Back about five minutes ago in the early spring of the year 1949, when bright, young, energetic, 20-year-old Jim Karam was singing a romantic ballad at a Maharajan in Phoenix and looking out over the room, his eyes landed on, to use his words, “the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. More beautiful than Sophia Lauren. Still, to this day.”
This romantic vocalist and the 18-year-old beauty who captured his fancy are my mom and dad. The elusive, smart and witty unsuspecting charmer sitting in the audience and enjoying the performance that night was Dorothy Nader, who was attending the Syrian-Lebanese Society’s festive annual affair. She had come with her older sister and best pal, Margo, both of whom had recently relocated to Arizona from their hometown, Detroit, Michigan, with their parents, Nadima and George Abdo Nader.
It would be almost a year following this memorable evening before Jim and Dorothy saw each other again—the occasion this time: A New Year’s Eve gala on Camelback Road. Fortunately for Jim, Dorothy’s date that night was mostly absent—he was in charge of organizing the evening’s festivities, which gave this poor hardworker’s enterprising rival (my gets-what-he-wants dad) plenty of time to display his plumage to his beguiling soon-to-be bride. If you ask Jim, here’s how he says things started out:
“When I asked your mother for her number, she instructed me get it from her sister. Your mother was a stuck-up. But, Margo didn’t hesitate. She gave me the number right away. She knew I was a ‘catch.’” And the truth is, he was. My dad was—sorry, is!—tall and good looking, with a big heart and a generous spirit. A real gentleman who had to develop the skill of getting along with others as he was the middle-child of 10 Arizona-born offspring of the James Senior and Angelina Karam big, busy, well respected family.
Dorothy’s memory of the first spark differs, though. “Your father never gets the story right,” she says. “I told him, ‘If you want my number so badly, then go look it up.’ And you know your dad,” she proudly continues, “he went to find a phone book, came back immediately, then rattled off my number to me.” She remembers the moment with a smile—yeah, Jim was right, one that Sophia Loren could never equal.
So, on that nostalgic night, Dorothy ditched her unlucky other admirer. A twinge of guilt still lingers when she recounts this part of the story; however, she never for one second regrets the decision she made to spend the rest of the night on the dance floor with her new paramour as they waltzed, jitterbugged, fox-trotted and rhumbaed into the new year and then into their future…
…even though the poor bastard she ditched turned out to be the aviator Howard Hughes. No, just kidding. But I know she’d still have regrets, even if he was! Anyway…
…at the time, Jim was helping his dad run the family dry goods business, “Karam’s,” in the small mining town of Superior, Arizona. Undaunted, Jim made the 120-mile roundtrip every weekend to see his Valley of the Sun sweetheart, a courtship cut short when Jim was drafted into the Army. Under these challenging circumstances, they moved the wedding date up and got married before the groom headed valiantly off to Germany, where he would be stationed for two years, quickly moving up the ranks, undoubtedly, to Sergeant First Class.
Upon Sgt. Karam’s return from Frankfurt, the couple picked up their dancing shoes and made Superior their home, where they built a thriving business, “Karam’s Department Store,” and raised their three pain-in-the-ass children: Cheryl, a nurse practitioner at Maricopa County Hospital; Jim, who has enjoyed a long career in financial management; and me, a busy standup comedian and T.V. performer in L.A. (And I’ll be honest, I do enjoy knowing that nobody can accuse me of exaggerating when I say about the entire family that we are all truly…Superior!)
Anyway, the couple maintained an active social life, dancing in the halls and ballrooms of Superior—there’s that word again!—and the entire state. They took in much of the whole country, in fact. Throughout their marriage, they traveled extensively and continue to get around to this day—pre-covid anyway—a regular highlight being meet-ups that includes lots of dancing with good friends at the Elks Club in Phoenix (where Jim, not so incidentally, has held the position of Grand Exalted Ruler) two or three nights every week.
In any case, even while busy full-time raising a family and dancing with his wife, Jim continued to sing, host, emcee, organize events, volunteer and help the community. He was District Administrator of Little League Baseball for 25 years, voted into office as member of Pinal County Community College District Governing Board, and elected to three four-year terms as member and Chairman of the Pinal County Board of Supervisors. He’s always been a family man, a pillar of the community, while Dorothy, who never wanted any of the limelight, rode shotgun all the way. Which, his kids will tell you, explains why his answer whenever they pose a question to him, any question, is always, “Ask your mother.”
Earlier this year, in February, we celebrated Jim’s 92nd birthday. On hand were his two daughters, granddaughter, Alesia and great-grandson, Ashton, along with, via Facetime from California, Jim III, daughter-in-law, Karen, and their three children; Baileigh, True and Bella. Not present, however, was Brooks John, Jim and Dorothy’s new great-grandson: coming soon in November! Anyway, a special request Jim made to the band at the end of the night, Jim’s present to himself, was the perfectly named tune “Unforgettable” that he danced to unforgettably with his unforgettable bride.
September 10th will mark the 70th anniversary of Jim and Dorothy Karam. The last big anniversary party was held at the Elks for their 50th. This year, the loving couple planned to renew their vows with their dear friends and family on hand from out of town, but, due to covid, that happy scenario will be postponed for now. But only for now.
They’re making the best of the stay-at-home situation, though—they sleep in, whipping up a breakfast of eggs, oatmeal and of course fruit, then reading the Arizona Republic “cover to cover,” as Jim puts it. What generally follows is an afternoon nap, some exercise (mostly indoors now with the heat!), then a refreshing shower. Covid has not interrupted Jim’s daily routine of visiting his grandson Ashton and the family dog Sosh, who conveniently live two doors down, along with Alesia and Cheryl. They make or pick up dinner for their grandson, they may have a little happy hour with cocktails, chips and salsa…peppered of course with lots of passionate opinions. Evenings end generally in matching recliners, watching the news—and then, for relief, favorite comedies like Seinfeld and lighthearted reruns of Green Acres or Hogan’s Heroes, depending on who’s in control of the remote. And this laughter is no insignificant matter: a key to Jim and Dorothy’s blessing of continued vitality and good health is unquestionably their commitment to staying positive. As Dorothy makes clear, “We never go to bed without watching something funny.” So there it is—the answer to everything!
Meantime, Jim is busy working on his book, the history of his life in Arizona, while Dorothy writes down funny ideas that occur to her throughout the day and shares them with me. “Once this is all over, and you can get back up on stage, you’ll have a lot of new material!” Dorothy promises. She and Jim both, as usual, continue to chart their course together, maintaining their positive attitude during the pandemic. The partnership through thick and through thin remains exemplary and strong. The lovebirds can’t wait to get back on the dance floor. “Unforgettable”—yup, perfect. That’s what they are. Married 70 years, September 10, 2020.
Article written by Jann Karam.