Back and forth they went, flouting the rules, until one night in March 2020 when Biega was busted by security.
“They caught me leaving Iris’s apartment one evening,” Biega said. “The security guard told me, ‘You can either live apart or live together, but you have to make your mind up right now.’”
When he was back in his own apartment, he quickly got on the phone with Ivers to tell her their covert visits had to end.
There was only one solution, they both decided.
“I packed up my clothes and a toothbrush and moved into Bill’s apartment the very next day,” Ivers said.
More than a year later, the couple’s covid-era romance is still going, to the delight of other residents and even Applewood staff, who forgave them for briefly breaking the regulations.
“Their story is the rose that grew through the pavement during a difficult time,” said Keith Grady, Applewood’s executive director. “They act like teenagers — they have no inhibitions, and they’re always up for fun.”
Ivers, a former deputy chief copy editor for Sports Illustrated, and Biega, a retired global sales executive and engineer, already knew each other from a previous retirement community. But it wasn’t until they each moved into Applewood in 2019 (Ivers in June, Biega in November) that they noticed some sparks, Ivers said.
Biega had just lost his wife, Lili, after 75 years of marriage. Ivers was widowed in 2001 when her husband, George, died.
“We became more friendly than we had been before, and we started spending a lot of time together,” she said. “Before the virus hit, we’d eat dinner together and talk, and we found out we had a lot more in common than we thought.”
She and Biega shared a love for reading, walking, attending concerts and enjoying a cocktail before dinner, Ivers said.
Staff would see them playing cards together and sharing animated conversations in the dining room.
“We’re both pretty positive people, and we like to be sociable,” Ivers said. “The thought of having to isolate alone in our individual apartments because of the virus really wasn’t very appealing. I’d grown quite fond of Bill — he’s a very demonstrative, warm and loving person. And he makes great Bloody Marys.”
Biega said he was captivated by Ivers’s youthful personality and beautiful smile.
“I don’t hear very well, but I’m sound mentally and physically, and so is she,” he said. “We both like to talk to people and be outgoing rather than spend time alone.”
He added: “Iris is so friendly and young at heart — I couldn’t imagine not being able to see her. She’d made it so much easier for me after my wife passed away. She gave me new happiness.”
So, after the lockdown went into effect for Applewood’s 370 residents in mid-March last year, Biega said ignoring the center’s rules to be with his new sweetheart seemed like an obvious choice.
They both knew that stealing away to see each other could pose a risk to themselves and possibly others, they said, so they were careful with all other pandemic precautions.
And with little time to think about it, they then found themselves isolating together in his one-bedroom apartment.
There were a few small arguments early on, Ivers confessed, as the two adjusted to each other’s routines.
“I found out that he is one stubborn man, and I’m a stubborn woman,” she said. “So there were a few times when we locked horns, but we worked it out. Bill is actually pretty good-natured, and I learned not to make a mountain out of a molehill.”
Their meals were delivered three times daily by staff during the lockdown between March and August, along with anything else they needed, Biega said.
“Nobody was allowed in or out, so we’d eat our meals together and go outside on our patio when we needed fresh air,” he said.
“Yes, thank God for the fresh air,” Ivers said. “Having the patio during the pandemic was like having another room. We both love fresh air and sunshine.”
The couple spent a lot of time talking, and Ivers said she was fascinated to learn more about Biega’s family history.
Biega grew up in Poland and is one of the last remaining survivors of 1944’s Warsaw Uprising against German occupation during World War II, he said.
He and his late wife were both Catholic, and Hitler ordered Polish churches destroyed along with synagogues as part of his plan to decimate the country’s culture. Biega became a leader with the Polish underground resistance and spent six months in a German hospital camp after he was wounded. He and his wife ended up immigrating to the United States.
“I survived all of that, had a very successful life, and can still walk and swim a few months before I’ll turn 99,” Biega said. “I know that I’m an extremely lucky man.”
That lucky streak, he said, led him to Ivers during this late chapter of his life. Now that the lockdown is over and they’ve both gotten the coronavirus vaccine, he has convinced her to join him in the pool for regular swims.
“He does laps, and I do the dog paddle,” Ivers said. “But we have a lot of fun.”
The pair are now spotted walking hand-in-hand almost daily at the retirement center.
“We tell each other how wonderful it is that we found each other,” Ivers said.
But she and Biega have no plans to tie the knot. “When you’ve lived as long as we have, there’s no reason to get married,” Biega said. “After all, we do live in the 21st century.”
Besides, Ivers added, they wouldn’t want to put Biega’s five children and her two stepchildren through the stress of a “late-late-late-in life” wedding.
“What would be the point in that?” she said. “We are enjoying things just as they are.”
For Biega, that means some nightly cuddle time with Ivers.
“Even in your 90s, it’s never too late to have a love life,” he said.
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