Originally created 02/14/98

Couple married 80 years without ever celebrating Valentine's Day



NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. -- Paul and Mary Onesi's marriage has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression and -- perhaps more astoundingly -- 80 years of uncelebrated Valentine's Days.

No flowers. No boxes of chocolates or heart-shaped candies. Not even a romantic picnic at the falls that make their hometown America's "Honeymoon Capital."

Mrs. Onesi, 93, just shakes her head when asked how she and her 101-year-old husband celebrate February 14. Like many couples from their generation, the Onesis relationship is more sensible than sentimental.

"If you have trouble, you go talk about it, argue, and get over it," Mrs. Onesi said.

In the living room of their tidy apartment hangs a plaque given to them on World Marriage Day three years ago, honoring them for being the longest-married couple in the country.

Paul Onesi waves off the accomplishment as if it doesn't merit so much interest. It is the marriages that don't work that get his attention. He thinks there are far too many of those.

"In our family, no one ever wanted to get divorced because no one wanted to tell them," said Laura Cerrillo, one of the couple's 28 grandchildren.

The Onesis were married in an era when most marriages lasted.

"It was different before," Mrs. Onesi said.

Mary Corsaro was 13, and Paul Onesi 21 when they were married in a small family ceremony in Clymer, Pa., on Aug. 6, 1917.

"I was so young," Mrs. Onesi said, trying to recall.

She gave birth to their first child a year later. Five more would follow, all born at home.

"My mother lived next door. Every time I had to cook something I asked her," she said. She continues to cook today, baking three loaves of bread before sitting down to talk one recent afternoon.

The children are all parents and grandparents themselves now. The Onesis have seen their five of their kids celebrate their 50th wedding anniversaries.

Onesi left Italy when he was 15, coming through Ellis Island and eventually going to work in the Pennsylvania coal mines. In one town, he boarded at the home of Mary's older sister, Rose. It was Rose who suggested Mary and Paul marry.

They moved to Niagara Falls in 1927 and Paul went to work at Union Carbide Corp.

Despite all the modern conveniences that have come along during the past eight decades, the Onesis choose to live relatively simply. They have never gotten a microwave oven, and family members know better than to pick out gifts like pasta or bread makers for them.

They did give in to television, though, and are known to bicker over the stations. It's one of the few things left to argue about after so many years together.