One of the first things Barney and Jeannie Kort said during an interview about their lives, as they sat across from each other at the dining room table in their Stevenson Ranch apartment, is that together, they haven’t lived a very interesting life.
Perhaps “interesting” is in the eye of the beholder.
“I was an accountant in Inglewood City Hall …”
Sure, they’ve traveled to some of the most remote parts of the world together, welcomed children, grandchildren and now great-grandchildren into the world together, and have fostered a partnership that has been a foundation for them and their ever-expanding family for generations.
And yet, they would consider themselves “boring.”
He used to take a lot of girls home, and I was one of them … it was a different world.
But there’s more to their story than meets the eye, and it was first brought to The Signal’s attention as a potential veteran profile in an unusual way: You see, together, like they’ve done a thousand things before and never apart, the Korts hand-wrote their 65-year story in the form of a letter, and sent it to the newspaper via certified mail.
“I wrote it because you’d never be able to read Barney’s handwriting,” Jeannie jokes, as Barney nods in a “when she’s right, she’s right” kind of way.
Barney Kort was born Monday, July 24, 1933, in Detroit, to Louis and Alice Kort.
“My father was an accountant and my mother worked with him, as well as being a homemaker,” Kort said. “I had one brother.”
The Kort family relocated to Florida, but the residency was short-lived after Barney had an encounter with southern wildlife as a 1-year-old.
“My mother saw a scorpion over my crib and, needless to say, we quickly moved to Los Angeles shortly thereafter,” said Kort.
Kort and his brother were later sent to live in a military academy, but after a concern over an infection Barney contracted while at the boarding school drove his parents to bring them both home, he eventually attended and graduated from John Burroughs Jr. High School and Fairfax High School.
While at Fairfax, Kort participated in the school’s Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) program, where he received his second dose of military training and excelled as a member of the rifle team. He also received his first taste of Masonic rituals, practices and charitable activities while still at Fairfax.
After graduation, he began to work in his father’s accounting office in June 1952, and while his inkling might have been to focus on what would become his future accounting profession or head off to the Korean War — as years of military training had ingrained in him a knowledge and desire to be in a military outfit once again — other things, or rather people, were distracting his attention.
“I met Jeannie on a blind date,” said Barney. “She was 15 years old and I was 18 years old, and we went to a beach party together.”
While there, Barney kept a mindful eye on the clock, as Jeannie’s father had told her in no uncertain terms that she needed to be home by 11 p.m. However, by 10 p.m. the couple on a blind date had realized the car keys had been lost in the sand, and as they both described it, the first impression Barney gave Jeannie’s father was that he was the type of guy to get her home a half-hour before midnight.
They’ve been practically “attached at the hip” ever since, except when it came time for Barney to finally ship out overseas.
On Sept. 1, 1953, Kort enlisted in the U.S. Army as an E-1 Private.
“I went to Fort Ord in Monterey for basic training, (and) when we arrived, we were asked if anyone could type,” said Kort. “I raised my hand, and the next thing I knew, I was assigned to basic training and office work, and eventually became an administrative specialist.”
However, he and Jeannie wouldn’t be far from one another.
“During this time, a friend of mine who lived in a little house in Seaside was being discharged and wondered if I would like to rent it,” Kort said. He and Jeannie got married on June 26, 1954. “We were married and moved into what we called the ‘little house’ in Seaside.”
Soon after receiving a handful of deferments to go overseas despite being in active service — due to two of their close friends signing up to go in the newlyweds’ place on two different occasions — Kort was eventually called a third and final time to go overseas, even though Jeannie being pregnant with their first child.
“He left me barefoot and pregnant,” Jeannie joked, adding that, at the time, she wasn’t yet 20 years old.
Kort was first sent to Bremerhaven, Germany, and then eventually HQ COMZ complex — a military installation in Orleans, France, that acted as the location for the commander-in-chief’s headquarters group.
“I did a little bit of everything in the office,” said Kort. “I typed up DD-214’s (the military discharge papers given to all exiting military personnel) and a variety of Purple Hearts,” and other military commendations.
However, back home, it was becoming time for the couple’s first child to be born, and Barney was able to receive a short leave to come home. However, the baby wouldn’t come out, and Barney refused to leave Jeannie’s side, even when it meant going over his allotted leave time.
“We walked up and down stairs, drove up and down every hill in Monterey, but still no baby,” Jeannie said.
Barney recognized that his wife was upset, and she asked the doctor to write him a recommendation for an additional 10-day emergency leave.
“My husband has only a few days left of his leave before returning to France, and his captain said if he got back late he would be on KP for a month,” Jeannie said, recalling the tearful January 1956 exchange in a Monterey hospital room.
He didn’t miss the birth of his first child, and Barney wouldn’t allow himself to miss the birth of his next three.
After the Service
After two years, nine months and eight days of service, Specialist Barney Kort was discharged on June 8, 1956, with a Good Conduct Medal and National Defense Service Medal.
Returning home, Kort returned to his father’s accounting firm, eventually taking it over when his father retired, with Jeannie serving as his office manager. They also found time to raise four kids in the San Fernando Valley.
After retiring in the early 1980s, and with the kids all grown up, the Korts took their long-awaited world-trotting trips together, from St. Petersburg, Russia, to Hong Kong to Alaska. They also opened a Carvel Ice Cream shop in Granary Square.
“We were driving this way (from San Fernando) and I looked around at Santa Clarita, and said, ‘This is a nice place,’” Jeannie said. “And you know how husbands never listen to their wives? Well, this time he did.”
Although Carvel eventually closed down, the Korts eventually moved up to Stevenson Ranch together five years ago, leaving their nearly lifelong San Fernando home in order to be closer to their children’s lives, their grandchildren’s Hart High School show choir concerts and their great-grandchildren’s first steps.
When recounting the details of their lives, you can see why they do things together. It’s hard to blame someone when attempting to recall nearly three-quarters of a century’s worth of events, and they sometimes get a slight detail wrong. But a quick joke, always taken with a light chuckle or reaffirming smile and an ever-present light touch on their partner’s hand or arm, always gets the other back on track.
As you leave the Korts’ house, their teamwork continues. Jeannie will likely walk you to the door, offer you a parting beverage, and then Barney will offer to walk you to your car. As you leave their retirement community apartment, you’re reminded of the bond that dates back to that first date when they were trying to find those car keys lost in the sand so many summers ago.
“It wasn’t the best way to make a good first impression, but considering in June we will celebrate 65 years of marriage, we guess it worked out fine,” read the letter. “We are most grateful.”