Before Lake Charles retired attorney Charlie Viccelio was introduced to his future wife, he had decided to ask her out.
"I found out he had seen my photo," Joanna Steele Viccelio said, "and asked his mother about me."
This was a time when the counsel of parents in general, and mothers in particular held sway over the lives of sons and daughters, especially when it came to matters of the heart and lifetime commitments.
The photo was on the front page of the Jan. 1, 1959 American Press. Joanna, the Delta Theta Chi McNeese fraternity sweetheart and a member of the fraternity were putting up a March of Dimes collection display at Bailey's Broad Street Drug Store.
By Feb. 6 of the following year, Charlie and Joanna were married, and still are today.
When Ramona Trussel walked into a club-sponsored dance with her friends, Chilton "Bud" Harless leaned over to his buddy and said, "See that blonde over there? I'm going to marry that girl."
Six months later, he did. That was almost 68 years ago, and they still hug every day and kiss each other good night, according to Bud Harless.
"This house is a regular love shack," he said, with a chuckle.
How do couples stay married in a society where almost 40 percent of marriages end in divorce, and the average number of years a marriage lasts is somewhere between eight and 12, depending on the source?
That's the question the American Press asked four couples that have been married 60 years or more. As a salute to Valentine's Day, the couples were asked what they remember about the first time they saw each other, their first date, first kiss and whether or not they were still in love.
"Well hell yeah lady, we're still in love," answered Earnest Granger. "Why else would I be married to her after 62 years? I don't want anybody else."
The same question was posed to his wife, Clara Gary Granger. Her answer to the question — Are you still in love? – was, "Very much so!"
Would she say her husband was a romantic guy?
"He still is, when he gets a chance," Clara Granger said.
For the Grangers first date, they went to a cemetery after play practice to scare Grand Lake classmates.
"We only had 13 in our senior class," Clara Granger said. "We got there first and hid behind some trees until dusk. Then we jumped out. He wore a pink shirt and I wore a pink jacket. We had fun."
Charlie Viccellio didn't make a very favorable impression on Joanna Steele when they met. Her date introduced them in the bar of the Majestic Hotel a few days after he saw her photograph.
"I thought he looked like John L. Lewis," Joanna said.
This was not an endorsement.
"You know, the organized labor leader with those big bushy eyebrows," she added.
After they were introduced, she chatted a bit with Charlie's date. Charlie turned his chair around with his back to her quite soon after introductions.
He called the next day and asked her out. Joanna had no intentions of going out with Mr. brush-her-off-bushy eyebrows, but her mother was in favor of at least one date. She'd known Charlie since he was a boy.
"Her thinking was, as long as the date is nice, you should go out and have a good time, and maybe you would meet other people, make new friends."
Joanna set a date and dreaded it all week.
"We had a wonderful time. He was this gorgeous man," she said.
The Majestic Hotel lighting had not done the man justice, according to Joanna.
Happy Valentine's Day
It was Valentine's Day, 1959.
"I had classes all morning," Joanna said. "When I got home at noon, my mother told me she had been busy answering the doorbell. Every boy I had ever dated sent me flowers. I don't think that had ever happened before."
"Charlie sent me a dozen red roses, and of course my mother displayed his bouquet right in the center of the table where I couldn't miss it. The others were elsewhere in the room. When he walked in and looked around, he told me later that he realized he had his work cut out for him."
Otis and Carrie Thomas Ambrose will celebrate their 63rd wedding anniversary this year. They noticed each other when they were still in elementary school, and he still believes in love at first sight. The characteristic that attracted him was her quietness, "and everything else," he said. It was about seven years before they would have a first date.
Joanna recalled her and Charlie's first kiss.
"I was scooting out of the car (on the driver's side) with one hand on the steering wheel and the other on the seat back when Charlie, who had already gotten out of the car, turned around and kissed me," Joanna said.
She never kissed until the third date.
"I about died," she said. "My reputation was ruined."
She found out later that he kissed her on the first date without asking permission because as a Tulane law student, he had dated a few Newcomb girls. You asked to kiss them. If they didn't agree, this meant there would be no second date. Charlie wanted a kiss. And he wanted a second date.
When he gave Joanna this explanation, she replied, "Honey, this is the country. We don't act like those city girls here."
Military duty impacted plans of all four couples.
"I was in the service and stationed at Chennault Air Force Base," Otis Ambrose said. Six months later, I had orders to go to Spokane Washington.
He gave Carrie an engagement ring and asked her if she would go with him. She accepted.
"I was so excited," Carrie recalled.
However, at that time, a boy was supposed to ask the girl's parents for permission to propose.
"My sister said you better not let Mamma see that ring," Carrie recalled. "I knew she was right, and I gave the ring back."
The couple ultimately received the family's blessing and was married Sept. 29, 1957.
Ramona Harless' parents thought of Bud Harless as just another sailor boy, but that didn't dampen his ardor. He was headed home on a 30-day leave, and couldn't wait to see her again. They went to a movie and she asked him why he was squirming around so much.
"I had the engagement ring in my pocket," he said. "After the movie, we parked on Lover's Lane, I opened the box and asked her if she would wear this for me."
"Sure would," she told him.
Before Ernest Granger was transferred to his next military assignment, he asked Clara to be his wife. Her parents liked him, except for one thing. When the two lovebirds were responsible for washing the dishes, Clara's mother complained that the dishes were never dried thoroughly.
"The old priest married us on Christmas Eve," Ernest said. "He said he would have married us on Christmas day, but we didn't know it until afterwards."
Charlie was in ROTC and finished his degree early because of the Korean War. The thing Joanna remembers most vividly about their engagement dinner at a new restaurant at the Candlelight Inn was the enormous field rat that she and Charlie saw scurrying away from the restaurant's picture window after he popped the question.
"Even though we're still married, I think the advice I would give to a couple considering marriage today is not to get married at such a young age," Carrie Ambrose said.
He was 19 and she was 18 when they tied the knot.
Ramona Harless suggested that living through The Great Depression, which resulted in her carefully managing the couple's finances was a good foundation for a long lasting marriage.
"Some kids today get married and want everything right away," Bud said.
Bud added, in his opinion, being angry at each other — about finances or any other subject — often stymies communication making it difficult to settle differences.
"If you're serious and you're thinking about marriage, keep Jesus in your life, pray every night. We still do," Ernest said.
Marrying someone with similar faith and values was a recurring theme in these marriage success stories. In fact, according to research, waiting to marry, having similar values and communication have been linked to longer marriages.
"Being on the same page, that's a big thing," Joanna Vicellio said.
Carrie Ambrose doesn't think there's a secret formula that can be applied to guarantee success.
"You just keep living, year by year," she said. "It never occurred to me not to stay married."
Not everyday was lovey-dovey. For instance, Clara Granger once threw a potato at Ernest.
"I didn't want to hurt him, I just wanted to make my point," she said.
Otis Ambrose doesn't like his wife to ask him something more than once. Being at home together all the time after his retirement has been an adjustment for her. She would rather him not be there when she cleans the house. They disagree on the thermostat setting.
None of the couples celebrate Valentine's Day with youthful enthusiasm. Ernest Granger has never given his wife fresh flowers and never will. He prefers giving her a live plant that will continue to grow, like their love for each other.
Bud Harless said, "We don't need to give each other gifts now. After all this time, we've melded into one."