GENEVA – When Joseph Nigrelli met his wife, Dorothy, it was love at first sight. He was at the Eagles Club in Milwaukee in 1938, the week between Christmas and New Year. Jazz singer and band leader Cab Calloway was performing.
“We did the fox trot and a waltz,” said Joseph Nigrelli, 102.
His wife, Dorothy, 98, said they both went to the club because it booked well-known orchestras and bands every weekend.
And while her husband was head-over-heels immediately, Dorothy described her feelings as “like at first sight,” which later became love.
They married a year later, on Dec. 26, 1939. Today, the Nigrellis are sharing their 76th Valentine’s Day together.
They live in the same room at Bria of Geneva, formerly Geneva Nursing and Rehabilitation, where activity director Holly McChristy arranged for them to have roses, a cake covered with pink icing roses and a bouquet of pink, red and white balloons.
A pair of sugar lovebirds and a heart adorn the center of the cake – provided by the All Chocolate Kitchen in Geneva.
The Nigrellis are the 2015 Illinois winners in the Longest Married Couple Project, sponsored by Worldwide Marriage Encounter, spokesman Dick Baumbach said. They basked in the recognition, as age and infirmity was no barrier to their continued devotion.
“We get along pretty good,” Dorothy said.
“We didn’t argue much,” Joseph added. “I only love one right now – Dee.”
The couple lived primarily in Milwaukee, and raised two children, said their daughter Jeanne Zapelak, 70, of Sugar Grove. Her brother James, 73, lives in Georgia.
Zapelak said some of her mother’s Irish ancestors came to Batavia in 1849 during the potato famine, so the family has roots in Kane County. Her mother was very involved in the community in Milwaukee, Zapelak said.
“She was not a bored housewife. She was PTA president, Girl Scout and Brownie leader, Cub Scout leader and very involved in the League of Women Voters,” Zapelak said. “She hand-braided wool rugs that won prizes in many areas.”
“They are a very, very happily married couple,” Zapelak said. “I don’t think my brother and I remember any bad arguments. They have always been a very, very close couple. I personally think their closeness and interdependency contribute to their longevity.”
Zapelak said her parents’ closeness is intense.
“They really have a motive to keep on living – you can’t separate these two,” Zapelak said. “My mother says to my dad, ‘Joe, don’t leave me.’ He’s afraid to die, he’s got so much pressure on him to stay alive. He’s 102. Somebody’s got to go sometime, but maybe not my parents. They are going to outlive Jim and I.”