In two weeks, Larry and Mary Centola will celebrate their marriage of 74 years, marking a joyous occasion amidst a worsening pandemic that has upended American life.
“It’s so sad. So many people have died,” Mary, 94, said. “I always count our blessings. I wake up in the morning, and I say: ‘Thank you, God, for blessing us with another day of good health.’ ”
Like millions of other Long Islanders, the New Hyde Park couple is hunkering down at home to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Neighbors are helping the Centolas, whose ages make them among the most susceptible to COVID-19, get groceries and necessities.
This year, the celebration will be small.
“We will just toast to each other and wish each other another happy year,” Mary said. “I don’t think I have any champagne left. So it will have to be wine.”
As the nation’s annual divorce rate hovers between 40% and 50%, the Centolas’ nearly three-quarter-century marriage has left many wondering about the secret to their longevity, including North Hempstead Town Clerk Wayne Wink, who asked the couple about it during a Valentine’s Day celebration.
Mary, a devout Catholic, attributed it to “a lot of patience, love, understanding and faith.”
Larry, 95, recounted the day they met in 1945, at a department store in Jamaica, Queens, where his future wife worked. He fought in World War II and was on convalescent furlough when he accompanied a friend visiting his girlfriend at work.
“I was very lucky to meet Mary by mistake,” Larry told dozens of couples at the North Hempstead Town celebration. “When I talked to her I said to myself: ‘She’s a nice girl.’ So I said: ‘Would you like to go for coffee?’ So from coffee, we were married.”
The couple wed in a Queens church on April 28, 1946. Three years later, they moved into their home. Mary worked for the New York Telephone Company for 25 years, and Larry was a jeweler in Manhattan for 45 years. They have no children.
“They are not transient,” said Denise Siciliano, Mary’s niece, whom the Centolas regard as their daughter. “I’m in my third house. They don’t want to upset their applecart. It’s their routine.”
Siciliano, 70, of Westlake Village, California, went through a divorce in her 20s and said she believes her aunt and uncle are well-suited for each other.
“When you know it’s right, it’s right,” said Siciliano, who remarried and has been wed to husband Arthur for 45 years. “Each of them are everything to each other. And it’s been like that since they got married.”
The Centolas said they don’t know that they have a secret to the longevity of their union. Larry said they enjoy each other’s company. Mary said she loves his carefree attitude and humor, and recalled a joke he told about his hospital stay after being bombed out of a foxhole in Germany.
“He was knocked out unconscious for six days,” Mary said. “He woke up on Christmas Day and heard people singing. He thought he was in heaven.”
- 1945: Larry and Mary meet at a Jamaica department store
- 1946: The couple marries in a Queens church
- 1967: They welcome Mary's niece, Denise Siciliano, then 17, into their home, where she lived off and on for six years
- 2016: The Centolas celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary