Ken and Rosie, aka Ken and “Honey,” were secretly married in September of 1955, two weeks after they officially began dating. She was 19 and he was 20. People assumed the usual, that it was a shotgun wedding. It wasn’t. It was love at first sight. Almost 61 years later, they still flirt. More importantly, they’re best friends. They’re also my grandparents. Having watched them my whole life, it’s no wonder that I’m a hopeless romantic. I’d always heard fragments of their story, but it was such a pleasure to hear the whole thing over waffles at their home in Chassahowitzka, Florida, and I’m so grateful that they answered all of my questions – even the awkward ones, mom. I hope that you find their legendary romance as inspiring and entertaining as I do.
Alright, so what I want to know is how you met and got married.
K: Oh. We’re not married.
Well, first, how long have you been married?
R: 60 years.
K: Longer than most people are old.
R: We met in a – not a diner…
K: An ice cream parlor.
R: An ice cream parlor. Through Pop Pop’s best friend, who was also a distant cousin of mine. We met and we knew each other for one day and he went back to Florida, to go back to the military. [He] came back four months later, and [after] two weeks, we got married.
Okay, but you (Ken) were telling me more details about this story.
K: More details?
Yeah. You were saying that when you left, you told grandma that you were going to come back and marry her.
R: Yes. That’s true.
So you guys were… 19?
K: I was 19.
R: You were 20. I was 19. Because we got married and 10 months later, we had Kenny. And he was born on my 20th birthday.
How did you know that you wanted to marry grandma?
K: Well, where’s the picture?
She’s a babe. But then you were away for four months after you first met – did you talk while you were away?
So when you came back, what happened?
K: I came back to go out with her – I knew where she lived – and her mother and father sat with me until this one decided to come home. ’Cause she went shopping.
How long was that?
K: Did you come that first night?
R: No, it was the second night.
Did you know he was there?
So why didn’t you go home? [Laughs.]
R: I didn’t feel like it.
K: Nobody was going to order her around.
R: I told [my step-father] Harold, “Don’t tell me who I’m going out with and who I’m not going out with.”
Did your parents like him?
R: Oh, yeah.
And two weeks later, you were married. Why?
K: Well, it took us that long to get a marriage license and decide…
R: And we left New Jersey and went to Maryland…
K: And at the same time, my mother and father were moving out of their house, and so, it was a little…
R: It was a little hectic. We thought it would be easier to go to Maryland because you had to wait three days to get married in New Jersey, but we didn’t know that we had to wait three days in Maryland, too. It was Labor Day Weekend, so we went home, got a marriage license, waited the three days. We got married in New Jersey at the Bloomfield Community Church.
Who was at your wedding?
R: Just Richie. And the minister’s wife was the other witness. That’s it.
Why did you guys decide to do it that way?
R: Because he had to go back…
K: Well, in the first place, I didn’t look to get an “Okay” from her mother and father.
R: He wasn’t old enough. You had to be 21.
Really? To get married?
R: Yep. Without your parents’ permission. He was only 20. In fact, [his mother] threatened to have it annulled.
K: She did not like Italians.
What happened after she threatened to have it annulled?
R: Well, that was too late. She didn’t know [until] a couple of weeks later, when Richie went with me to tell her that we got married. [Laughs.] He sent a telegram to them, but they never went and got it at the post office, because they thought it was just saying that he got to Florida okay.
You must have been totally smitten with each other. Was it a whirlwind [romance]?
R: I guess. It must have been. [Laughs.]
R: A day later, he went back down to Florida, and it was, what, a month later? That I went down to meet him. First time I was ever on an airplane.
How’d that go?
R: It was alright, I guess. Back then, it was different. You walked out to the airplane across the tarmac, and when I got to Jacksonville, I got off the airplane and walked across the tarmac.
Mom wanted me to ask you if you waited until you were married to make your marriage “official.” She said she always wondered. (Sorry.)
R: We had no time! We got married and he left a couple of hours later. That didn’t happen until I got to Florida, a month later. My uncles kept saying to my mother, “She’s pregnant, that’s the only reason she got married so fast,” and my mother said, “No, she’s not.” So thank goodness, it was 10 months – and one day – after we got married that we had Kenny.
And 60 years later, you’re still going strong.
R: Yeah, it’s going to be 61 years in September. We got married in 1955.
What advice to you have for people – how do you make your marriage last?
K: By working at it.
R: Yeah, we work at it. Very hard.
K: It’s a team effort.
What do you think people do wrong?
K: Forget about the team.
R: Don’t talk to each other.
K: Yeah, stop talking. Talk to their friends…
Instead of each other?
Do you talk about everything?
R: Just about. I tell him everything, yeah. I can trust him. He doesn’t blab.
I should hope so!
R: Really. If I hear something, I let him know. I know of a lot of things that go on that just him and I know.
We have our arguments. He got nasty with me last week and I didn’t talk to him for three hours. He was probably very happy. [Laughs.]
Aside from when you first got married, have you ever lived ––
Yeah. Because you were in the Reserve.
R: The most was two weeks at a time.
K: Every year, I had at least two weeks. Sometimes, I had two tours in the year.
R: Sometimes I went with him, and sometimes I couldn’t.
K: Yeah, sometimes it was a nice place to go…
R: New Orleans was one of the places we went to together. Went to California with him.
Did you know when you got married that you both liked to travel so much?
R: I don’t know how the traveling started.
K: It was the thing to do because gasoline was so cheap that if you wanted something to do on the weekend, you’d just put gas in the vehicle and go. And then when the kids come along, you stuffed the kids in the ––
R: –– In the back and went. Sundays. We’d get in the car and go.
We used to do that when we were kids, too. Kel and Dave would stick us in the car and say, “We’re going for a drive.” What was the farthest you ever went on a weekend, on a spontaneous trip?
R: Probably the Poconos. On a weekend. The others we always took longer.
Did you ever say, “Maybe we should just keep going a little longer.”
R: Well, it was very hard with three little kids.
Did you travel when they were really little?
R: Oh yeah.
K: Shit, I would say the two boys were both in diapers.
R: Yep. You have to remember, Kevin was only born 10 months after Kenny.
You guys took them on a lot of cool trips.
R: Yeah. One time, we went up to Ohio, to where you [Ken] came from. Three little kids in a car and a pup tent. He slept in the tent with the boys and your mother and I slept in the back of the station wagon.
Why did you think that it was important to take them and see this stuff? Like, the trip that you took all around the country, to all of the national parks?
K: Because we wanted to see it!
R: We wanted to go and we couldn’t leave them home. We only left them once, when we came to Florida. Actually, we put them on an airplane and sent them home, and Grandma took care of them. But we never could do that again, because they sent Grandma crazy.
How old were they?
R: Oh, they were teenagers by then. We were young parents. Not like today. I had all three of our babies by the time I was 22. [Pause.] I don’t know what else to tell you! We get along. I guess. We live in this little motorhome, a very small space. That’s why I go to bed so early sometimes, so that we can each, you know, have our space. When the weather’s nice, I like to be outside.
Yeah. A couple of my friends built a tiny house, which is about this size. I’m not sure whether they’ve moved into it yet. But I interviewed them before, while they were building it, and I want to interview them after [they’ve been living in it] because was curious to see how it is living in such a small space.
R: Well, they are building apartments in New York City now that are smaller than this motorhome.
Did you ever have a rough spot in your marriage?
R: Oh yeah, I’m sure we did. We probably had a couple of them.
K: When we first started to live together, after I got out of the service, we had an apartment in Montclair (N.J.), and I went to school with the super there. We asked her to ask the gentleman who owned the apartment house whether he had any others where he needed a super. You don’t have to pay rent. The one he showed us was a 60-family apartment house. It was big – about five floors?
R: Yep. In Newark.
K: Anyhow, I would go to fix somebody’s washer, or faucet that was dripping, or toilet that was stuck. That was my job during the week, when I’d come home from work. I’d be in somebody’s apartment and five minutes later, the telephone would ring.
R: Well, it wasn’t five minutes, but besides, I was already seven months pregnant with [our third child] when that happened.
K: Then we answered an ad at another building. These were apartments that had living quarters for the maids. It was real high-end. And of course, down in the basement was where we lived. That was okay, except that the owner lived there and if you had a couple of specks on the floor in the foyer – there was a big foyer like in a fancy hotel –
R: But we did alright! We spent almost two years there.
K: We did that for a couple of years to, I guess, put money in the bank.
How did you get into windmills?
K: Because of your mother.
When did you start building them?
K: I was going to say, ’81, yeah. Your mother pointed them out to me, and also, one of the officers who I worked with in the Naval Reserve worked for a government agency that sponsored big windmills and he mentioned something about getting involved. So I looked into it. Kevin and Kenny were, what, in their twenties?
K: They were in their twenties and, you know, kinda wiry, both of them. Your uncles could do an awful lot. From pouring concrete to putting electrical wires together. And that was what was needed to put windmills together and put them up. It was challenging [at that time] – we built them because people wanted them; they weren’t cost-effective. They were too expensive [to build] to bring back any real money.
R: Yeah, but when you were doing them, the federal government was giving people $10,000 refunds on their income taxes [for building windmills].
K: Yeah, there were incentives. There were people who wanted them, so I went up to Vermont to see Enertech, and I talked to the boys and [decided to do it]. They were not easy [to build] because there were so many restrictions. They were so new, and people would say, “Oh, it’s a wonderful idea – but don’t put it in my backyard!”
Why were people opposed to them?
K: Because they were different, and they didn’t own one. Jealousy – “You get a brand new Cadillac in your driveway and I don’t have one?”
Plus, they didn’t fall into the same category as building a house. You didn’t just get a building permit; you had to get a variance through the township and then go to the building department. The other part was, you couldn’t finance them. Customers had to pay me half of the total cost up front because I had to buy the windmill and the tower, to put it up. It wasn’t easy, but it was exciting. At that time, gas prices also went sky-high, so people wanted information about them. I got mail from… I think it was Germany.
K: The letter came to “Mr. Windmill” –
R: And under it, “New Jersey.”
K: Your mother was working in the post office, so she’d see some of these letters. [Laughs.] People didn’t know who I was, they’d seen an article someplace, so they sent a letter wanting some information. When I put a windmill up, most of the time, I’d call the local newspaper and have one of the reporters out to do a story. Of course, it was free advertising. I was called all over the place to see people and usually, I’d have to tell them, “You can’t have one. You don’t have a good wind site.” They’d say, “Well, I want one anyhow.”
People wanted them just because they were cool?
K: Yes. That, and, it was like sticking it to the government.
Even if it wasn’t kicking back energy into the system?
K: They all kick back energy – how much depends on the wind. But there was enough money around that people could afford to put them up anyway.
How many other people were building them when you started?
R: In New Jersey? No one.
How’d the guy in Germany find you? Weren’t there people building them in other places?
K: Oh yeah, I would say there were five or six builders.
In how big of an area, though? The world?
K: Yeah. That was it except for GE.
Was GE building them then, too?
K: They were building the big ones and the government was paying for them. They put one up on Block Island and it took care of the whole island.
Did you ever think that your son would end up working in windmills… again?
R: No, never thought about that.
K: I never thought about it as something that you could grow into because the windmill business kind of petered out [for a while]. It was costly for me, and if I wasn’t making money, I didn’t have money to give [the manufacturers]… that wasn’t the way to go if you wanted a windmill. The way to go was to buy stock in a windmill company; you don’t even have the windmill. It’s off some place in some other area – where wind is.
Why did you move to Bayville (N.J.)?
K: Oh-ho. Well, I was working, let’s see…
R: In Piscataway and the mason contractor had a house in Bayville.
K: Hold on now. No, I was working in Edison. I had been working for the same builder for about three years straight, without any time off. I was burnt. I said, “I’ve got to have a vacation,” and he said, “You can’t have a vacation.” So, I had to quit. I went from being a foreman to working down in a ditch for a sewer contractor, but then I talked another company into hiring me in Piscataway, which was a fantastic job. Almost every Friday, all of the foreman would go have lunch and discuss what could be done to make each job run more smoothly.
R: She doesn’t want to know all of that. She wants to know how you got to Bayville.
K: Well, I’m telling her. My way. Why don’t you go take your shower?
R: No, go ahead. Come on, I’m listening.
K: Anyhow, the mason contractor started building a house in Bayville. He invited us down on the weekend, because they’d work on the house and in the evening, they’d go out partying down there until two o’clock in the morning, the get up and work on the house, and then party again. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. We went down by boat one time, and we were chugging in and out of the lagoons. We got to talking and he said, “There are more lots for sale.” So, we walked over to the owner’s house, and I think the lots were $1,500?
R: I don’t remember, but I know it was cheap. And he financed it for free – no interest.
K: Put $100 down, no finance charge, pay me when you can.
Oh my god. [Laughs.]
Ed. Note: There’s currently one acre of waterfront land listed in Bayville for $325,000.
K: Yep. [Laughs.] Well, what the hell? You know? I had $200 and we signed a contract for two lots. Occasionally, we’d send some money. And that was it. That was back – I don’t know – it had to be before ’69. And then one day, these foremen, we were out to lunch and I mentioned that I had two lots down the shore, and for a contractor down the shore, it was play time. The mason says, “Oh, I’ll have the guys come down and put your foundation in and it won’t cost you a thing. But can we crab off the back side?” Yeah. And the carpenter says, “You know, I’ve got all of this lumber in the lumber yard that we’ve been giving away…” And that’s how we got down the shore.
R: And now, isn’t it strange that [our grandson] is buying a house a stone’s throw from the houses we lived in there? It all comes full circle.