Caroline Stiglitz had to have her rum cakes baked in time for the Christmas holidays.

Her husband John, affectionately known to most as “Pops”, and all their children were working diligently to dry out and repair their home in Marathon following the memorable flooding by Hurricane Wilma.

He turned to the window behind him at his kitchen table Monday morning and pointed to the bottom of the sill.

“We had about 4 or 5 feet of water in here. I called Bobby and asked him how I could get everything back in order as quickly as possible. He told me to strip out the flooring and walls up to the water line, bleach everything and get the fans on everything to dry it out, and he’d be down to help me by Sunday.”

He had this conversation with his son, a contractor in Tennessee on Tuesday.

Five weeks later, the house was as good as new, but Mrs. Stiglitz still didn’t have a stove to bake her rum cakes.

“I called Steve at Marathon Air and told him I needed a stove. Well, we got one here, and though it was a glass stove I eventually exchanged for this gas one, I got my rum cakes made and got all my baking done just in time.”

The couple hail from Islip, New York, but have been residents of the Keys for more than 30 years. When Caroline was 16, the handsome young man of just 18 years moved into the house just behind hers. Three years of courtship passed and the couple married in 1950.

Before eventually making their way to Marathon, the Stiglitzs landed in Fort Lauderdale where he owned and operated a successful machine shop, and Caroline was driving a school bus and raising their four children.

“My son Ronny will tell you to this day he remembers that I was always at his little league games,” John said. “I’d come home and eat dinner with my family, and then I head back to work in the evening.”

The strain of working a full time job and managing a household of four teenagers soon took a toll on Caroline and she implored her husband to sell his business.

“We lost a lot of money when we sold his business, but I needed him at home more than we needed the money,” she explained.

Their persevering spirit and strong sense of family has been passed down through generations of offspring.

Ronnie owns Keys Welding and still comes to his mother’s house each morning for bonding time over a hearty breakfast. Richard, a commercial fisherman, lives in Okeechobee and keeps his boat docked in Marathon. Bobby is a busy contractor in Tennessee, and Tina, the only daughter, owns a thriving catering business in Kennesaw, Ga. All together, they’ve given their parents the gifts of six grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Caroline’s jewelry – a ring with her children’s birthstones, a necklace with her grandchildren’s birthstones and a bracelet for her great grandchildren – serve as simple daily reminders of the blessings of family.

The couple is happily anticipating the celebration of their sixtieth wedding anniversary next year. Even at 77 and 80 years of age, they both still work every day.

“Working keeps us going,” Caroline explained. “Nearly all my friends are dead because after they retired, they just stopped.”

John added that friends of his who decided to retire told him that it is not all it’s cracked up to be.

They also point to regular games of cards and walking every day as their secret to longevity.

In September 2007, Marathon High School’s Career and Technical Training Center was dedicated in John’s honor as Pop’s Place. For more than 30 years, he has mentored high school students and advocated the school board and local businesses on their behalf for funding.

“College is not an option for every student,” John explained. “There may be monetary restraints or academic ones, too. If we can start vocational training at 14 or 15 years old, we can teach these kids a trade as well as life skills. The most precious thing we have is our children.”

His selfless dedication to raising money for Marathon’s students not only helps to keep him young, but his belief in the need for vocational training came full circle in the weeks following Wilma. With the help of his children and their spouses, John and Caroline’s home was like new in just five short weeks.

Of course in honor of Valentine’s Day, The Weekly had to know what has been their secret to a successful marriage?

“Working at it every day,” they responded in unison.

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