Six couples share stories of devotion, telling us how they met, what ignited their passion and how they make love last.
By Mary Thurwachter
With Valentine’s Day this month and Cupid on the loose, we asked readers to tell us their stories of love. For some, the attraction was instant. For others, it took a bit longer. Most married, one didn’t, but all hold on to the precious memories love brought them. Here are their accounts.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
It's the little things that matter.
Bill and Anita Finley celebrated their 41st wedding anniversary in October and, for Bill at least, the attraction was instantaneous. They were both divorced when they met at a fundraiser in Miami.
“I saw her from a distance, “ Bill recalled. “She was tall and gorgeous with a big smile and waving to everyone.”
But when he called her for a date, Anita had her doubts.
“I was the administrator of an art museum and he was this big-shot developer,” she said. “I thought he was too big for his boots. I thought he wanted to find out all about the museum. But it turned out that wasn’t true.”
Bill, a former World War II bomber and world traveler, didn’t spend any time during their first lunch asking about the museum. He wanted to know all about Anita and her family. He was looking for a wife, a soulmate.
“Bill was wonderful about my son,” Anita said. He also went out of his way to be nice to her mother and stepfather, taking them places they wouldn’t ordinarily go and introducing them to people they wouldn’t otherwise meet.
“Men don’t realize how nice it is when people are nice to your family,” said Anita, a gerontologist who has her own radio show, publishes Boomer Times newspaper and produces medical symposiums.
Shortly after their first date, Anita had surgery and it was Bill, not the fellow she had been dating regularly at the time, who checked in on her every day.
During the first two decades of their marriage, the Finleys lived on the beach in Jupiter and Ocean Ridge and Bill collected heart-shaped shells and stones for Anita as he walked the shoreline. Then he would string them together and hang them on the wall, a daily reminder of his affection.
He stopped collecting heart-shaped shells after they sold their Ocean Ridge home and moved across the bridge to Boynton Beach. They exchange greeting cards frequently, and not just for Hallmark holidays, Bill, an author, said. Any chance to remind each other of how deep their affection runs.
“I’m always watching out for Bill,” Anita, 78, said of her 92-year-old mate. “If he’s not feeling well, I get him to the right doctor. If he needs a new watch, I find one that is easy to read. And if he forgets to pull his fly up, I’ll remind him.”
They go on cruises, and attend plays, the ballet and concerts, holding hands and enjoying them together.
“He’s not shy about showing how much he cares,” Anita said. “He shows others that being sensitive doesn’t make you less of a man.
“Love is all about the little things you do every day for your partner,” Anita said. “It’s not about being on some fancy yacht.”
Michelle March Photography
Newlyweds blessed by the pope.
When Gabriella Bianchini and Brett Serpe flew to Rome for their honeymoon last June, Gabriella packed her wedding gown. Why? The Gulf Stream newlyweds (along with 50 other couples) had a date with the pope, who blessed their union on the steps of St. Peter’s Basilica.
It was a special honor they had applied for and were granted, but they didn’t realize they would have a chance to met His Holiness in person.
Brett got down on one knee to propose to Gabriella on June 29, 2014, under the iconic kapok tree next to The Flagler Museum in Palm Beach. After their May 30, 2015, wedding at St. Ann’s Church in West Palm Beach, the two held their reception at the same museum.
It was a magical moment for a couple who seemed destined to be together. They had known each other as children and reconnected at the 2013 funeral of Gabriella’s grandmother Rose “Rita” Bianchini, whom Brett, now a local businessman, knew and admired as a boy.
The couple’s friendship began in 1979, when Gabriella’s father, Michael Bianchini, met Gaetano (Bill) and Tricia Serpe along with their 3-year-old-son, Brett. The Serpes introduced Gabriella’s father to her mother. Gabriella was conceived in Florence on their honeymoon.
By the time of her grandmother’s funeral, it had been 14 years since Brett and Gabriella had seen each other. Their eyes immediately locked.
“It was love at first sight,” said Gabriella, 32, a professional photographer. Seven months later they went ring shopping and the rest, as they say, is history.
INSET BELOW: Sabin Robbins and Jane Fonda at a gala in Cincinnati.
The first love is the deepest.
Who can forget his first love? Not Sabin Robbins of Highland Beach. He fell head over heels for actress Jane Fonda after meeting her during a summer vacation.
“A college pal and I were spending a summer month in 1954 on Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach. On our second day of scouting for pretty girls, we hit the jackpot — Jane and a friend,” Robbins said. Jane and her family were vacationing there because her father, Henry Fonda, was there for the filming of Mr. Roberts.
“I had my first date with Jane that night, and, in a week, we were in love, all storybook and song,” he said. “Every day was a holiday. Every night was New Year’s Eve.”
They surfed at Makapuu, sailed catamarans and slid down rain-slicked mountain trails on ti leaves.
“At night, we danced beneath star-bright skies under the banyan tree at the Moana Hotel,” said Robbins, a writer and lecturer. When the moon was full, they walked down to the beach just to sit and talk on the grassy expanse of Kapiolani Park below Diamond Head.
“If you’re going to fall in love for the first time, you can’t do any better than in one of the most romantic places on Earth — Hawaii,” he said. “And you can’t do any better than with a blond, blue-eyed, long-legged girl named Jane Fonda. I didn’t have to ask for the moon. I had a bright star.”
In the first of more than 40 love letters from Jane (he saved all of them), she wrote:
“Rob, darling, I don’t know how to describe how I felt tonight when I received the message that you had called from the mainland. Except to say the realization of how much I love you became painfully acute. … Yesterday, I drove to the ti leaf slide and saw a double rainbow stretched across the Pali, and I kept thinking that you and I were there together it was wrong for me to be there without you. … I missed you so much. … Remember I love you. All my love, Jane.”
“Jane at 16, and I at 21 were sure all we needed to live happily ever after was a little bungalow and a picket fence,” Robbins, now 82, said.
“Our magic carpet romance continued all through Jane’s senior year (of college),” he said. “There were weekends at her school, Yale (where he studied) and the Fonda home in New York. Plus Christmas vacation at my home in Cincinnati and spring vacations at my cousin’s in Sea Island, Ga.”
Eventually, each married others (he is divorced now), but, after more than 60 years, the two still keep in touch.
“A friend reminded me that you can’t live in the past, but it can be a wonderful place to visit,” he said.
'Our love is greater today than ever before.'
Florence Cohen, 84, said she and her husband, Lenny, 85, were “two crazy kids from New Jersey in love with love” when they eloped in Maryland 66 years ago.
“We didn’t think people would think we should marry,” Lenny said.
But they did it anyway, showing everyone how it could work.
“We’ve had our ups and downs,” Florence said, “but we’re of the generation where if something breaks, you fix it.”
For their 65th anniversary last year, the South Palm Beach couple asked friends and family to bring Teddy bears for the Connor Moran Cancer Foundation for children with cancer. The Cohens had been working for kids with cancer for many years after their friend’s daughter died of the disease and founded The Valerie Fund to provide support for children with cancer and blood disorders.
“The (anniversary party) room was decorated with bears of all sizes,” Florence said. “We delivered them later and the kids just couldn’t believe their eyes.”
The Cohens moved to South Palm Beach 18 years ago. Lenny tried to retire, but it just didn’t work for him so he went back to selling real estate. And the Cohens host monthly ice cream socials at town hall.
Lenny said his wife “is gorgeous.”
And she said, “It has been an amazing life with this amazing man. If you see us walking together we will be holding hands. Our love is greater today than ever before.”
INSET BELOW: Phyllis Dolislager was wowed by her husband’s love letters.
Clothes don't make the man.
Phyllis Porter Dolislager was a 21-year-old teacher sharing an apartment with another teacher when her roommate invited some single guys over from a nearby apartment complex.
When she heard male voices at the door, she ran a comb through her hair and prepared to join their guests.
“As I opened my bedroom door, I saw Jim, one of the guys from upstairs,” she said. “But who was that stranger with him? And that wasn’t all. ... I heard a voice — call it intuition — say, ‘This is the man that you will marry.’ ”
She didn’t like the way the fellow (Ron Dolislager) was dressed — his shirt and slacks didn’t look good together, she said. “But he was good looking! Surely I could fix that fashion problem of his.”
The “voice” may have spoken, but it was Ron’s letters that made her fall in love.
Love was in the air — especially in Ron’s letters, the Lantana woman said. “I really loved the incredible lines that he used to hook me. I found his philosophies at the time interesting — remember it was the ’60s. And what girl could resist his sense of humor, and his explanation of being thrifty. When you’re in love — you don’t call it cheap!”
The Dolislagers have been married 50 years and Phyllis, 74, a writer and polio survivor, said Ron’s convictions and strong sense of right and wrong have made him not only a man of purpose but also an encouraging husband and a wonderful father.
“I thank God for him and his life,” she said. “Anything that I have accomplished in my life, Ron has truly been the wind beneath my wings.”
INSET BELOW: Joe Dolce loved Josephine’s singing — and still does!
Her classy music ignited their romance.
Five hundred Wall Street traders, all in tuxedos, celebrated during a post-convention gathering in the New York Hilton in April 1969. Joseph Dolce was one of tuxedoed traders. The only woman in the room was singing with the Karl Invalt Orchestra. She was singing “classy music and opera,” said Joe, a stock trader for Merrill Lynch at the time.
For him, it was love at first sight, but he saw another man standing behind a column staring lovingly at the singer.
“Nobody knew who he was,” said Joe, whose boss arranged for the band to play at the party. “I was about to escort him out and asked if he liked the singer. He said he loved her. She was his daughter!”
Joe asked his boss for her paycheck so she could not leave without seeing him. The other man staring at the singer became Joe’s father-in-law and the singer, Josephine, became his wife.
“After the festivities were over I asked if they would join me for a nightcap at the Chateau Henry IV, which was my favorite restaurant,” Joe said. “They agreed and seven months later, we had our wedding reception there and still talk about that beautiful evening when we met quite by chance.”
Joe and Josephine have lived in Highland Beach for 16 years and Josephine, 72, still sings. She will perform at a free Valentine’s concert at 5 p.m. Feb. 11 at the Highland Beach Library. Joe, 79, will be there, once again watching lovingly.