It’s really hard to believe that my in-laws, Vince and Lonnie Giangrasso, have been married 70 years.
Lonnie Ropele (Orlanda on the voter registration rolls) was born and raised in coal country in Southern Illinois.
Her parents were from northern Italy near Austria.
Her father worked in the coal mines near Royalton, where she grew up.
She graduated from high school there before her “aunt and uncle” drove her to the big city, Chicago.
Vince was born in Chicago of parents who had immigrated from Sicily.
His father, Joseph, came first, working to earn enough money to bring his wife across the Atlantic.
His father’s dream was to save enough money to buy an olive orchard in Sicily.
When Vince was about twelve, the family took the trip back to fulfill that goal.
They lived on the second floor of a home; animals were on the ground level, providing heat in the winter.
Vince went to school there, learning how to read and write Scilian.
He was apprenticed to a barber where he learned how to shave men with a straight razor and other things he won’t talk about.
When he realized his parents were going to buy the property and stay in Italy forever, he let them know he wanted to go back to Amerida.
“They listened to me,” Vince remembers. “I don’t know why.”
The family moved back to Chicago, living in Bridgeport.
Times were tough during the recession.
Vince’s father was essentially a day laborer.
“He left every morning with a shovel and made enough to feed the three of us,” he said.
“I don’t know how he did it.”
His father searched the railroad tracks to find abandoned ties to burn in their wood stove.
The brothers at De La Salle had allowed Vince to assume janitorial duties to pay the tuition.
After he graduated from high school in 1940, Vince worked for various truck lines typing bills. He earned forty cents an hour.
Then he worked in shipping at the high end jewerly store W. C. Peacock.
Drafted in 1942, he served four years. The typing skills he learned at De La Salle High School kept him off the front lines in the Pacific Theater.
In Chicago, Lonnie was working at Bauer and Black, the firm that makes Curity bandages.
Her job was selling War Bonds to the employees.
She met a handsome young man in the accounting department.
Lonnie was trying to convince Vince to take out one of her girlfriends.
But he was attracted to her.
Lonnie remembers going to a party that Vince’s friends were putting on.
They tried to get her drunk, but she told me, “I stayed sober.”
That was the Valentine’s Day Vince asked her to marry her. (He told me he was sober, too.)
The two got married on July 26, 1947 in All Saints Church, now torn down.
Then it was off to the Wisconsin Dells for their honeymoon.
The first child, Donna, who married Doug Pittman, was born ten months later. She taught middle school science in Catholic schools.
Next came Joe, born in 1950, became the physician who ran the Emergency Room operation for Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington. He married Mary Ellen Levitzke.
Joe received his medical education at the University of Bologna in Italy.
Although they lived in Bridgeport, Vince was insistent that they speak proper English.
No “dem” and “dos” for the Giangrasso kids.
And they spoke English at home.
Joe had to take Berlitz classes before he went to Italy for Med School.
The last born, Michele (Skinner), came along in 1954.
She didn’t learn Italian because her role was to teach English to the relatives who immigrated later.
A medical technologist, Michele has been managing clinical laboratories for most of her career.
After getting married, Vince rented a gas station from Standard Oil.
To earn more money he took a managerial position with Dry Ice, Inc., which morphed into Airco Industrial Gases. He retired at age 65.
He tells the story of having made the wrong pension choice.
The options were getting more money, but, upon his death, his wife would end up with nothing.
He decided to take care of Lonnie, but, as he points out, life didn’t turn out the way he expected it to.
Lonnie took care of the kids until the youngest was nine.
Their house was always open to friends and the neighborhood kids.
Lonnie was known to have the best parties.
Music was playing all the time and she loved to dance.
In fact, she still does!
Then she got a patronage job through the help of neighborhood precinct captain Johnny Vitek, who became the first Mayor Daley’s State Representative (and one of my colleagues during the 1970’s).
When the first paycheck was due from Cook County Health Department (she worked in the area that administered vaccines against tuberculosis) her boss withheld her paycheck.
Lonnie asked why and was told she was expected to buy a $50 ticket to a Democratic Party event.
When Vince heard this, he was incensed and immediately went to Vitek’s house telling him that was not part of the deal.
Vitek made the pressure go away. (Vitek, by the way, had a summer home on a non-dedicated road in Nunda Township. When my bill to allow State Motor Fuel Tax payers to townships be used to improve non-dedicated roads, Vitek stood up and told his Democratiu Party colleagues, “The kid knows what he’s talking about. Vote Yes.” The bill flew out of the House.)
The Cook County agency was taken over by state government, where Lonnie worked until she retired at age 62.
Vince is now 96 and his bride is 93.
They have five grandchildren and two great-grand children.
They spend summers in Wonder Lake and the rest of the year in Pompano Beach, Florida.
Their marriage is an example of true love for us all.