Like other World War II veterans, Shel Lefton liked to occasionally get together with other men who had served.

One of those reunions took place in June 1955. The Jewish War Veterans were meeting for a long-weekend conference at the famous Hotel Del Coronado near San Diego.

Of his group of friends at the convention, Shel, who lived in San Francisco, was still single. That didn't bother him too much, especially when he was at breakfast and spotted a striking brunette across the hotel's dining room. He pointed her out to his friends.

"A little old lady seated next to me overheard my remark and asked, 'You like her? You want to meet her?' " Shel said, "Yes!" The "yente," as he called her, got up, went to speak to the brunette, came back and told him the young beauty would see him later, "Maybe by the pool."

"What's her name?" Shel asked, figuring the woman knew her.

"I don't know," she shrugged.

But the yente, true to the famous matchmaking character in the Broadway musical "Fiddler on the Roof," had set romance in motion.

That night at a dance, Shel spotted his object of desire. When he asked her to dance, he learned she had a quick wit and playful sense of humor. "I only dance solo," she said.

That wasn't a rejection. Indeed, the woman told him her name, Syra, and the two ended up spending the evening together, walking along the wharf and talking up a storm. "We had so much in common, we could talk for hours," Shel said.


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In the wee hours of the morning, Shel escorted Syra back to her room at the Coronado. But when he leaned in for a kiss, Syra, quick as ever, slammed the door in his face. "I never got my dance that night, and I didn't get a kiss," he said, laughing.

Before he left San Diego, he learned her address in Los Angeles. He wrote to her and said, "If you ever come up to San Francisco, I'll show you my city."

Her reply, playful as ever: "I don't ever plan to come up to San Francisco, but if you come to Los Angeles, you can show me mine."

In September, a fishing trip with a friend fell through, so Shel decided to head down to Los Angeles, stay with a cousin and see Syra again.

For their first date, they ended up staying at her house, talking to her parents. In some ways, he thinks, he reminded them of their late son, Syra's brother, who had been killed at the Battle of the Bulge. "It was as if I had known them for years," he said. "It was so comfortable."

After spending the next four days together, Shel popped the question -- sort of. "What would you say if I asked you to marry me?" he asked.

Syra adroitly replied, "You're supposed to say, 'Will you marry me?' "

He then asked her properly, and Syra "amazingly" accepted, he recalled.

The couple married in Los Angeles in December 1955 and honeymooned in Las Vegas. He ended up showing her his city when they settled in Northern California, first in San Francisco, then Santa Cruz, Belmont and finally San Jose after they retired. Shel worked as salesman, then optician; Syra worked as a bookkeeper.

The love of Shel's life died in 2009.

"She gave me a wonderful 59 years, two daughters and a son," says Shel, who turns 90 in September. Thinking back to their meeting at the Coronado, with the yente playing go-between: "It was truly love at first sight."

-- Martha Ross, Staff

If you want to share the story of how you and your partner or best friend met, send an email to mross@bayareanewsgroup.com with the subject line "how we met."