If longevity is a measure of a married couple who know the meaning of “for better or worse,” then Sal and Sophie Sarro stand among the winners. In seven decades of marriage, good times have been plentiful for the Huntington Station couple — parents of a son and daughter who now have families of their own, and many friends made through charity work in their community.
They’ve also seen hard times, most notably Sophie’s battles with breast and colon cancer. Through it all, they’ve kept their promise made at the altar in 1947 to love and honor one another.
Their milestone 70th anniversary will be in September, but earlier this month, Sophie, 103, and Sal, 94, decided it was the perfect time to renew their vows in a double ceremony at St. Hugh of Lincoln Roman Catholic Church in Huntington Station. The other couple were the Sarros’ daughter and son-in-law, Rose and Chuck Dalton, both 65, of Miller Place, who were marking their 40th anniversary.
Though Sophie has passed the century mark, she looked every bit the blushing bride while carrying a single rose with baby’s breath and wearing a cream-colored blazer and black pants. Sal looked dashing in his gray suit and tie, and had his arm around Sophie as the Rev. Robert Smith conducted the ceremony.
“It was so evident how deeply in love they are,” says Smith, who added that this was the first time in his 34 years as a priest that he took part in a 70th anniversary vow renewal. “Even though they’re both past 90, what struck me about them is their youthfulness. Their facial expressions and their reactions to the prayers were all uplifting and youthful.”
After the double vow renewal, the group of 11 family members celebrated with dinner at Oheka Castle in Huntington.
What’s the secret to the Sarros’ long and happy marriage? “Pasta e fagioli,” Sal jokes. “Macaroni and beans with the right seasoning. She’s a great cook.” More seriously, it’s been a combination of ingredients just as critical as those in Sophie’s signature dish. Compatibility, compassion and support for one another have also been a framework for their marriage, relatives say.
“They always seemed to be on the same wavelength with any decision that was made,” says their son, Bruce Sarro, 67, a retired teacher in upstate Chatham. “We didn’t have a lot of money, but they were always on the same page on what to do with the money we had. It always went toward raising the family.”
Romance takes flight
During World War II, Sophie was one of the original Rosie the Riveters at Northrop Grumman in Bethpage, from 1942 to 1945, working as an assembler of battery and radio boxes on fighter planes. It was a hard, demanding job that allowed for few days off. At the time, she made 65 cents an hour, the modern-day equivalent of about $10 an hour. She would also tuck short notes in the planes she worked on with words of encouragement to the servicemen.
“I wanted to help the men in the war,” she says. Five of those men included her brothers, all of whom returned home when the war ended.
Sal also contributed to the war effort, serving overseas as part of the 8th Air Force. After his military service ended, he found employment at Republic Aviation in Farmingdale in 1946 as part of a team involved with drawings of aircraft apparatus. When the war ended, Sophie was out of a job, until Republic started hiring again, and she was employed to drill sheet metal. One of Sal’s co-workers suggested that Sophie might be a good match for him, and the moment Sal saw her, he was smitten.
“She looked great in slacks,” he recalls. “She always had a great shape.”
He asked her to lunch one day, and they immediately hit it off. “I liked everything about him,” Sophie says. “He was good looking. And he was nice. We just got along right away.”
A year later they were married and they bought their house in Huntington Station for the then-princely sum of $9,800. “We had an $8,000 mortgage and we weren’t making much money,” Sal says. “I remember saying, how are we going to make the monthly payments? In 20 years, we missed only one payment.”
There’s no longer a mortgage on the house, and over the years, they’ve made it their own, adding a great room and a second bathroom. In their yard, they raised tomatoes, string beans and other produce. “They loved to garden,” their daughter says. “They were always out there and then they would take the vegetables and can them.”
In 1950, the year their son was born, Sal began working at Grumman Aircraft, where he stayed until retiring in 1985 at age 62. Sophie, meanwhile, started working as the head cook at Huntington High School, a job she held for 15 years.
“She always gave extra food to the kids because she felt sorry for a lot of them,” her daughter says.
Though Sophie retired when she was 62, she never really stopped working, plying her expertise as a seamstress professionally and as a volunteer. Up until two years ago, she made nightgowns, dresses and other garments for abused children and mothers. Over a couple of months, she made as many as 150 nightgowns, she says. Sal would help her to deliver the goods she made to community centers.
The couple were avid travelers who enjoyed many trips. A favorite was one in Italy they took because they had always wanted to go to Europe. Another was a cross-country bus trip from New York to California that Sophie won in a raffle at a Grumman company picnic.
Bruce Sarro remembers a family camping trip at a New York state park. His mother’s idea of campfire cuisine went far beyond a wienie roast. “She brought the fixings for a normal Sunday meal, so we had spaghetti, sausage and meatballs at the campsite,” he says. “All we had was a Coleman stove, so how she did that I still don’t know.”
Every Sunday when he and his sister were young, Bruce recalls, his father would take them to church, while Sophie worked in the kitchen preparing homemade ravioli, freshly baked bread, meatballs, anisette cookies and more for the family meal that afternoon. “And there were always relatives there,” he says. “It was rarely just the four of us.”
After dinner it was usually game time — cards or boccie, Rose Dalton says. “Anytime the family came over, my father would bring out the boccie balls and they would play in the driveway.”
Supporting each other
The most challenging moments that Sal and Sophie have faced were when Sophie was diagnosed with cancer. In 1992, she had surgery for colon cancer. Then 11 years ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy and radiation treatments. She has been cancer-free since.
“The doctors don’t know what to say about her,” her daughter says. “They’ve told us she’s going to outlive the rest of us.”
Sophie’s walker helps her get around on her own. She no longer uses a sewing machine, but she can still do mending. Her cooking duties now involve supervising her daughter, who has taken over the stove. “She still knows what goes in the meatballs and lets me know if I’m doing it wrong,” Rose says of her mother.
Sal, meanwhile, is still in good health and has a steady, unassisted gait. Rose, who usually stays with her parents on weekends, recently hired a caregiver to stay with them the rest of the week.
The close-knit relationship between Sophie and Sal, as well as their children and their families, may be the ultimate secret to why Sophie and Sal are still thriving.
“Without my family,” Sophie says, “I wouldn’t be here.”