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Love Story: Theirs was a romance that took time

Mary Jo and John Lombardi of Wantagh at

Mary Jo and John Lombardi of Wantagh at Verona Ristorante in Farmingdale in February 2020. Credit: Lombardi Family

Mary Jo (Cassetta) Lombardi of Wantagh talks about meeting her husband, John.

Most students love a snow day. But for us, a snow day in 1966 was particularly special. John and I lived four blocks from each other in Ozone Park, Queens, but had not met. I was 16 and a junior at St. Michael’s High School in East New York, Brooklyn. John was 18 and a freshman at what's now LIU Brooklyn.

During a snow day in January 1966, my friend Patty asked me to go sledding by Conduit Boulevard. I never liked cold weather but went just to get out of the house. Patty’s friends from 77th Street were all there. Among them was John, wearing a pea coat and a beret. Patty said, "He goes to college and smells so good!" I didn’t pay much attention to John; I was having too much fun with my new friends, and he seemed shy anyway.

Time went by and periodically I would hang out with Patty’s friends. We would go for snacks or to someone’s house to listen to music. John and I became friends though we were each dating someone else. Over time, I developed a crush on him and, unknown to me, he had similar feelings. Eventually, we ended our other romantic relationships, started dating and fell in love. The Vietnam War was in full swing. John decided to quit college and get his military service done. He was drafted in 1968. Before leaving, he asked my dad if we could get engaged. I was only 18, but dad said yes on the condition we wait until John was discharged. Of course, on his first trip home after boot camp, he wanted to get married. I knew dad would say no and discouraged John from asking.

It was a difficult time for me. I decided to not pursue college but instead worked to save money. John went to Vietnam but came home twice because his mother was ill. The third time home he was very sick and went to the VA hospital in St. Albans, Queens, where he was diagnosed with malaria. He was hospitalized for weeks, and I was frightened. But he recovered and was discharged from the service in February 1970, and we started planning our wedding.

We were married July 11, 1970, at St. Fortunata Church in East New York, Brooklyn. Our reception was at Regency House in Jamaica, Queens.

After honeymooning in Acapulco, Mexico, we rented an apartment in Richmond Hill, Queens. Unfortunately, John’s mother died shortly after we married, and we moved in with his dad. John went back to his job at New York Telephone, where he worked for 37 years.

I continued to work at the Federal Reserve Bank in Manhattan until our son, Michael, was born in 1974. When our daughter, Gina, was born in 1977, we moved to a house in Wantagh where we have lived since.

I went to college and became a special-education teacher, going on to earn two master’s degrees. I worked in regular education and special education until I retired in 2013.

Our two children went to college, married and enriched us with three wonderful grandchildren.

John and I have traveled extensively. Our last trip was to Sicily just before COVID-19 arrived.

A 50th anniversary family cruise this summer was canceled because of the pandemic. Instead, we enjoyed a wonderful anniversary dinner at Villa D’Aqua in Bellmore with our children, grandchildren and extended family. Hopefully, next year we can plan a family getaway.

Given a choice, I wouldn’t change a thing about our 50 years together.

— 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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