The United States Census Bureau records show just one-tenth of married couples will ever celebrate their 70th anniversary. For Dr. Stephan and Tamara Tymkiw of Millersville, their January 24 milestone anniversary might have been the easiest part of their improbable love affair.
Both were born in Ukraine. Stephan’s family members were rural farmers while Tamara was raised in the city by her father, an army officer, and mother. Both families were forced to leave their homeland during World War II. While they fled before knowing each other, each family endured harrowing escapes before settling in the southern German city of Munich.
“At that time, the borders of the Eastern European countries were constantly changing,” Tamara said. “All of our movements and our futures were affected by this.”
To get from Ukraine to Munich, Tamara’s family moved several times. First, they fled Ukraine to Poznań, which is now a large city in western Poland. To avoid the approaching Russian Army, Tamara’s family fled Poznań on horseback and in horse-drawn wagons in the bitter cold to northwest Germany in January 1945 near Hamburg, an area that would become part of the post-war British-occupied zone.
A friend in Bavaria shared a Ukrainian newspaper with her mother one day, and they learned that the family was now living near a large Ukrainian refugee community. It was there that Tamara and her mother, previously separated from her military father, reunited. With the help of a newspaper editor, the family relocated to Munich, where Tamara entered high school.
Until 1943, Stephan was a high school student in German-occupied Ukraine before beginning medical studies. The Germans tried to recruit Stephan to join their military.
“I was able to obtain a letter from a physician stating that I was studying infectious diseases and I couldn’t possibly leave such an important specialty to enlist,” Stephan said.
During this time, Stephan was part of a musical choir. Members of the choir moved to avoid the advancing Russian Army during the later stages of WWII. Stephan and other choir members were able to set their sights westward to Prague and later to Munich, where Stephan enrolled in medical school.
The paths of Stephan and Tamara crossed in Munich when Stephan had to deliver a paper to Tamara’s family for a signature. Quietly hemming a pair of pants in another room, Tamara listened to her mother speaking with Stephan, who made a positive impression on Tamara’s mom.
“My mother asked, ‘He was a very nice boy, don’t you think so?’” Tamara recalled. “But I was busy sewing. I didn’t pay much attention.”
They were officially introduced at church. Stephan escorted Tamara to her graduation dance in the company of her parents — the custom at the time. The two were smitten.
It was impossible to return to Ukraine after the war because it was under Soviet repression. They became part of the post-war immigration and got engaged, despite being unable to get visas to the same North American country. Tamara emigrated to Toronto and Stephan landed in New Jersey.
“I was not allowed to come to the United States, but he was allowed to visit me in Canada,” Tamara said.
Stephan traveled north, and the couple married in Toronto on January 24, 1953. Finalizing their immigration papers and visas took 11 months, but Tamara finally joined Stephan in the United States, where Stephan was finishing an internship in Staten Island, New York. The couple moved to Ohio for Stephan’s pathology residence, and their first two daughters, Barbara and Christina, were born there.
Their journey to Maryland happened when the city of Salisbury needed a second pathologist in 1959, and Stephan was happy to take the job at Peninsula General Hospital. The family expanded with two more daughters, Irene and Lydia. They raised their children to be bilingual and to be proud of their Ukrainian heritage.
Tamara and Stephan love to travel, and their trips have taken them to six continents. Retirement brought them to the Western Shore to be close to the cultural amenities they appreciate. It also gives them the opportunity to be part of the Ukrainian congregations of Baltimore and Silver Spring.
The Tymkiws, whose guiding value centers around cherishing family, celebrated Stephan’s 98th birthday on New Year’s Day with family, including their three grandchildren and their families. The couple’s anniversary party took place last month.
What’s the recipe for 70 happy years of marriage?
“Respect each other and don’t fight,” Stephan said.
Tamara was a bit more philosophical.
“We had the same upbringing, formed the same values, the same plans, and the same experiences,” she said. “The things that were important to us were never material. It was about family and getting an education.”
Tamara offered advice for younger couples.
“Learn to be more tolerant with everything and everyone because life is just so short,” Tamara said. “Time really flies, doesn’t it? I think so.”
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