recalls Jerilyn.

Long distance 

For the next year, Jerilyn and Bob dated long distance across the country.

"Bob wrote very beautiful poetic letters - about four times every week," says Jerilyn. "Plus, we talked on the phone nearly every day."

"I found it very romantic," says Bob of the long-distance courtship.

A few months after she'd moved, Bob visited Jerilyn for the first time in San Francisco. It was "magical," he says. 

"We were both ecstatic doing all the tourist adventures in a beautiful city," agrees Jerilyn. "We were all over the city and riding cable cars and going out to eat and looking at the Golden Gate Bridge and just hook line and sinker, I was in love with this man."

Jerilyn's job made dating across 5,000 miles a little easier.

"I was a stewardess. We could fly anywhere at the drop of a hat, no charge," she says.

But the distance was still tough at times. There were moments when Jerilyn questioned her decision to leave the East Coast and a world where Bob lived just a few floors above her. But she also loved life in San Francisco. And there was something thrilling about the days leading up to her reunions with Bob. 

"It was hard and exciting, all rolled up together," says Jerilyn.

Meanwhile, Bob would sit in his high-rise Newark apartment overlooking the airport and listen in to the pilots talking to the control tower.

"I knew her flight number and when she was coming in. So I would sit up there and listen for her flight coming in - and then I would know when to head for the airport," he recalls.

An airport engagement 

It was at an airport that the next chapter in Bob and Jerilyn's love story began.

It was Christmas 1964. Jerilyn arrived at Los Angeles Airport's gate 64. She was straight off a flight, still dressed in her flight attendant uniform.

Bob, who'd flown out to meet her and stay for the holidays, met Jerilyn at the gate. The two hugged, and then Bob took Jerilyn to one side, to a quiet area behind the United kiosk.

"He handed me this huge box - it was a white, big box. And I thought, 'Okay, that's my Christmas present, and so I opened it up,'" recalls Jerilyn. 

Inside the large box was a small box, with a ring glistening inside. Jerilyn gasped and looked up at Bob.

"He said, 'I want to marry you.' And his eyes were just beautiful. And I said, 'I want to marry you too,'" recalls Jerilyn.

Bob had flown all the way across the country with the box sitting on his lap. He was relieved it had all worked out, and he was delighted Jerilyn said yes.

"I still remember how it felt after it gave me the ring, having that on my finger and walking through the airport together, knowing 'Here I am on the threshold of my life, with this wonderful person,'" says Jerilyn. 

Jerilyn and Bob married five months later, in April 1965. Jerilyn's fellow flight attendant best friend Genie made her wedding dress. And a few years later, Genie wore the dress herself, and later down the line, her sister wore it too.

In 1965, flight attendants were still required to be unmarried. So for Jerilyn - who took Bob's name when she got married, becoming Jerilyn Pelikan - marrying Bob meant the end of her flying career. But that was just the norm back then, says Jerilyn, so she didn't dwell too long on leaving this part of her life behind.

"If you got married, you would have to quit - we just blindly accepted that," she says today. "You didn't even balk at it. You weren't you weren't upset or anything, because you just knew that was going to happen."

Jerilyn and Bob Honeymooned in Hawaii, paid for by United Airlines. 

"Going to Hawaii today from the west coast of California is a very common thing," says Jerilyn. "In those days, it would be like going to Antarctica or something. I mean, people just didn't go - it was a big deal. And expensive."

The rarity of the experience made the adventure all the more exciting for Jerilyn and Bob.

"We had our honeymoon on the island of Kauai, and it was beautiful," says Jerilyn.

Jerilyn and Bob Pelikan
Jerilyn and Bob, pictured with their first son, loved being parents right away but it took them a while to settle into marriage. Photo credit: Jerilyn and Bob Pelikan

Learning curve 

While Jerilyn and Bob had longed for each other on opposite coasts, going from seeing each other only ever so often to living together was an adjustment.

"Before we got married, we were only together, in each other's presence, for maybe 15 or 20 times," says Jerilyn.

"We had big ups and downs when we first got married, we didn't know each other."

They both discovered sides to each other they hadn't seen before. Whenever they'd met up prior to marriage, they'd been swept up in the romance of meeting and parting. The everyday rarely reared its head. 

"We had a period of adjustment where all of the regular stuff comes up, and stuff that you didn't know about, stuff you didn't anticipate and stuff you had to adjust to," says Bob.

The couple worked through this period - and even in the toughest moments, Jerilyn and Bob say they never doubted they'd made the right choice.

"There was something that was so solid that I always felt - even during the early fights," says Jerilyn.

They discovered a shared sense of humour that would often undercut tense moments and became a stalwart of their relationship. 

"We joke around all the time and make fun of everything, mostly ourselves. And that's really good for the soul," says Jerilyn.

And the two bonded over their shared, all-encompassing love for their first child, born just over a year after they got married.

"I remember being so proud to be a father," says Bob.

"It was just an incredible experience," says Jerilyn. 

Jerilyn and Bob - both independent, with their own differing hobbies - also learned to balance their own respective interests with their life as a couple and their family life. This mutual respect helped ground their relationship.

"We have both always been open to learning and growing and recognizing what's going on inside as well as outside. That's been really huge," says Jerilyn.

Later, the couple had two more sons. They loved raising them together. Jerilyn returned to work when her children were older, but never to flying. But she continued to engage her love of travel by planning adventures for her family.

A tradition began where Jerilyn and Bob would visit Hawaii every year. And on their 50th wedding anniversary in 2013, they travelled to New York and relived the early days of their relationship, before jetting to Paris. 

Jerilyn and Bob Pelikan
Jerilyn and Bob still love going on adventures together. Photo credit: Jerilyn and Bob Pelikan

Six decades later

Today, Jerilyn and Bob still cherish their travels and adventures further afield, but they especially enjoy moments at home spent with their family, including their two grandchildren.

"It's a deep joy," says Jerilyn of being a grandparent. "It's very profound in such a beautiful way."

Jerilyn and Bob enjoy getting all their family members around the dinner table whenever possible. During these long, leisurely meals, Jerilyn and Bob often find themselves recounting tales from their early days together. 

"We tell stories, they get a kick out of it," says Jerilyn.

Bob's now 85, while Jerilyn recently turned 80. This significant birthday left Jerilyn feeling "sentimental and reflective." She found herself wondering what would have happened if she'd never found herself working in Newark, never encountered Bob, never moved to California.

"I'm just beyond grateful, because life has tough things in it and has joy. And it's both. And for whatever reason, we are together and healthy and have these three sons and grandchildren," says Jerilyn. "I am just grateful, just grateful to life."

Jerilyn says she thinks her younger self, "getting engaged at gate 64 at LA International Airport being told about 2023 and our long marriage" would feel pride, gratitude and excitement. 

Bob says he's just glad his gut instinct told him that he shouldn't let Jerilyn go when she moved away.

"It's important to learn how to listen to that inner voice, that inner guidance that we all have," he says. "I never had doubts that we'd live a good life together."