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Love Story: He made her forget about his handsome friend

Russ and Petrina Chiarelli of Ronkonkoma in a

Russ and Petrina Chiarelli of Ronkonkoma in a recent photo. The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in May. Credit: Chiarelli Family

Petrina Chiarelli of Ronkonkoma recalls her courtship with her husband, Russ. 

I was with friends at The Bay Lounge in Rockaway, Queens, on Feb. 10, 1967 — a typical Friday night — when I eyed a handsome young man.

While I was looking at him, one of his friends came over and asked me to dance. I accepted but secretly kept my eye on his handsome friend.    

The guy I was dancing with was Russ Chiarelli. He was from Rosedale, Queens. My friends and I ended up hanging out with Russ and his friends for the rest of the evening.

Everyone had a good time. At the end of the evening, Russ offered to drive us home to Gravesend, Brooklyn. I felt comfortable with Russ, and we accepted the ride, which took about 20 minutes. His buddies left on their own.

I sat in the front with Russ. My name was then Petrina Andreo. I was 18, and Russ was 21. We arrived safe and sound even though Russ, who had poor eyesight, wasn’t wearing his glasses. He thought he looked more attractive without them.

When he dropped me off, he asked if he could call me. I said yes and gave him my number. He phoned the next day for a date that evening but didn’t say where we were going. He actually brought me to his home to meet his family. I liked them immediately.

We continued to date on and off for the next few months. In May, Russ graduated from New York Institute of Technology in Manhattan and got a job as a mechanical engineer at Grumman Corp. in Bethpage.

My mom and my two older brothers had nothing but praise for him. By June, cupid’s arrow had hit and I knew Russ was the one for me.

He encouraged me to register for college, a dream that I had put off for a while. My father had died in 1961. After graduating from St. Edmund High School in 1965, I had gotten a job as a secretary at AT&T in Manhattan to help my mother financially. I signed up for classes at Brooklyn College that September.

We were engaged in March 1968 and, on May 10, 1969, we exchanged our wedding vows at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in Gravesend. Our reception was at The Victorian House in Glendale, Queens. We spent our honeymoon in Puerto Rico.

We lived with my mom in my childhood home. Russ commuted to Bethpage. I continued working until 1971, when we moved to our home in Ronkonkoma with our infant son and Mom. Unfortunately, Mom died in 1973.

Russ was laid off from Grumman in 1971. He then worked at various companies, sometimes out of state. He retired in 2013 from RJC Services in Manhattan after 20 years as a mechanical engineer specializing in elevator components.

Although it took 18 years of night school, I became certified as a teacher. I resumed classes in 1973 at Suffolk County Community College and continued at St. Joseph College in Patchogue. I went on to receive my master’s degree in arts and liberal studies from Stony Brook University in 1988. I was a permanent substitute teacher at St. Joseph School in Ronkonkoma from 1982 to 1987. I then worked for the Association for Habilitation and Residential Care in Bohemia as a community integration specialist, teaching developmentally disabled adults, until I retired in February.

We are blessed with three children, their spouses and five grandchildren.

Russ and I went to Aruba to celebrate our 50th anniversary this year. We also plan a dinner with our family. It has been a wonderful 50 years, and I am glad it didn’t turn out differently.

— With Virginia Dunleavy

TELL US ABOUT HOW YOU MET. Access the online form at newsday.com/lilovestory — or send an anecdote along with your phone number and a photo to Love Story, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4250; or email dunleavy@newsday.com, or call Virginia Dunleavy at 631-843-2923. Publication is not guaranteed. Photos cannot be returned and may be used in other publications affiliated with Newsday.

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