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Love Story: Putting their love for each other first, they eloped

Darlene and Chris Valente eloped because her father

Darlene and Chris Valente eloped because her father didn't approve of their engagement. The Central Islip couple recently celebrated their 55th anniversary. Credit: Valente family

Darlene Valente of Central Islip recalls how she met her husband Chris.

We first met in June 1962 at The Holland Club on Staten Island. Although we were both from Staten Island, this was the first time either of us had been to this bar.

I didn’t want to leave my house that night because it was raining and I was tired after working all day at my job in Manhattan, but my girlfriend pleaded with me to go with her. Chris’ friend brought him there to meet another girl. Instead, my friend introduced me to Chris.

My name was Darlene Gundacker. I was 18 and he was 20. Chris later said that when he saw me he thought: “She is beautiful; she’s the one!” We talked all night. He had served in the Army from 1959 to 1961, with the 1st Armored Division, 34th Battalion. After boot camp at Fort Dix, New Jersey, he was assigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky, followed by a two-year assignment in Munich, Germany, as a tank driver. Afterward, Chris returned to Fort Knox for 6 months, where he tested new vehicles and tanks. He was honorably discharged in December 1961 and by then had a full-time job and his own apartment.

Before we left the club, I worked up enough courage to invite him on a date. He agreed. The next day we went to Asbury Park, New Jersey, and spent the day at the beach and amusement park. We had so much fun and became inseparable.

My father was very strict and didn’t approve of Chris. I had four brothers and was the only girl in the family. In order to see Chris, I knew I had to move out, so I rented a room in the neighborhood. I remember my family being very upset the day I moved.

Chris and I got engaged on my 19th birthday in March 1963. It was a beautiful day! When I told my mother she wanted to have a party, but my father wouldn’t allow it. We realized we had no choice but to elope.

On April 9, 1963, we were married at the Richmond County Courthouse on Staten Island. Chris’ best friend and his girlfriend were witnesses. The officiating judge said: “This is for real now. If you get married, you stay married.”

I called my mother and told her we were married. There was silence and then she congratulated us. That November, we had a second, private service at St. Mary’s Church on Staten Island, again without my family.

My mother invited us for dinner one night and my father picked us up in his car. She continued inviting us to dinner and eventually my father accepted my husband.

In 1974, we bought a house in Lindenhurst Village and raised our four children there. We were later blessed with seven grandkids. Sadly, two of our children and one of our grandchildren are now deceased. In 2012, our home was destroyed during superstorm Sandy and we rebuilt it. A year later, we moved to a condominium in Central Islip near our daughter.

After 37 years with the New York City Transit Authority, Chris retired in 2006 as assistant train dispatcher. I retired as a senior stenographer in 2002, after 26 years with the Town of Babylon.

In April, we celebrated our 55th anniversary at our daughter’s house, surrounded by family and friends. We are still happily married! We made it through a lot of obstacles. When asked our secret to a long marriage, Chris said, “arguing.” I say there is no secret, we just did it. — With Virginia Dunleavy

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