In the aftermath of the Champlain Towers collapse, Jonathan Epstein had to tell his relatives that his parents were among the victims.
Jonathan, 26, is the only child of David and Bonnie Epstein – but their small nuclear family has been made up for by dozens of extended family members and close friends, as evidenced by the number of memorials that have flocked to the couple since.
âMy parents touched so many lives in so many beautiful ways,â Jonathan said on Facebook.
In memory:Remembering those who died in the Champlain Towers condo collapse in Surfside, Florida
After:Q&A | Our reporters answer your questions about the Surfside condo collapse
Couple had been married for 31 years, enjoyed life by the ocean
Enjoying an early retirement to their second home, the Epsteins were a cheerful couple who regularly lived out their love for water sports, marine life and sunny days. Originally from Holland, Pennsylvania, the couple bought their condo – unit 901 – in 2005. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, they had just signed the paperwork to move to a penthouse unit in the same building.
âMy parents were really the best,â Jonathan wrote in a Facebook post. “It has been so heartwarming to relive the joy of their lives through the testimonies of friends and loved ones.”
Indeed, David, 58, and Bonnie, 56, who recently celebrated their 31st wedding anniversary, had fans everywhere.
Bonnie’s cousin Joey Feldman said in a written tribute that Bonnie was his closest sister to a sister.
“She’s directly responsible for so much in my life,” he said, “From my first swear word to my first gig.”
Richard Oller, real estate business partner and friend of David for 30 years, spoke to the couple days before the collapse.
âAs I was on business, David countered how much he and his wife Bonnie enjoyed their early retirement,â he wrote in a commemorative article. âThrough my deep sadness, my only comfort is knowing that Wednesday David was the happiest man I know, and he and Bonnie are still together.
“Maybe this is a lesson I can learn from my former intern, partner and dear friend. Maybe it is a lesson we can all learn.”
Bonnie Epstein recalled for “her kind, sensitive and gentle soul”
As preparations for the funeral continue, Jonathan has asked his relatives to consider supporting the nonprofit Saving The Blue, a marine wildlife conservation group, in honor of his parents.
The group posted their own tribute to the couple on social media.
“Bonnie was a dynamic, passionate and incredibly loving woman who genuinely cared about everyone and everything, without exception,” the statement read. “Bonnie’s smile would light up a room and anyone who had the pleasure of meeting her would never forget her kind, sensitive and gentle soul.”
According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the couple’s dog, Chance, a pit bull mix, became theirs through a chain of benevolent circumstances. They were looking after their animals when the owners never returned. They ended up adopting the dog themselves. It was just their style.
According to Oller, the Epsteins were supposed to be in the north by the time the Champlain Towers collapsed, but they delayed their trip because Chance was not feeling well.
âDavid was a humble, warm, thoughtful and witty man who had an infectious passion for life and who truly lived,â the Save The Blue statement said. “David would try anything once or twice, and adore his family he would talk to about every occasion.”
According to the marine conservation nonprofit, the couple celebrated their wedding anniversary by snorkeling while holding hands.
They “were showing those around them what true love really looked like,” the group said. “An unforgettable and extraordinary duet that was taken far too early.”
Emily Bloch is an education reporter for the Florida Times-Union. Follow her on Twitter or send him an email.