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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Their love knows no limit
You'd think that "I do" would be words last spoken a lifetime ago for two 89-year-old companions. You'd be wrong.
By Lane DeGregory, Times Staff Writer
Published July 5, 2007
Joseph Falco and Stephanie Georgette, both 89, face the applause after their wedding ceremony at the Atria Windsor Woods assisted living facility in Hudson.
[Stephen J. Coddington | Times]
HUDSON - The guests shuffle into the community room, line their walkers against the back wall. Folks in wheelchairs roll up beside the rows of chairs. "Isn't it lovely?" asks a woman near the back.
"Beautiful, " her friend agrees. "And wait until you see Stephanie."
On this Friday in June, the second-floor room at Atria Windsor Woods has been transformed. Games and puzzles have been pushed aside; a guest book sits on the magazine table. A white archway, laced with red ribbons and roses, curves above a microphone.
More than 40 friends and neighbors fill the room. The pianist pulls up her bench. The wedding march spills through the assisted living facility.
A gray-haired man wearing a white suit jacket and scarlet shirt glides in and parks his wheelchair beneath the arch.
"I told Joe he should have done this years ago, " whispers the woman near the back, Rose Savini.
"They've been together forever, " Connie Gidaro says. "But at this point, I mean, at their age, why get married? Why now?"
- - -
Stephanie Georgette and Joseph Falco are both 89. They met 16 years ago and have been inseparable since.
"My friend, she does alterations. She asked me, 'Do you want to meet a nice man?' " Stephanie said. "I said no."
"I took in some suits to get fixed, " Joe said. "The woman asks me, 'Do you want to meet a nice lady?' I said no."
One day, while Stephanie was in the shop, her friend called Joe and told him to come pick up his suits.
"So I saw Stephanie, and right then I asked her to dinner, " Joe said. "She said no, her hair wasn't done."
"I had a date with someone else. I was supposed to go dancing with Charlie, " Stephanie said.
"So I told her I thought her hair looked just fine."
"I called Charlie and told him I had a friend in from out of town. Charlie was a nice guy, but he was too old for me. I was only 73 then."
Joe took Stephanie to Pappas restaurant in Tarpon Springs. Afterward, they strolled along the Sponge Docks. He held her hand. He told her he had grown up poor, the child of immigrants. "Me too, " she said. He said he'd been in the Army, in Hawaii just after Pearl Har- bor. Then he became a carpenter. She said she'd been a baker. He told her he'd been married three times. "Me too, " she said.
For the next 16 years, Joe and Stephanie never mentioned marriage.
- - -
The bride walks into the community room, leaning on her daughter's arm. She has forgotten her cane. She's afraid she might fall.
"Gorgeous!" breathes the woman near the back.
"Look at that dress, " whispers her friend.
Stephanie's white linen jacket has scalloped sleeves; the flowing skirt skims her sandals. Her mother bought her the outfit years ago. Stephanie didn't have time to find a new one.
Two weeks ago, no one knew there was going to be a wedding.
- - -
She called him Mr. Moneybags. He called her Mrs. Clean. From their first date, they teased each other about their differences.
Stephanie had never traveled. Joe took her to Hawaii, Italy and Spain. She'd never been to the theater. He took her to concerts, operas and plays. They booked cruises with friends, played all-night Uno, visited each other's kids.
For years, they each owned a house. When Stephanie sold hers and moved into the Regency retirement home, Joe rented an apartment down the hall.
At night, he'd barbecue steaks, or she'd make lentil soup. They'd watch Jeopardy! and Wheel of Fortune. Then he'd walk her home, down the hall.
"Joe was always the perfect gentleman, " Stephanie said. "All those years, he never got fresh."
- - -
A month ago, they said Joe wasn't going to live. When he collapsed from complications of diabetes, doctors asked him to sign a "do not resuscitate" order.
He slipped into a diabetic coma. Stephanie visited him in the hospital every day.
She realized, during those long weeks, how lonely she was. She had been a widow for almost 20 years. She had lived away from her children for 25 years.
Without Joe, there wasn't even anyone to walk her home, down the hall.
Her lease in the retirement home would be up July 1. She called her daughter in Chicago. She wanted to move. She needed to be near family.
Joe improved, but he still wasn't able to care for himself, so he checked into a rehab facility.
Stephanie told him about her plans. In a couple of weeks, she'd be back in Illinois.
Joe was stunned. He sat up in his hospital bed. "You're not going anywhere, " he blurted out. "You're going to stay right here with me. And we're going to get married."
"I told him to get down on one knee, " Stephanie said.
"I told her if I got down on one knee, I'd never get up, " Joe said. "I promised I'd do that in a couple of weeks. Or years."
"So I said yes."
Joe admits it was spur of the moment. He didn't plan to pop the question that day, or ever.
"It's just, when she said she was leaving, I knew it wasn't going to be fun anymore, " he said. "There were times when we wouldn't see each other for a day or two, and it was lonely."
"It was lonely, " Stephanie said.
"I said, 'What's the point of us living apart?' I don't want to be alone, " Joe said. "When I wake up, no one's there."
The day Joe proposed, Stephanie walked across the street from the rehab center to an assisted living facility. If he was going to live with her, she'd need help. She told the woman at Atria Windsor Woods they needed an apartment.
Then she said she had a confession to make. "Joe and I aren't married, " Stephanie said. "Not yet."
- - -
The groom looks up at his bride, beaming from his wheelchair.
Joe had hoped to be able to stand for his wedding. Twice a day, he'd been practicing in rehab. But he'd had a bad night, and now he is too weak to get up.
"Do you promise, " the notary under the arch asks Stephanie, "to honor, comfort and keep him, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live?"
The bride smiles down at her groom, closes her hand around his.
After their vows, someone slips a sign on the back of the groom's wheelchair. Glittery letters on red poster board read: "Just Married."
Residents cheer as they roll through the retirement home.
"Sixteen years already!" someone says. "Why didn't you just move in together?"
"We're both Catholic, " Joe says. "We wouldn't live in sin." He smiles at his bride. "I wouldn't tarnish her reputation."
"So why didn't you do it sooner?" asks someone else.
Joe shakes his head. "I should have."
"If you had asked me years ago, " Stephanie says, "I would have said no."
They both had their own lives, their own families, things they wanted to do in retirement. "We lasted this long because we were apart. Because we had somewhere to retreat to, " she says. "The old Joe, he needed his space.
"But I like the new Joe better, " Stephanie says. "Ever since he got sick, well . . . " She squeezes his arm. "Now that we can't do so many things, we just want to be together."
"What are you looking forward to most?" someone asks.