They were in high school when they met. He was one of the neighborhood boys who gathered at girls’ homes in the evenings. She lived nearby, and from time to time, the teens visited her home, especially in the winter, when they wanted respite from the cold.
“We usually picked out some girl we knew and then hung out at (her) house,” said Joe Van Tuyle. “We would play records on the windup record player, dance and play basketball by throwing paper balls at a wastebasket and just talk until the fathers would kick us out. Jean was one of those girls, and that is how we met. I kept coming back.”
Joe was a junior in high school when WWII began so he and his friends hired a teacher the summer before their senior year in order to graduate high school before enlisting in the Navy when they turned 18.
After serving in the U.S. Navy on Peleliu Island in the Pacific, he married Jean on July 19, 1947, at St. Dorothy Church in Chicago.
The couple raised eight children on Chicago’s South Side, Robert, 62, Patricia LaBella, 62, Sharon Bedell, 61, Linda Mucrone, 60, Carol Van Tuyle, 59, Joseph Jr., 55, Mary Kathryn (Katie) Salo, 51, and Jean LaMarre, 47, and belonged to St. Catherine of Genoa Parish, an “Irish” parish about two miles from their home.
Decades-long love story continues
Their decades-long love story continues as Joe, 86, and Jean, 85, recently gathered with nearly 80 family and friends to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary at Assembly Park in Delavan. Relatives, including 22 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren traveled from Massachusetts, Georgia, Tennessee, California, Illinois and Wisconsin to attend the celebration, share stories and reminisce.
Although the children grew up poor, their parents’ love, work ethic and strong faith carried them through trials.
“Times were hard, but they made sacrifices to send us to Catholic schools,” said Patti. “They brought us to Mass every Sunday and made sure that we completed our sacraments. Through their example, they taught us to love and respect God, our parents, grandparents, siblings and other adults.”
Joe and Jean cared for their parents as they grew older. And while they raised their growing family in a three bedroom home, they found room for a relative or two (or three or four). Somehow there was always enough food to go around when unexpected guests arrived, although the family used the emergency code, “FHB,” which meant “family hold back” until the guests were served.
“They showed us how to give back to our church, our family and our community,” said Patti. “They have always been there to love and support us, even as adults with our children and grandchildren. They have been faith-filled and stoic through years of emotional and physical pain.”
Couple works hard to make ends meet
Early in their marriage, Joe went to American Television Engineering School and worked for General Electric installing television antennas and repairing TVs, later opening his own shop.
“In order to supplement our income, I also went to work for the B & O Railroad,” he said. “At the urging of Jean’s aunt, I used my technical certificate and started teaching adult education, then basic electronics after that, so I had three jobs all at one time. After 13 years, I quit the railroad and later closed my TV shop. I taught school for the next 25 years and retired in 1990.”
After their fifth child was born, Jean worked as a bookkeeper at a Chicago dress shop until she had more children.
“I stayed home until I began to teach in sewing and tailoring in1967,” she said. “I took more courses at Chicago State College for academic certification and taught school in the inner city for the next 23 years.”
They were also active in their parish’s Young People’s Club and Joe sang in the choir, coached the seventh and eighth grade basketball teams and was a lector and leader of songs at church.
“We always put God first and always asked for his help in raising our children,” said Joe, who volunteered for organizations including the Moose Lodge and served as the team captain and treasurer for the bowling league. “We always tried to teach our children right from wrong.”
“Dad showed me that you need to contribute to the community that you live in,” said Carol. “He has always contributed. He taught us to work hard and play hard. Both parents gave us an example of a strong work ethic and I remember that neither of them ever called in sick from work.”
4 gallons of milk, 4 loaves of bread daily
With so many mouths to feed, Patti remembered her parents going through four gallons of milk and four loaves of bread per day.
“We rarely had desserts, so once in a while, we would sneak a sugar sandwich, which was sugar and butter on bread, or a banana and peanut butter sandwich,” she said. “We never watched TV on school nights; we all started babysitting or getting odd jobs by the time we were 10.”
Because the family couldn’t afford to have the children ride the school bus, Joe drove them to school in the mornings and they walked the two miles home. To supplement the family’s income, the older children sold tomatoes from the Campbell’s Soup Farm door to door in the fall.
“We gave the money to mom to help pay for our tuition and uniforms for school,” said Patti. “And even though Dad was a TV repair man, we rarely had a working TV.”
Katie remembered that despite the hand-me down television sets, TVs being used as TV stands or stacked televisions with the bottom providing the sound and the top set providing the picture, her parents worked hard and they were grateful for what they had.
Rich in spite of being poor
“We had to stand in line for the one bathroom, we had old cars in the yard and at times gave up a bedroom for Granny,” she said. “I felt rich though, because we always had exactly what we needed, their love and support, which is what makes us who we are today.”
Carol remembered the love between her parents and how they instilled in them love for each other, not to gossip about others, and not to fight in public.
“Daddy drove us to school and they always made sure we went to church,” she said. “Daddy was a very hard worker and they never argued in front of us.”
When Carol’s marriage ended in divorce, Joe and Jean helped her pick up the pieces.
“Dad made sure I took my children to church and made their sacraments,” she said. “Mom has always been there to listen to any problems I shared, and kept them in confidence. They have both been generous and giving with anything they had. They put God first and their relationship with each other right behind him, and then their children and other family.”
The family took a vacation to Delavan each summer and attended St. Andrew Parish while there; they fell in love with the quiet, tree-lined town with the cobblestone streets.
Those summer days would be spent languishing on the beach, where Joe taught each of the children to water-ski, said Jeannie.
“We always played games together and the whole family still loves to sing together,” she said, adding. “I think they were hoping we would turn into the Lennon Sisters.”
With all the chaos, activities and clutter of a large family crammed into a small home, a sense of humor is useful. Joe and Jean often left love notes around the house for each other and as a joke, signed different names to the notes. Joe became a professional clown and he often clowned for many parties.
“I guess that alone is funny in itself,” said Jeannie. “He went to one of my sisters’ concerts once with a Groucho Marx mustache and glasses on, and there is a rubber chicken floating around the family somewhere. There are jokers in every family and we have our share. We have always played gags and jokes. We also love surprising each other and have thrown lots of surprise parties for birthdays, anniversaries and weddings over the years. They definitely instill a sense of humor in all of us. In fact, we surprised our parents with a talent show at their anniversary party.”
Family prays together
Aside from his family, Joe is most proud of his military career, and Jean is enamored with religious history, explained Carol.
The family ate meals together and said grace before eating. They prayed as a family and believe in the power of that prayer. Jeannie jokes that Catholicism was instilled in each of them out of fear of God and their mother.
One of the best memories for the entire family is Thanksgiving dinner.
“Mom cooked two huge turkeys and we set the ping-pong table for all of us and the relatives to eat on,” she said. “I have been blessed that this tradition was handed down to me when Mom gave it up, and it is still the family’s favorite holiday. One of the only times we almost all get together. Now with all the grandkids growing up, we are all so busy in our own lives, it is harder to get together, so we are all so excited we were able to have this big celebration for our parents.”
In 2007, Joe and Jean made Assembly Park in Delavan their permanent home and joined St. Andrew Parish.
The memories of their parents’ love, hard work, support and unwavering faith are etched in their children’s hearts and minds. As the guests came and went, Joe and Jean reflected on their lives.
“The best part is how wonderful our children are to us and to each other,” said Jean. “And the second was having our church deacon, Phil Kilkenny, come to the party and give us a blessing and we were able to renew our vows.”
What is the secret to a 65-year marriage?
“Jean said she married a patient man,” joked Joe. “But we always thought marriage was forever.”