Brothers by Choice

updated 07/06/2009 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 07/06/2009 01:00AM

A friend's suggestion that he sign up to be a Big Brother for a boy in need of a male role model made Chester Ross laugh: At 65, the textile exec and father of two grown daughters thought he was done with little kids. And when 7-year-old David Loughran's divorced mom signed him up to get a Big Brother, David was hoping for "somebody in their 20s to play ball with," he says. But from their first chat over Cokes at the Neptune diner in White Plains, N.Y., in the summer of 1979, says Chester, "we clicked." Yes, they would toss a ball around, watch the Mets at Shea and, when David was 10, make a pilgrimage to Cooperstown. But the two did even more. "We saw each other every Sunday," recalls David, whose dad lived in Missouri and visited infrequently. "He brought stability to my life." Chester took David to Brooks Brothers for his first suit; David taught Chester not to eat pizza with a fork.

By 18, kids typically age out of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program. But as David was finishing high school, Chester offered to pay his pal's college tuition. David kept coming round, bringing girlfriends to meet his "brother" and later tapped Chester, then 90, to be best man at his wedding. In 2005 David named his baby son Colby Ross Loughran. Thirty years on, Chester, 95, and David, 37, remain close.

These days the two men—whose wonderful long friendship was recently celebrated at a gala by Family Services of Westchester, the agency that matched them—encourage others to volunteer for the program that brought them together. "I got as much out of it as David did," says Chester. "There were times when I couldn't wait for Sunday."

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