By Sarah Lehr
One day in the late 1930s, John Hrinak walked up to Lucille Marinelli and asked, “How about a kiss?”
At the time, Lucille was working at the Yankee Lake concession stand in Brookfield selling candy floss and chocolate kisses.
Shortly thereafter, the 19-year-olds went on their first date together at Idora Park, the iconic amusement park with a ballroom on Youngstown’s South Side.
Four years later, they married at St. Dominic Church in Youngstown, and this year the couple marked a 75th wedding anniversary.
Lucille, now 98, and John, 99, have lived in their Struthers home for more than 50 years. It was there that they raised their two children, Barbara Orenic of Boardman, who is retired after 31 years as a schoolteacher, and Jack Hrinak of Medina, who is a counselor.
Lucille said she’s had a “wonderful life” with her husband, though she admits her initial impression of him was less than auspicious.
“I didn’t like him at first,” she said. “I didn’t think much of him. He wasn’t anything to me.”
The pair met at a porch party two years before they started dating. At the time, John went by “Johnny Brown” because he felt the surname Hrinak was too difficult to pronounce.
John, who is of Slovak descent, and Lucille had a lengthy engagement because John’s mother did not want her son to marry an Italian. His mother did not attend the wedding shower for that reason, though she eventually warmed to her daughter-in-law.
The day of John and Lucille’s wedding — Nov. 20, 1941 — was rainy but mild. The couple drove to Pittsburgh for a honeymoon and Lucille became carsick along the way.
“I was so embarrassed ‘cause I had a weak stomach,” Lucille remembered.
Soon after they married, John was drafted into World War II, where he served in the 18th Airborne division. At one point during the war, Lucille and their infant daughter, Barbara, moved to be with him at an Air Force base in San Jose.
Lucille said she spent most of those years worrying and praying.
“How did I do it?” she said. “I lie in bed now, and think, how did I do it?”
The war ended shortly before John, who had attained a Bronze Star and the rank of master-sergeant, was to be sent to fight on the Pacific front.
The couple thereafter lived what Lucille described as a quiet life. Orenic said her mother’s happy marriage contrasted with her difficult childhood. Lucille’s father was an alcoholic and the family suffered through hunger during the Great Depression.
“And she talks about that a lot; it bothers her,” Orenic said of her mother’s upbringing. “Then, she married dad, and she lived in a quiet environment. She said it was so nice.”
Lucille retired in 1975 as a receiving clerk at Almart Department Store in Boardman. John retired in 1983 as a factory representative for Master Addresser Co.
“I asked the Lord ... I wanted a white collar man who’d come home clean and that’s what I got,” Lucille said of her husband.
The couple has two grandchildren, Michele Bonamase and Christine Ward, and two great-grandchildren, Nicolette Bonamase and Brittany Ward. Their great-grandson Brandon Bonamase died at age 17.
Family and a few neighbors joined John and Lucille last month to celebrate their decades of marriage. The crowd was small due to John’s dementia, which can cause him to become agitated. Since he has difficulty performing basic tasks and speaking, Lucille now spends much of her time caring for him.
“We just got along good — sometimes,” Lucille said of their marriage. “Naturally, you know, we do have arguments, but got over them. We loved each other. We laughed. He tells me now, he loves me and I tell him, I love him and I tell him I don’t want to lose him.”