First-time author gathers dozens of how-we-met stories

True love lurks in the most unusual places. And unless your heart, mind and eyes are open, it will pass you by.

So says Jan Newman, a Jewish author based in Burlingame who explores the idea of unexpected romance in her new book, “Chance Meetings that Tied the Knot.”

Think it sounds farfetched?

Consider, for a moment, the story of Bob and Shirley Rosaler. They met at a Jewish youth group dance in high school. They dated briefly, but Shirley (then Shirley Sisenwein) had bigger fish to fry at New York University, where the male-to-female ratio then was 5-to-1. She began to rebuff Bob’s repeated attempts to take her out.

“It was a fabulous experience. I was getting dates all the time,” Shirley recalled, chuckling. “And when Bob called me, I was already booked.”

Four years passed. Then, one day in 1945, at the C-Line’s Fordham Road Station in the Bronx — by some strange twist of fate or merely a coincidence, no one can ever really know — Shirley and Bob ran into each other. Bob still thought of her fondly. Recognizing his narrow window of opportunity to grab her attention, Bob shouted up the staircase at her, asked if she was married and if he could call her.

She yelled back that she was single and still had the same telephone number. It was an easy telephone number, Shirley recalled.

“I remembered it then, and I can remember to this day,” Bob said. “Which is remarkable, considering I forget everything else.”

They’ll celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary in September in Santa Rosa, where they have lived for the past 18 years.

Newman tells the Rosaler’s story in her book, along with 23 others, all equally unbelievable, touching and very, very true.

Her goal is to remind people that romance lives. But it can only find you if you’re open to the unexpected.

“Oftentimes, people’s antennae aren’t up,” Newman said. “You have to be open to chance, open to life. And you can’t be afraid to talk to people in elevators, on the bus, in a restaurant.”

Newman, a member of S.F.’s Congregation Emanu-El, got the idea for the book a decade ago, inspired by her own chance meeting with her husband, Bob, whom she met the first day of classes at Washington University in St. Louis — but only because a girl in her dorm convinced her to come to a tea at the chancellor’s. They just celebrated 35 years of marriage.

“You have to be smart enough to recognize the right thing when it comes your way,” she said. “A relationship is like a fine bottle of wine. If it gets better with age, you’re on to something.”

Over the years, Newman — whose photograph should be pictured in the dictionary next to “people person” — heard dozens of chance-meeting stories at various social gatherings. She decided to give them permanence, the kind that comes from putting pen to paper. When publishing houses turned down her manuscript, she abandoned chance and published it herself. The book just won a bronze medal for relationship writing from the Independent Publishers Group.

Chance encounters can happen to anyone, Newman says. But apparently they also can be genetic.

Bob and Shirley Rosaler’s daughter, Jeanie Schram, met her husband at Café Trieste in North Beach.

The story, also in Newman’s book, goes like this: Jeanie had just moved to San Francisco after studying at Stanford University. Daunted by a looming deadline for her dissertation, she went on a whim to the historic café on Vallejo Street. She ordered a cappuccino. Soon, a man approached her and asked if he could join her.

His name was Richard. When they finished their drinks, he asked if he could show her around the city that afternoon. Jeanie knew she had a lot of work to do, but reminded herself there was always tomorrow. So she obliged.

They married 15 months later and engraved their wedding rings with the phrase “love and coffee forever.” They’ve been married 27 years.

Jeanie said her story offers an alternative to the plugged-in generation who prefer looking for love behind the comfort of their computer screens.

“The pleasure of life is being surrounded by it, being in it, because then you’ve got all your senses engaged,” she said. “That kind of stimulation leads to interaction. And those things are missing from the wired world.”

“Chance Meetings that Tied the Knot” by Jan Newman (96 pages, the Newman Group, $17.95)

Stacey Palevsky

Stacey Palevsky is a former J. staff writer.