Meet Longtime Locals: The Kanters

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Nancy and Joe Kanter live on a ranch in Malibu and run a nonprofit foundation together, hoping to ease the process of tracking patient medical records. 

Their first date was a disaster. One year later, a mutual friend convinced them to give it another go. Five dates later, they were married.

Four children, five grandchildren and six decades later, Joe Kanter’s wife, Nancy, is still the apple of his eye.

“I’ve been in love with the same woman for 61 years,” Joe said. “If my wife ever finds out, she’ll shoot me.”

No eye-rolling from Nancy at a joke she has heard one hundred times, just a genuine chuckle and a loving pat on the leg.

Their recipe for a long, healthy life is moderation in all things, a good diet and regular exercise. Joe, 90, still plays tennis four times a week at L.A.’s Hillcrest County Club. Nancy, 86, likes to hike around the couple’s 100-acre ranch off Kanan Dume Rd.

“There’s no place in the world like Malibu,” Nancy said. “We have lived in many cities, but nowhere else has the same mystical feel. It has mountains, ocean and a beautiful beach.”

So what went wrong on that disastrous first date?

“He was a little nervous and jumpy on that first date,” Nancy said. “He kept checking his watch and leaving the table to make phone calls. You had to go out into the hotel lobby to make a call. If there’d been cellphones then, there probably wouldn’t have been any conversation between us.”

“Nancy was a big star back then,” Joe said. “She was a singer (as Nancy Reed), pianist and composer. She toured Europe with Benny Goodman and was very successful. I suppose you could say I was a bit of a player in those days.”

A year later, they had both changed. A friend kept telling Joe that now he was 29, he should be married. And Nancy was a great catch, he said, but Joe didn’t stand a chance because she had a career.

That jab was all the motivation Joe needed. The second time around, Joe took Nancy, her mother and some of her friends for a drive in his new convertible Cadillac.

It was a smart move. Nancy’s mother urged her to see him again, saying Joe reminded her of Nancy’s beloved father, who died when Nancy was eight. Nancy is adamant Joe was nothing like her father, but trusted her mother’s judgment.

Each saw in the other someone who was self-made, hard-working and brought up with the same strong family values.

Joe invested $3,500 saved from his army pay during World War II, where he fought in France and served with distinction, to build eight veterans’ apartments. He went on to build entire towns throughout America.

Then he diversified into banking, making sure he paid his savers one-tenth of 1 percent more than any other bank.

These days, Joe still works full-time, running the Joseph H. Kanter Family Foundation, aiming to achieve a standardized system of electronic health records in the U.S., then globally.

Once that’s achieved, patients and doctors will be able to access the data on every disease and how each patient was treated to see which treatment worked best, taking into consideration patient age and other illnesses. The data will be stored using a patient number, so anonymity is assured.

Medical records are already kept electronically, but some 30 different systems are in operation, so it’s not possible for all doctors to access the information.

“We know 400,000 people die needlessly in America because of misdiagnosis and medical errors. Standardized electronic health records will help prevent that,” Joe said.

Nancy helps Joe run the foundation and has no regrets about giving up her own career.

“I’d been on the road with big bands touring so much, I knew it wasn’t possible for us both to be away from home. I only wanted to have one marriage and I knew I had to give it my all. Joe never asked me to quit.”

Joe interjects proudly, “Nancy earned more than me the first year we were married.”

Nancy has started writing songs, singing and recording again for the sheer joy of it.  

Earlier this year, the couple flew to Washington, D.C., where Joe was presented with the American Jewish Heritage Month Lifetime Achievement Award at the Capitol Building in recognition of his philanthropy.

For both Nancy and Joe, the secret to success is a core group of confidantes.

“You need three important people,” Nancy said. “The best doctor, the best lawyer and the best accountant.”

Taking Nancy’s hand, Joe said, “Most importantly, you need the best wife.”

For more information about the Joseph H. Kanter Family Foundation, visit kanterhealth.org