BRADENTON -- Two teeming tubs of Blue Bunny ice cream sat atop a table swathed in Valentine's decor. A heart-shaped notepad and matching pen laid next to fresh bottles of chocolate, strawberry and butterscotch syrup.
Over ice cream sundaes, residents of Emeritus at College Park Senior Living cast their ballots Thursday for Mr. and Mrs. Cupid. The winners receive a sparkly crown, a box of chocolates and a dance at the facility's Valentine's Day party Friday.
"He keeps looking at the door waiting for her to come in," said Mildred Enk, 88, gently pointing to a man in green pants across the room. "They are the nicest couple. I just adore them. I want them to win."
When a petite lady, hair all done up, walked through the double doors, the man in green pants beamed. She gave him an enamored kiss, like it had been months. But Robert, 88, and Mildred Christie, 93, have been married 53 years.
They used to live together, but now they live apart. He's at Emeritus; she lives at their Bradenton home, but visits every day. They go to Anna Maria Oyster Bar for lunch and Southside Baptist Church on Sundays.
"He says I robbed the cradle, but he wasn't in the cradle when I robbed it!" Mildred said. Another kiss. This time on the cheek.
As jazz music wailed from a speaker and 40 residents ate together, Bobby Gardner, 79, sat in his electric wheelchair at the bedside of his wife, Willa. They won't be doing anything special this Valentine's Day. After three strokes and an Alzheimer's diagnosis, Willa, 77, isn't up for much activity. So Bobby bought her a box of chocolates.
He remembers when they married a few decades ago. It took years of convincing and the promise of a swimming pool before Willa said yes.
"It's been a good life. She's been a good gal, too," Bobby said, patting her on the leg.
"Who am I?" he asked her. "What's my name?"
"Robert," she said, smiling.
There have been times when she can't remember where she is or what she had for breakfast, but she always remembers his name.
After counting the ballots, it was time to announce Mr. and Mrs. Cupid. There would be four winners -- a pair from the memory care side of the facility, and a pair from the assisted living side.
The first couple: Joe Carr and Arlene Stromberg.
The second: Ralph Salvatore -- and Willa Gardner.
A nurse topped Willa's soft gray hair with a pink crown and matching wand. She smiled from her wheelchair.
Her husband began to cry.
"She got two deals," said memory care director Rebecca Richardson. "You and the pool."
Sabrina Rocco, East Manatee reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7024. Follow her on Twitter @sabrinarocco.