Shirl Malina wears a white hat wrapped in a colorful scarf. Multiple bracelets and a watch adorn her wrists, and a ring on each hand.

In her right ear, there’s a small hoop earring, and a star in her left. She loves stars.

“Do you like my tattoo?” the 81-year-old asks, showing a small shooting star on her wrist.

It’s new. She had it done in Bloomington not long after her soulmate, Bob, passed away two years ago.

“I really wanted one, and my cousin said, ‘Oh, Shirl you don’t want a tattoo, because when you die, the morticians will laugh at your body.’

“I thought, ‘I don’t care if they laugh at me now. Why would I care if they’re going to laugh at me when I’m dead?’

“I am the star of this life, and Bob thought I was the star, so I have a star,” she says with a smile.

B. Malina
B. Malina

Shirl started wearing her signature hats after Bob’s hospital stay around 2008-2009. She was spending a lot of time at the hospital and didn’t have time to go home to shower and fix her hair.

“So, I just put a hat on my head. Bob always liked me in hats, and that’s how it got started,” she said. “I started buying lots of hats and then people started giving me hats.”

“I found that when you wear a hat, people smile,” she said.

Life has been different for Shirl since her partner left this earth.

They came together to Brown County from suburban Chicago — where Shirl was an elementary school principal and Bob a salesman — to open an antique shop in 1976.

“I was away at a conference and Bob was home alone. When he came to pick me up, (he said) ‘You know honey what I was thinking?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, we should sell everything and move to Brown County and open an antique shop.’ He said, ‘That’s exactly what I was thinking.’ It was spooky. It was really spooky.”

They first visited Brown County as tourists after their usual camping spot, Turkey Run State Park, was booked due to a square dancing competition.

Shirl remembers when Main Street between Van Buren and Franklin was closed so the Bucks and Does could do Friday night square dancing. The couple stayed in a motel in Nashville so that they could walk down to watch the fun.

“It was a small town. It was so intimate. You never seemed to meet a stranger. Everybody was so friendly always,” she said. “It was just a unique place. We felt comfortable here.”

They managed to find shop space even before a home, and when they found a home, they stayed. Shirl still lives there after 40 years.

“They’ll carry me out boots-first if God is helpful. I have no desire to move,” she said.

Their shop was in the same building as the former coin shop, just north of the Iris Garden Gallery.

She remembers standing on the porch of the former Brown County Democrat building with Bob, watching the Park Square Mall burn on Christmas Eve 1996, which was the building next door to theirs. They held their breath and said prayers for the firefighters as the flames ripped through.

“We were so fearful. But blessedly, the wind — again, see, it was meant to be — the wind was from the north, and even though the fire was progressing, it never did (get to our shop), and we didn’t even have smoke damage, which was totally amazing,” she said.

Once a teacher…

Shirl loved buying antiques to sell in their shop, Esprit Antiques, and doing the book work. But she wasn’t a fan of standing behind the counter every day selling.

So she worked weekends in the shop and returned to her passion: Education.

Shirl began teaching adults through a night program at IUPUI. She taught time management skills and how to study.

“It was the kind of thing I just loved doing,” she said. But she grew tired of driving at night from Indianapolis.

That’s when she began teaching primarily minority students in the Groups Student Support Services program at Indiana University. She also worked as a freshman adviser at IU.

She retired from IU in 1995. But, once a teacher, always a teacher.

She began working as a step-on tour guide for the Brown County Convention and Visitors Bureau, while Bob worked at the shop. She would meet motorcoaches at the Brown County State Park west gate and ride with them through the park.

“I’d get on the motorcoach, and who’s usually on those? Superannuated folks like myself. I could identify,” she said.

“You don’t just say, ‘And on your right you will see blah, blah, blah.’ … You ask the driver to stop, and you say, ‘Now, look down into that holler.’ … This day, this moment in time is the only time that sun will shine on those leaves, and you’re seeing it.’

“They were loving it because I’m a ham. I really am,” she said.

They closed their shop in 2000 when Bob decided to retire.

After he died in November 2014, Shirl began attending the Morgantown United Methodist Church.

Now she helps teach lessons in the Altruist class before services. In October, she will lead lessons on different faiths and religious holidays.

“This is what I love doing. I love researching, I love writing, I love gathering information, I love preparing to teach and I love teaching,” she said.

Meant to be

Shirl begins writing the words “alone” and “nowhere” on a piece of paper. She puts an additional L in “alone” and puts a line between “now” and “here.”

“I’m alone, but I’m really not alone. I’m now ‘All one.’ It’s now me. I’m the one who has to live this life. And you can think of yourself as being alone and nowhere, but I’m all one, and I’m now here,” she said.

She believes in reincarnation. This time around, she believes her soul met its mate.

“This was one of those magic times. I’m so blessed to have been allowed to live the life I am living,” she said.

Bob and Shirl met when Bob’s sister built a home across the street from her parents in Lombard, Illinois. He would ride his bicycle to Lombard from Chicago — something you couldn’t do now, Shirl said.

Even though both families encouraged them to meet, they both were hesitant and didn’t meet until after Shirl had graduated from Valparaiso University — where she majored in interior design — and moved back home. She began working as a comparison shopper for Marshall Fields.

She “happily resigned” a year later and began teaching third grade.

Her father invited Bob and his brother-in-law over for a drink. Shirl and Bob talked and walked for a bit that summer day.

“I thought he was a nice guy. In January, he called and asked me out for dinner. … On our second date I knew he was going to propose,” she said.

They married in 1960. For the next 56 years, they were inseparable best friends.

“I was so crazy nuts about him. He was just the nicest person, just the nicest person,” she said.

“If one of us was not there, ‘Well, where is Bob?’ It was like we were attached at the hip,” she said.

“I’ll miss him every day God sends, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”

Shirl Malina

Age: 81

Birth place: DuPage County, Illinois

Spouse: Bob Malina

Parents: Herb and Adeline Gerzan

Occupation: Educator

Hobbies: Reading and cooking

Author photo
Suzannah Couch grew up in Brown County, reading the Brown County Democrat. A 2013 Franklin College graduate, she covers cops/courts, education and arts/entertainment.