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Love Story: He was bowled over by her the first time they met

Gus and Marie Otto of Brightwaters in February

Gus and Marie Otto of Brightwaters in February 2021 at Absolutely Mario's Restaurant in Farmingdale. Credit: Doug Otto

Gus Otto of Brightwaters talks about meeting his wife, Marie.

Step with me for a moment into Mr. Peabody's "wayback machine." The year is 1951, the place is Jahn's Ice Cream Parlor on Hillside Avenue in Richmond Hill, Queens. I was 21 and lived nearby. Friends and I had just been bowling and were enjoying an ice-cream nightcap.

I was attracted to a girl at the counter who was laughing with her friends. I had noticed her at the lanes earlier. Strikes and spares. Hmm, a pretty good bowler. After making eye contact and summoning the nerve, I approached her. She introduced herself as Marie Giunta. She was 16 and lived in Glendale.

We began to date regularly, although somewhat clandestinely. We had challenges, chief among them was that I was a German-Lutheran, and Marie an Italian-Catholic and five years younger. We anticipated that our families wouldn't be particularly supportive. But there was something between us; we both felt it. A few weeks later we came clean to our families. They weren't shy about their reluctance.

Later that year, I was called to serve in the Army. Before leaving for Korea, I grabbed my savings and bought a beautiful diamond engagement ring. One of our regular dating spots was Marshall's Bar and Grill in Richmond Hill. While we watched an episode of Milton Berle's Texaco Star Theater on TV, I took a deep breath, got down on one knee and proposed. Without hesitation, Marie exclaimed, "Yes!"

My father’s reaction was strong. He said there was "absolutely no way" he would attend the wedding. Marie, never one to turn away from a challenge, kept in touch with my parents during my 18-month stint. She spent many afternoons having lunch with my mother and slowly won her over. Before long, they were fast friends and realized they had one thing in common: their love and concern for me serving in Korea. It took a little longer for my father to come around, but eventually he changed his tune.

Marie's parents were skeptical particularly about the age difference. But over time they understood ours was true love and nothing would stand in our way. After my discharge, it was time for our parents to meet. The Ottos were invited to the Giuntas for dinner. My mother had brought along leftover birthday cake. Marie’s mother was surprised and said, "How did you know it was Mack's birthday?" My mom, looking puzzled, replied, "Mack's birthday? No, it's Gus Sr.’s birthday!" Turns out our fathers shared a birthday. The relationship was established, and the wedding took place June 7, 1953, at Sacred Heart Church in Glendale with a reception afterward at Valley Stream Park Inn.

We honeymooned in Niagara Falls. After returning, we lived in a Glendale apartment, later moving to one in Farmingdale. After our son, Doug, was born in 1959, we bought a house in Massapequa.

We retired in 1988. I retired from the former TransAmerica Airlines as a flight operations supervisor, and Marie from Hewlett-Packard as a branch business manager.

Like many Long Islanders, we moved to Florida. We settled into a wonderful home in Spring Hill and celebrated several Christmas holidays poolside. Our son met his wife, Kathy, in 1986, and they married in 1990. Before long, we were delighted to learn we would be grandparents and decided we didn’t want to be "twice-a-year grandparents." After our grandson, Danny, was born in 1993, we moved into a charming ranch in Brightwaters.

It’s been 68 years of wedded bliss. Our great joy continues to be time with family, friends, and, of course, bowling, which we both enjoy to this day!

— With Ann Donahue-Smukler

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 ann.smukler@newsday.com, or call Ann Donahue-Smukler at 631-843- 2520. Publication is not guaranteed. Photos cannot be returned and may be used in other publications affiliated with Newsday.

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