Gordon and Sally Sharbuno say the secret to a 60-year marriage that gleams as brightly as the jewelry they sell is as simple as being nice to each other
When Gordon and Sally Sharbuno celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary on Aug. 11, they also celebrated 60 years of working together at Sharbuno Jewelers in downtown Port Washington.Photo by Sam Arendt
What’s their secret to a happy partnership in marriage and business?
“I don’t know that we have a secret — just being thoughtful of each other,” Sally said. “We just care about each other’s feelings and are careful.”
“In those 60 years, we’ve yet to have a fight where we raised our voices,” Gordon said. “We’ve had our disagreements, and sometimes the next morning it’s a little quiet, but by the afternoon everything is forgotten and it’s back to normal. We certainly enjoy each other.”
The couple’s son Tom said the way his parents work together is “awesome,” and he enjoys working with them.
“They get along so well. They respect each other. I think that’s key,” Tom said. “I’ve never heard them argue.”
Lila Zimmerman, who’s worked for the couple for nine years, commented, “They have quite a lot of patience with each other. That’s something that couples don’t seem to have nowadays.
“They just really have that true love between them. There is something different about that generation in their commitment to each other.”
Sally and Gordon have known each other since their grade school days in Waupun, but didn’t start dating until the end of their senior year in high school.
“She liked older men,” Gordon said.
“You liked older women,” Sally responded, referring to another girl he was dating.
Sally was the most popular girl in high school, Gordon said.
When neither of them was dating someone else, they joined a group of other “single” classmates and had so much fun they decided to form a club.
“It was Feb. 22, 1949, so we called it the 22 Club,” Sally said. “After a couple gatherings, we started dating each other. We were the only ones who started dating. Some were even a little mad at us.”
Gordon said he knew Sally was the girl he wanted to marry.
But it took Sally a little longer.
“When I was dating others, I wasn’t thinking about marriage,” she said. “After a couple dates with Gordon, it certainly grew into love and marriage.”
After their high school graduation, Sally attended Miss Brown’s School of Business in Milwaukee, while Gordon went to Bradley University in Peoria, Ill., to study horology (watchmaking).
His father Harold, a watchmaker who was managing a jewelry store in Waupun, decided to start his own business when he knew Gordon was serious about following in his footsteps. Not wanting to compete against his employer, Harold looked for opportunities elsewhere, visiting places he might like to live and work.
When he found a vacant shop at 231 N. Franklin St. in downtown Port, he knew this is where he wanted to be, Gordon said.
Sharbuno Jewelers opened in 1950. Four years later, Harold moved the business across the street to its current location, 216 N. Franklin St.
In the meantime, Sally was working in Waupun.
Gordon sold his tenor saxophone to buy Sally an engagement ring.
But soon Uncle Sam came knocking. With his watchmaker background, Gordon was assigned to ordnance work during the Korean War and stationed at Fort Rucker, Ala., from 1951 to 1954. He later became a member of the division band.
To earn extra money, Gordon played in dance bands on Saturday nights. He earned $3 when he played at the non-commissioned officers’ club and $5 when he played for commissioned officers.
On one of Gordon’s first leaves home, the couple were married at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Waupun and had an afternoon reception.
“We got married eight days shy of me being 21, so my mother had to sign for me,” Gordon said.
Sally, also 20, followed her husband to Fort Rucker, where their first child, Jeanne, was born Sept. 17, 1952. She’s now a life and business coach in Atlanta.
They have two sons, Bob, a flight attendant in Minneapolis, and Tom, two grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Harold, who died March 10, 1997, one month shy of his 93rd birthday, was the store’s watchmaker until he retired five years earlier.
Sally is the bookkeeper and also does the window displays.
Saying there are too many interruptions at the store, she does most of her book work at home and goes to the store on Fridays “or whenever they need me.”
Gordon, Tom and Zimmerman are certified gemologists with the American Gem Society. Although she knows a lot about diamonds and other gems, Sally said she was never interested in learning the technical aspects of the jewelry she enjoys wearing.
The store carries high-quality gems and jewelry.
“When my dad started the business, he said, ‘We’re going to handle merchandise that will give people a lasting memento, not something that’s gone in a blink of an eye,’” Gordon said.
At that time, people shopped locally. Even today, the Sharbunos have many loyal customers.
“We’re always happy when people give us the chance to get them what they want,” Sally said. “We can’t complain. We have some very loyal customers.”
From the time Sharbuno’s opened until Graff Jewelers closed a few years ago there were two jewelers in the small town.
“We were always good competitors,” Gordon said. “We helped each other out when we needed something, such as watch parts. If I didn’t have what people were looking for, I would say, ‘Try Mr. Graff across the street.’”
Gordon, who had a stroke last year and has recovered remarkably well, is at the store every day, but leaves early and even takes a day off occasionally so the couple can spend more time at their cabin in St. Germaine.
Although Sally usually gets fine jewelry for gifts, one Christmas she got a small snowblower to clear the sidewalk of their Port home. For her birthday, she once got a lawn mower.
“I was happy to get both of them,” she said. “I wanted them.”
But the jewelry her husband picks out for her is always a cherished gift.
Like his customers, Gordon said, he may now have to buy his wife more sterling silver items than gold, which currently sells for $1,800 an ounce. Gold was 50 cents an ounce when he started in the business.