By Tom Blake
This year, on Feb. 7, I was shopping at Costco in Capo Beach. It was so crowded that my shopping cart nearly collided with a couple’s cart.
When the couple and I exchanged glances, we broke into broad smiles. I couldn’t believe that it was my friend Fred Voitenko and his significant other, Joanne Carlton. We hadn’t seen each other in years.
We pulled our carts aside to avoid obstructing an aisle and talked for 15 minutes. It was great to see them. I had known Fred for more than 20 years. We were about the same age.
In 2013, Fred was single. He was a customer at Tutor and Spunky’s, my Dana Point deli, who often came in for lunch, always wearing a huge smile and sharing a strong opinion about politics or religion. He owned a floor care business in San Clemente.
He would chew my ear off about how he couldn’t meet any single women. He and I were about the same age. One day, I said to Fred, “You should attend the senior singles meet-and-greet gatherings we have once a month at night here at the deli. There are many fine women who attend.”
He mumbled some excuse about being too busy or not wanting to waste his time. Whenever he returned for lunch, I’d remind him about the next scheduled meet-and-greet gathering. One day, he said, “OK. I will give it a try once.”
When he came to the meet-and-greet, Fred was so nervous, he wanted to run for the exit. I grabbed his arm and dragged him to the bar, where two women were seated. They were my partner Greta’s sister, DeAnn Hine, and DeAnn’s friend, Joanne Carlton.
Well, as often happens when gifts from above arrive unexpectedly, Fred met Joanne, and they established a connection. A few weeks later, they met again at the deli and became a couple. This past Sept. 19, Fred and Joanne celebrated his 80th birthday together with family and friends.
While Fred was passionately proud of his Bronx, New York roots, he loved living in San Clemente. In fact, he often described San Clemente as “paradise.”
Joanne also loves living in San Clemente. She said to me, “Fred loves to dance and is darn good at it.”
At the end of our Feb. 7 chat at Costco, they thanked me for introducing them 10 years before. They both looked happy and healthy. We promised one another that we’d get together soon.
Two days later, DeAnn called me while I was driving my car and delivered the most shocking news of my life, saying, “Tom, Fred Voitenko passed away yesterday.” I was so stunned and upset that I had to pull over to gather myself.
I said to DeAnn, “Are you certain? I talked to him and Joanne at Costco two days ago.”
On March 5, I attended Fred’s Celebration of Life at the San Juan Hills Golf Club Sports Bar and Grill. It was very moving. His two children, Amber and Kelly, organized a wonderful event.
The dining room was overflowing with people. You could tell by the diverse age range of the people in attendance that Fred was treasured by people young and old.
Minister Paul Bove, also Fred’s best friend, started the ceremony with heart-warming stories of his friendship with Fred.
The sincere comments by others who spoke indicated how much Fred was loved. One speaker had everyone join in to say just one word together, a giant, loud, and, extended “Hello!”, which Fred was known for. There were lots of tears and lots of laughs.
Kelly, Fred’s son, said, “The world would be a better place if we had more Freds.”
Dr. Amber Voitenko, Fred’s daughter, who owns Voitenko Wellness, a wellness clinic in Tustin, stated, “My dad loved everybody, and he loved life.” Amber ended her talk with these simple words: “My dad was from the Bronx.”
South Orange County has lost a greatly loved and admired man. And many people have lost a dear friend.
Tom Blake is a retired Dana Point business owner and resident who has authored books on middle-aged dating. See his website at findingloveafter50.com. To comment: email@example.com.