Sandy Saull and Steve Leberstien (
November 11, 2018, in Philadelphia
Sandy’s George Washington High School junior prom was just three days away and she didn’t have a date. Her friend Mike offered a possible solution: His friend Steve, who went to Central High.
After school on Steve’s 16th birthday, Mike took him to Sandy’s house in Bustleton. By the end of their sidewalk talk, she had a date and he had a crush.
“From the time I met her I walked around in a fog, because I was absolutely smitten,” said Steve, now 66. Her green eyes were hypnotic.
“I was thrilled somebody was going to take me to the prom, and he was so cute,” said Sandy, now 67.
The prom was magical, and they were soon exclusive.
Steve loved Sandy for her sense of humor, her smarts, and her tremendous musical talent, particularly with the violin.
“He was always there for me, and he was gorgeous,” Sandy said.
After 18 months of school picnics and drive-in movies, both were headed to Temple University. “I thought we were going to stay together, but Steve thought we should break up. It was devastating,” Sandy remembered.
“I loved her, but we were both young and just starting college, and I thought we probably ought to see other people,” Steve said.
After a year of coexisting at Temple, Steve transferred to the since-closed Spring Garden College. He earned a degree in mechanical and electrical engineering, then followed his career from the Eastern Shore of Maryland to Michigan, Connecticut, Wilmington, and Ridgefield Park, N.J. He worked in plant engineering, sales, and marketing before running a small technical publishing company in Phoenixville. He married in the 1970s and has two sons, Evan and Lou, and two grandchildren, Luke and Kaitlyn. After 24 years, Steve’s marriage ended in divorce. He had a brief second marriage, and then, in 2006, the Wissinoming native moved to Northeast Philadelphia.
Sandy earned a degree in social work and worked as a Temple University Hospital medical social worker before attending medical school and completing her residency at the University of Pennsylvania. The ear, nose, and throat doctor joined a practice in Philadelphia and Montgomery Counties. She married in 1975 and has a daughter, Lindsay, a son, Josh, and a grandson, Rory. Sandy stayed in Greater Philadelphia, eventually settling in Cheltenham. After 30 years, her marriage also ended in divorce.
In 2009, Steve’s ears were ringing. His doctor suggested a specialist, and he recognized her name.
Seeing Steve’s name on her patient list stopped Sandy in midsentence. Her face turned beet red. “What the hell’s the matter with you?” asked medical assistant Loretta. “I know this guy,” Sandy said. “I haven’t seen him in 40 years.”
Her entire staff buzzed with anticipation of this new patient’s visit.
Sandy’s eyes were still that unforgettable green, Steve said. They had a great time talking about where they had been since they saw each other last and the things they had done.
“Don’t be a stranger,” Sandy said as the appointment ended.
“How can we continue this conversation?” Steve asked.
She gave him her number, and they met for their second first date at Abington’s Kitchen Bar.
“The old level of comfort was still right there, and it came flooding back,” Steve said.
Six months after they started dating again, Steve was diagnosed with prostate cancer. “She was my support,” he said. Sandy provided him with information about treatment options, guided him to talented medical professionals she knows, and was with him before and after surgery. She spent evenings after work with him and his mom in the Northeast.
“He returned the favor for me when I had breast cancer in 2012,” Sandy said. By then, they were living together in Cheltenham. “He physically took care of me, and he emotionally took care of me,” she said. “He is my steadfast one. And he is the most kindhearted and generous person I know.”
Sandy and Steve are now both cancer-free.
She retired from her practice in October, but, as a certified yoga instructor, she’s still teaching and is working on a new class geared toward making yoga accessible for an older audience.
Steve retired from publishing in October and has launched a real estate/property management company, Keyrenter Main Line.
Sandy and Steve are big believers in proactive communication, and periodically one will start a conversation with, “Are we doing OK?” or, “Is there anything we need to talk about?”
Sandy took the lead one day in early 2017 and was met with silence that concerned her, until Steve said:
“I think it’s time we look for rings.”
One March evening after work, she came home to one of Steve’s delicious gourmet meals, candles lit.
Before they sat at the table, Steve got down on both knees. “Will you consent to be my wife?” he asked.
After helping him overcome his arthritis and get back on his feet, Sandy said yes.
The first time she got engaged, Sandy did the asking. Steve’s proposal made her feel wanted, loved, and content. Forever betrothed would have been enough for Sandy, but not for Steve. One day, he overheard her say, “if we get married,” and he tapped her on the shoulder with an emphatic correction: “When!”
They set a date that enabled them to use as their honeymoon a preplanned European river cruise with a number of couples they had met on a May 2017 tour of Italy.
The couple wed and celebrated with a largely traditional Jewish ceremony and luncheon reception for 65 at Zahav.
The ceremony took place beneath a chuppah that they had specially made in hopes it will become a family heirloom. Its elegant simplicity means it can work in any type of wedding ceremony, Sandy said. Her son and daughter-in-law used it first, a few months earlier, and their names are embroidered on it. Sandy and Steve’s will be added.
During the ceremony, the chuppah was held by the couple’s grandchildren, Steve’s cousin Jay, and Sandy’s sisters Judy and Jill.
Three generations of Sandy’s family and four generations of Steve’s attended the wedding, including Steve’s mom, Elsie, who is 95.
With Rabbi Joshua Waxman’s approval, friends read a poem by Rumi and an Apache blessing.
Sandy’s son Josh, a musician and IT professional, created play lists and worked the sound system for both ceremony and luncheon.
The only dancing was the couple’s first dance, to Etta James singing “At Last.” “It seemed appropriate considering it took us 50 years to get married,” Sandy said.
Then everyone enjoyed conversation, the food Zahav is known for, and an apple spice wedding cake and chocolate bar favors made by pastry chef Justine Macneil, who sometime in January will open Fiore with her husband.
The couple used the wedding rings of Sandy’s late parents, Edward and Harriette. Steve placed a ring on her finger saying in Hebrew, “Behold, you are consecrated unto me with this ring, in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel.”
She placed a ring on his finger and responded, also in Hebrew, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.”
“I looked up at him and I realized that we were finally married, and that was amazing,” Sandy said.
Steve took the traditional step of breaking a glass at the end of the ceremony. “As it shattered, I was thinking how amazing it is that here I am at 66, embarking on another life with my partner,” he said. “It signified the beginning of another phase of my life.”
A bargain: Steve and Sandy skipped the wedding album and prints. Instead, photographer Taffy Johnson created a website that allows the downloading and printing of images and gave the couple a flash drive of all of them. “It made photography pretty affordable,” Steve said.
The splurge: Those dark chocolate bars with gold leaf wedding favors.
A 10-day river cruise from Amsterdam to Basel, Switzerland, which included tours of Amsterdam’s fairy tale architecture, castles along the Rhine, and a dairy farm that makes the best Gouda.
Officiant: Rabbi Joshua Waxman of Or Hadash: a Reconstructionist Congregation, Fort Washington. President, Philadelphia Board of Rabbis.
Venue and food: Zahav, Philadelphia.
Wedding cake and favors: Justine Macneil, Fiore Fine Foods, Philadelphia.
Music: Joshua McHugh, son of the bride.
Photography: Taffy Johnson, Greater Philadelphia.
Dress: Berta Sawyer, Jenkintown.
Groom’s attire: Jos. A. Bank, Chestnut Hill.
Planner: Neira Jackson, director of events, Zahav.