Each year, the Catholic Courier features a listing of couples who are celebrating 25, 50 or 50-plus years of marriage, and many times, that information is sent to the Courier by the couples’ children or grandchildren.
The Courier reached out to the families of two couples celebrating milestone anniversaries in 2019 to learn how their long marriages have inspired successive generations.
Since she was a kid, Michelle (French) Grillone has always gone to the Waterloo home of her grandparents, Anthony and Grace French, for big Sunday dinners.
“Every single Sunday, she (Grace) makes pasta with homemade sauce, meatballs, sausage with peppers and onions, chicken, potatoes,” Grillone said. So after Mass on Sundays, Grillone and her family go to her grandparents’ house to “eat a huge feast.”
Sunday family dinners are just one of the ways the Frenches have kept their family — three children, eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren — close for seven decades, Grillone said. Grace, 91, and Anthony, 93, will celebrate 70 years of marriage on Oct. 22.
Grillone noted that her grandparents are still very active and live independently in their home in Waterloo. Grace still drives, and although Anthony is restricted to a wheelchair, they enjoy outings to Del Lago Casino in nearby Tyre and attending many sporting events involving their grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“They never go on vacations just the two of them,” Grillone added. “It is always about the whole family.”
They also attend Mass every Saturday evening at St. Mary Church in Waterloo. Their unceasing faith is one of the attributes Grillone admires most about her grandparents.
“They have always been active in the church,” Grillone said, noting that her grandfather created religious paintings and wood carvings that hang in churches and the family’s home. “They are very good role models for all of us kids.”
Grillone told the Catholic Courier that having the love and support of her grandparents helped her to pursue her dreams in life. She said her grandparents also are inspirational in terms of the way they treat each other and other people.
“It has been amazing to be around them and to be in their presence all the time. (They) have helped me to be a better person,” she said.
Grillone’s relationship with her grandparents was highly significant in the decision she and her husband made to move from New York City to Waterloo. Grillone wanted her three young children — ages 10, 8 and 4 — to benefit from a relationship with their great-grandparents.
“They have been an integral part of my kids’ lives,” she said of her grandparents. “They (my children) love them so much.”
Eugene and Shirley VanDeWalle had their first date at the Spencer Speedway in Williamson in August 1958 and “have been together ever since,” their daughter, Laurie Gavigan, said.
The couple from Marion will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary Oct. 10. It is an achievement celebrated not only by the couple, but their three daughters and two grandchildren, who are inspired by their parents’ relationship and their continued commitment to the community.
At 85 and 83 years old, the VanDeWalles still live independently and do their own yard work. They also enjoy going out to breakfast with friends, going to a casino and visiting their daughters. The VanDeWalles also remain involved at the Walworth Fire Department, where Eugene was fire chief from 1971-81. They attend weekly Mass at St. Ann Church in Palmyra.
“They are very active. They don’t stay home too much,” their daughter, Kathy Maiorani, said.
“They have always been a couple that has pretty much done everything together,” added Gavigan, 53.
Seeing their parents’ strong and committed relationship has had a strong influence on the marriages of both Gavigan and Maiorani.
“They have inspired me to find somebody that was loving and caring like them,” said Gavigan, who noted that she and her husband, Ron, have been married 16 years. “When they got married, they took their vows seriously. They said it was going to be forever.”
“Seeing all the people I work with, they are so fast to break up,” Maiorani added, noting that she and her husband, John, have “stuck it out,” celebrating their 28th wedding anniversary in May. “They (my parents) generally care about each other’s well being. They are just a good example that I try to follow.”