Ralph and Melba Margolis are not your average couple — not every couple gets to celebrate turning 95 years old together! This past May, they marked this achievement by raising money for their favorite causes, including Planned Parenthood.
Their daughter, Naomi Gary, organized a neighborhood gathering where family and friends, in lieu of gifts, could donate to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU.
“When you turn 95, you don’t really need gifts,” Melba said.
Ralph and Melba are lifelong progressives and supporters of liberal causes.
“We’d had a big party for their 80th birthdays,” Naomi said. “And we wanted to do something big for their 95th! It was a chance to talk about their lives and honor the things that are important to them.”
Generations of families from the neighborhood came over to pay tribute to Melba and Ralph.
“We’ve been here a long time,” Melba said.
“The neighbors seem to like us,” Ralph said.
Progressives in Love
Melba and Ralph met in Flint, Michigan in 1949, at a friend’s Thanksgiving dinner.
“Then I got a phone call,” Melba said. “Ralph said it’d be fun if we went to a potluck together. He told me to bring a salad and a dessert. I thought that was strange because usually you just have to bring one thing!”
Ralph told her he was bringing the steak and potatoes. And then he told her the potluck would be at her house.
“I’ve been wooing her ever since!” Ralph said.
Ralph and Melba led rich, interesting lives on their own before they ever met.
Ralph was born in New York, the middle son of Jewish immigrants. During the Depression, the family fled the Bronx to join Michigan's Sunrise Cooperative Farm Community.
"It was full of communists, anarchists, socialists — 100 families on 10,000 acres. They thought if they put their stuff together, they’d collectively have more. My father wasn’t much of a father, so I picked up things from all the different fathers,” Ralph said. “A commune can be the best thing to happen to a person. It was for me.”
Melba was raised more conservatively, and her grandmother was a big influence.
“A girl had gone out with my cousin, and she told me they’d ‘gone all the way,’” Melba said. “I told my grandmother about this — who was born in 1867, by the way. She said: ‘Melba, this girl and your cousin did something that’s very natural. You’re being very judgmental.’”
This discussion made an impression on Melba.
“In 1940, I knew an 18-year-old who had a baby,” Melba said. “I had a lot of conflicted feelings about that. But I also knew people who’d had abortions. If a woman had enough money, she could get one.”
During the 1940's, Ralph was a GI in WWII Europe. Melba was the first in her family to go to college; she earned her Master's in Clinical Social Work. Later, they met at the Unitarian Church in Flint.
Melba and Ralph got married in 1953, then moved to San Diego in 1960. The last of their four children was born in 1962 when they were 40 years old.
In their working days, Melba was a psychiatric social worker. She worked at Home Start — an organization that works to prevent child abuse. Ralph became a junior high teacher in science and music appreciation, along with teaching emotionally disabled kids and gifted kids.
Melba and Ralph were involved in the civil rights movement and school integration. Melba joined The Carlin Case with the ACLU against the San Diego School District in order to integrate local schools. The two youngest Margolis children were listed as plaintiffs.
Melba was awarded the American Civil Libertarian Award in 1973. She also taught Child Abuse Awareness at San Diego City College.
“How to do it?” Ralph asked.
“No!” Melba answered. “How not to. How to recognize it when it’s happening.”
A Family of Critical Thinkers
They raised Naomi and her siblings to be critical thinkers.
“They taught me to question authority,” Naomi said. “Protest when something’s not right. Make yourself heard.”
“We didn’t teach you to question your parents…” Ralph said.
“Hah...yes you did!” Naomi answered back.
“Even in elementary school, they taught me to omit ‘under God’ when saying the Pledge of Allegiance,” she said. “My parents remember when those words were added in the ‘50s and they didn’t agree with putting it in there.”
Naomi is the primary caregiver for her parents and was the planner of the party.
“I thought, ‘let’s do something bigger!’” Naomi said. “Something that tells a story. Planned Parenthood has always been important in our lives — supporting women and birth control.
“I have two daughters,” Naomi said. “They’ve used Planned Parenthood for birth control. It’s not just about women, choosing, planning, access. It’s for men too! Our lives have changed dramatically. We’re not stuck having 12 babies anymore. We can determine the course of our lives — because now we can determine our reproductive lives.”
Making it Matter
Ralph and Melba get “tons of calls,” asking for different donations, Naomi said. “They say, ‘We’re limited to just Planned Parenthood now.’ That’s the place where they know they’ll get value for their donations. It’s an organization that’s trying to help more than any other.
“Planned Parenthood is a great resource,” Naomi said. “It’s a place where people can get answers. I can’t believe we’re having to fight for all this again! We wanted to honor these two historic nonprofits — Planned Parenthood and ACLU — to educate our neighbors and honor my parents.
“Your life is formed by your experiences,” Melba said. “And our experiences changed us.”
How does a not-so-average 95 year old couple celebrate? By throwing a BBQ party, inviting friends and family, celebrating their love and life, and donating.
Be like Ralph and Melba: Make your life matter, and care — no matter what!