Joe Iannarone is an expert in chemistry. Now 89, he had just graduated college from Temple University with a degree in biochemistry when he first saw his wife, Mary. The moment he saw her, he knew the chemistry was right for a bond that would last forever.
"We met on my birthday," Joe said. "We were engaged on Valentine’s Day the following year and married on June 10."
In three days, the couple will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.
During their time together, Joe and Mary had three sons, moved to various locations around the world for work opportunities, delved into the family history and finally settled down at Lanier Village Estates in Gainesville.
The couple, who are both from Pennsylvania, met in a small club in Penns Grove, N.J. Joe and a friend decided to celebrate his birthday at a club. When they arrived, Joe’s friend saw a girl he knew. Mary was with her.
"I thought she was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen," Joe said. "I asked her to dance with me because my favorite song ‘Stardust’ was playing."
Mary agreed to the dance. "Stardust" was her favorite song, too. The couple began learning they had lots of things in common. Then Joe and his friend went with the two girls to another club. At the end of the night, Joe asked Mary for a date.
"She lived 30 miles away, but she said yes, and I drove all the way out there, and she stood me up," Joe said. "She left me a note, though."
Mary had forgotten about prior plans with friends, but told Joe in the note if he was still interested, she would like to go out with him. He gave Mary a call and the two finally went out on a first date.
Mary knew Joe was different when he showed up for their date.
"He brought me flowers," she said. "Even though neither of us had much at that time, he always made sure he had enough to bring me flowers on special occasions."
Soon, the couple realized they came from similar backgrounds. Joe’s parents were Italian immigrants, and Mary’s grandparents immigrated from Russia. Their deep-rooted heritage soon turned into deep-rooted love.
"For him, it was very quick," Mary said. "I was not sure about it. I said ‘Who falls in love that quick?’ I thought he was giving me a line, but something clicked."
Four months later, Joe knew Mary was the woman he wanted to marry.
"I couldn’t talk," Joe said. "I had my tonsils taken out, but she got the message when I was down on one knee with a ring in my hand."
Ready to settle down, the Iannarones planned a June wedding in Mary’s hometown. She bought her own wedding dress for $125, and each of her bridesmaids wore a pastel gown of their own.
"It was an old-fashioned wedding," Mary said. "It lasted three days. We had the rehearsal party, then we had the wedding at 10 a.m. the next day. Joe and I didn’t leave the reception until around 10:30 that night. Then, we had another party the next day."
The pair had their wedding in a Russian Orthodox church, true to Mary’s roots, with a large reception reflective of Joe’s Italian heritage. The reception was in the local skating rink, and everyone in the small town was invited.
"The musicians were friends of mine," Mary said. "Three women helped cook, and everything was homemade. It was what I always wanted."
Joe, in contrast, wanted a small wedding but knew it would be impossible since everyone in the town knew each other. In fact, some of Mary’s bridesmaids were simply her neighbors. Mary’s mother planned the entire wedding.
"It was quick, but we were ready to settle down," Joe said. "The war had just ended and I was 25 and graduated college. And even though I wasn’t in the service, I was at an age where I was ready to start a family."
Nine months and one week after the Iannarones tied the knot, their first son, Michael, was born. Mary had the couple’s three children within a five-year span, all while moving repeatedly for Joe’s job with DuPont.
"We would move to a new town and he would show me the grocery store and the bank, and that was it," Mary said. "When we moved, he had to work. So I had to handle everything else."
The family spent time in Delaware, North Carolina and Taiwan while Joe was working as a chemist or international marketing specialist for the company. Mary was a stay-at-home mom, caring for Michael, and their two other sons, Stephen and James. The couple worked hard to teach their children certain values, such as working hard and solving problems.
"We set certain expectations for them, and they bought into it," Joe said. "They were all expected to work and go to college and get a career, and they did."
Joe and Mary credit those values with making their marriage long and successful.
"The work ethic that prevailed during the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s was a way of life," Joe said. "People worked out their problems and knew what was important. For us, the important things were to think about the family and think about the kids."
The couple admit they have had their fair share of problems, but their upbringing, family ties and love for one another always prevails.
"Everybody has problems," Mary said. "You have to try to work them out. It’s not easy, but you have to say ‘I’m not going to give up.’"
While the pair has spent much of their life together raising a family, caring for children and grandchildren, and working, retirement has allowed them time together that they didn’t always get when moving and growing.
"When I got ready to retire, I said ‘Now, it’s time for us,’" Joe said. "We made a plan for how we wanted to proceed."
Together, the Iannarones created a travel bucket list, which included visiting places such as Australia, Alaska and Mexico, along with multiple trips to Italy and a trip to Russia for Mary to experience her heritage.
"We’ve checked off everything on the list," Mary said. "We just got back from visiting Italy with our grandchildren."
The almost-anniversary trip was a way to show the grandchildren where they came from. Joe has extensively researched and written about his family’s history, and the pair wanted to show the grandchildren where their ancestors grew up.
"I showed them the church where my mother got baptized, the places they lived, and where my father was baptized," Joe said.
Now, one location in Sorrento has an even more special meaning for the family.
"We had gone down from Tuscany to Sorrento, and my granddaughter has just graduated college," Mary said. "Her boyfriend flew over and proposed to her in Italy. She screamed for about five minutes."
If the engaged couple takes advice from Joe and Mary, the Iannarone clan could have many long marriages to come.
"You have to have something like that which captures your imagination," Joe said. "Those things are the glue that holds people together."