Val and Alex Berman met in university. “I saw her at a social function and was immediately attracted to her,” says Alex Berman. “I asked her out on a date – and didn’t show up.”
Despite that inauspicious beginning, they celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary on March 23. It’s a marriage that produced three sons – Drew Berman, who lives in Toronto, Greg, who calls Winnipeg home, and Steven in Japan – seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Val Berman, who is closing in on her 91st birthday, was born in Yorkton, Sask., where her parents, Harry and Anne Portnuff, were prominent members of the community. Her mother was the daughter of one of the first Jewish families to settle in Manitoba.
Val Berman came to Winnipeg at the age of 16 to live with her grandparents and attend the University of Manitoba.
Alex Berman, who will turn 95 later this spring, grew up in Winnipeg’s west end, the youngest of four sons of David and Faye, who were originally from Romania. His father was a jeweller, while he became an architect.
Val Berman recalls that their wedding day was bitterly cold. They married at the Royal Alexandra Hotel – once one of Winnipeg’s classiest establishments – and honeymooned in Minneapolis.
After being self-employed for several years, Alex Berman secured a position with the federal government, which required the family to move to Edmonton. “I worked for the Department of Public Works,” he says. “A lot of my work involved designing schools for reservations, mainly in Alberta and Saskatchewan. I travelled a lot. One of my more memorable projects took me to Resolute Bay in the Arctic, where I designed a residential facility for government people and research scientists.”
While Alex Berman was busy travelling around Western Canada, Val spent much of her time volunteering at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton.
After Alex Berman retired 20 or so years ago, he spent his time taking classes at Grant McEwan University in Edmonton.
In 2011, the couple moved back to Winnipeg – after 31 years in Edmonton – to be closer to their family. “We made a lot of very good friends in Edmonton,” says Alex Berman, “but we didn’t have any family there. In Winnipeg, we have our son, Greg, a grandson and a great-granddaughter.”
“Greg takes us grocery shopping once a week,” adds Val Berman. “He’s our saviour.”
Over the years, the two have travelled extensively, not only to see their sons in Toronto and Japan, but also to many exotic locales around the world. But their days of traveling are definitely behind them.
Val Berman says that she meets weekly with a group of ladies in their condo complex who play bridge together. She also reads extensively and enjoys cheering on the Winnipeg Jets.
Alex Berman has problems with his vision and can only read with the help of a machine that magnifies the pages.
“People can’t get over how much cooking and baking Val still does,” he says with pride.
“You better behave yourself, or I’ll close down the kitchen,” his wife responds jokingly.
They still like going out for dinner occasionally. Last year, for their 70th anniversary, their children took them out for supper in Assiniboine Park. This year, they were taken out to their favourite steakhouse.