As Helen and Frank Luisi sat at the kitchen table in the East Rockaway home they have shared for 56 years, they smiled when they recalled the day they met as teenagers on a Brooklyn sidewalk. It is a moment they both remember vividly more than seven decades later.
Helen recounted that she was walking home from a babysitting job at her aunt’s house when she first spotted Frank, who was hanging out with a group of friends. Frank was 16, and she was 15. “He was standing on the corner watching all the girls go by, and that’s how I met him,” she said. “He was a flirt.”
That first encounter led to a lifetime together, and the couple celebrated their 73rd wedding anniversary in April. The Luisis were also recently recognized as the longest-married couple to belong to a Catholic church in New York state, and were awarded a plaque and attended a dinner in their honor.
For Frank, 91, and Helen, who will turn 90 on Aug. 17, it all began on that street corner, but it was not always easy. After Frank secured a first date with Helen, he didn’t have much money to take her to the movies, which cost 11 cents per ticket.
“For two of us, it would be 22 cents,” Frank said. “I had 20 cents. We couldn’t go.”
Despite early financial hurdles, the couple wed on April 19, 1945, two years after they met. They went on to have four children: Jean, who now lives down the block in East Rockaway; Denise, of Oakdale; Frank Jr., of Franklin Square; and Michelle, of Levittown. The couple have 14 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
Before building a life together in East Rockaway, Helen and Frank grew up four miles apart from each other in Brooklyn. They frequented the Coney Island amusement park, and Frank admitted that Helen was the bigger thrill-seeker of the two, and even rode the Cyclone roller coaster when she was eight months pregnant with Jean.
“I loved it, but he was so scared,” Helen said with a smile. “Chicken.”
Frank joined the Army in February 1945, when he turned 18, as World War II was starting to wind down. He was stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C., where he completed 16 weeks of basic training. He worked in the field artillery unit, learning about different guns and canons. Six months later, he was promoted to corporal and oversaw the training of 65 soldiers. When the couple were apart during Frank’s time in the Army, they wrote to each other often. While Frank was still stationed in North Carolina, the couple married at nearby St. Patrick’s Church.
“She’s been a great wife,” Frank said. “I couldn’t ask for better.”
“You better say that,” Helen retorted with a laugh.
“You know, over the years, you have falling-outs,” Frank continued, “because nobody agrees with each other all the time. But we always pulled through it.”
After the war, Frank worked as a machinist, and the couple purchased their home, on Harwich Road in East Rockaway, for $16,000 in 1962. Helen said she didn’t know how they afforded it, but added it “was like heaven.” Soon after, Frank got a job as a Nassau County inspector, retiring in 1991. Helen was a homemaker, and also had a few jobs over the years, including as a crossing guard near East Rockaway Junior-Senior High School.
After they purchased their house, it became a venue for many family parties over the years — some of which lasted for days. Frank said Helen had a reputation as a great cook and would always create delicious dishes for the festivities. He noted that even though he was from an Italian family and Helen’s family was Polish, she could whip up Italian dishes with the best of them.
Their daughter Jean fondly recalled the many happy occasions that were hosted at the East Rockaway home. “My mom and dad were the people who had all the parties,” Jean said. “They never wanted anybody to leave.”
Jean has been married to her husband, Emil, for 56 years. Emil praised his mother- and father-in-law for being available to help with anything that came up. “They’ve been there for everybody else,” he said. “They’ve always given everything they had for everybody, especially their family.”
In addition to the parties, Helen and Frank have experienced many good times over the last seven decades. They rented and eventually bought a motor home with friends and traveled to California, Texas and Tennessee, and also crossed the border into Canada several times. Frank said he has long been into horseracing and sports, while Helen enjoys cooking and gambling, and has a knack for playing winning lottery numbers. Frank said his wife also really enjoys shopping and once made him wait in the car for five hours when she went into a store. He was content to just read the horseracing forum as she shopped, he noted.
Helen has also battled through a series of illnesses, but Frank said she has been able to overcome them all. And even as her 90th birthday approaches, she hasn’t lost her sense of humor.
Frank said the key to their successful marriage has been patience and a willingness to help each other through the hard times. “When you’re 90, you know what you say to yourself?” Frank said. “Where did all the time go? … One of the reasons our marriage has lasted so long is that she’s a very caring woman. She’s very sensitive and caring. Some of the things that maybe were tough for people, she always made it easier. I think that’s how we got through it.”