Jean and Ernie Pennino of Coram at their home on...

Jean and Ernie Pennino of Coram at their home on Easter Sunday, April 17, 2022. Credit: Pennino Family

Jean Pennino (nee Murray) tells the story of how she married the "best man."

I married the "best man." No, this is not the salacious story you might be expecting after reading that — I mean that I married the best all-around man on the planet on July 1, 1972. As we prepare to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary, I wanted to share our story of absolute, unconditional love.

On Aug. 31, 1968, while working as a cashier at Modell’s in Commack, I introduced myself to the new stock boy. He was very quiet, so when I asked his name, I misunderstood him and said, “Nice to meet you, Eddie.”

He responded, “No, my name is Ernie.” It was a moment that changed my life forever, at only 16 years old. (Ernie was 16, too, since we were born just three days apart!)

Ernie, who grew up in East Northport, eventually invited me on a date after a little encouragement from our manager, Ray Green, who told him, “If you don’t ask her out I will.”

Our first date was on Oct. 5. We saw “The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter” at the RKO Twin in Commack. Afterward we went to the Hollywood Diner, but decided we weren’t hungry and instead went for a two-mile walk. Then we walked back to the theater, where Ernie’s father picked us up.

We got engaged in 1971, after Ernie surprised me by placing a ring in my Easter basket. Our wedding ceremony was July 1, 1972, at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church in Commack, followed by a reception at the Thatched Cottage in Centerport.

We moved to Bellport, then settled in Coram, where we raised three wonderful children. Ernie worked as the assistant deputy commissioner for the Suffolk County Department of Labor in Hauppauge; I worked as a counselor for the department’s one-stop employment center. We both retired in 2008; Ernie after 34 years, and me after 12 years.

In 1989, when our youngest was 7, I was diagnosed with secondary progressive multiple sclerosis. I went from walking with a cane to sometimes using a wheelchair to where I am now — unable to use not only my legs but my arms. Before modifying our house, my husband helped me up the stairs every single night. We later we got a chair lift, and eventually moved the bedroom downstairs.

Ernie is not only the wind beneath my wings, he is my right-hand man, my left-hand man, my left and right legs, my everything. He not only completes me, he fulfills my every need or desire.

On May 1, we attended a blessing ceremony at the church where we got married. The Most Rev. Richard G. Henning blessed us, along with about 50 other couples who have been married 50 years. The bishop talked about the two types of love, as translated from Greek — one, unconditional love, and another, friendly, amicable love. Ernie and I know both types of love.

We’ll be celebrating our anniversary with a party at Shandon Court in East Islip with family and friends, many of whom were with us at our wedding in 1972.

Despite life throwing us a curveball, we count our blessings every day. We count among them not only our wonderful children, but their amazing spouses, all of whom we love so much. Our five grandchildren bring us joy beyond compare.

As we celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary together as a family, I realize I am the luckiest lady in the world because I married the best man.

— With Laura Mann

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