Manuel Cruz of Elmont recalls meeting his wife and singing partner, Inez Durand.
In 1965, my mother suggested I audition for the Alliance of Latin Arts’ singing group Puerto Rico Sings! I did and was accepted.
I was 15 and a freshman at Theodore Roosevelt High School, which was in the Bronx, where we lived. I became the lead tenor and was paired with the group’s very gifted soprano, Inez Durand. She was 18 and a recent graduate of the High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan.
Inez was from the Bronx and attending classes at The City College of New York. She also sang with the All City Choir.
We rehearsed several times a week and Inez made sure I focused on our performances. There was no time for flirting with the other girls.
Coincidentally, we both appeared in the 1967 film “Up the Down Staircase,” about a New York City high school, starring Sandy Duncan. Inez had a speaking role as one of the homeroom students and I was an extra in an auditorium scene.
We became close. After I graduated in 1968 we started dating. We would usually go to dinner after rehearsals or to family events on the weekends. We also began touring with another singing group called Latins from Manhattan.
That November, I enlisted in the Air Force and went through basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas.
We became engaged in June 1969 before I left for Yokota Air Base in Japan, where I drove a flight line refueling truck.
Inez and I saw each other again in November 1970 when I came home on leave to attend my cousin’s wedding.
The following year I again flew from Japan, this time to McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey, then took a bus to Manhattan and a subway home for our wedding.
On July 18, 1971, Inez and I exchanged our vows at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in the Bronx. Our reception was at Pelham Bay Catering. We had a weeklong honeymoon in the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania. I had a four-week leave and was able to see Inez perform the role of Maria in a revival of “West Side Story” at the Lincoln Center bandshell in Damrosch Park in Manhattan before returning to Japan.
Two months later, Inez graduated from City College and joined me in Japan. She worked as a physical education teacher at Yokota Middle School on the base.
We lived in the American Village off base and were fortunate to have Inez’s brother, who also served in the Air Force, and his wife living next door. We also met another couple from the Bronx living there. They showed us photos sent by a relative from back home. We were very surprised to see the pictures were taken at our wedding and the relative was Inez’s childhood friend.
Inez and I returned home after I completed my military service in February 1973. We continued touring with Latins from Manhattan during summer vacations until 1980.
Inez received her master’s degree in bilingual education in 1978 from Lehman College. In 1979, we moved from the Bronx to Elmont. Our son was born in 1983.
Inez retired in 2010 after 33 years as a physical education teacher at PS 159 in the Bronx. I retired in 2009 as supervisor with Stericycle in Farmingdale.
Last month, we celebrated 46 years of marriage with a quiet dinner out. We also plan a trip to Cancun.
— With Virginia Dunleavy