Northeast Times

The Diamond Duo

How many mar­riages last 75 weeks, let alone 75 years? For this Bustleton couple, it's three-quar­ters of a cen­tury and count­ing.

Jim and Jen­nie DiRuger­is in their Bustleton home on March 1, 2012. The couple re­cently cel­eb­rated their 75th wed­ding an­niversary.

Start­Frag­ment

When Jim and Jen­nie DiRuger­is vowed to spend etern­ity with each oth­er, they nev­er ima­gined it would last for the next 75 years.

It’s not that they spent much of their time con­tem­plat­ing longev­ity. They did just the op­pos­ite, in fact, cel­eb­rat­ing every mo­ment of their lives to­geth­er as if it might be their last.

And 75 years later, they’re still cel­eb­rat­ing.

“We grew up in a home that was filled with mu­sic and homemade wine,” said Mar­ie Kampf, one of the couple’s three chil­dren and the only daugh­ter.

“There was al­ways wine on the table,” said Jim DiRuger­is.

“There still is,” Mar­ie con­tin­ued. “We grew up in a happy house with a lot of food and friends.”

Un­like many folks their age — not that many folks ever reach their age — the Bustleton couple re­main act­ive as ever, al­most. On Feb. 27, they joined dozens of fam­ily and friends for an an­niversary party at the Amer­ic­an Le­gion Post 810, where their seni­or group meets twice a month.

Jim, 97, and Jen­nie, who turned 94 on Tues­day, also at­tend an­oth­er seni­ors club twice a month at Ma­ter­nity BVM church. And every Sunday, Jim can be found in the same church, patrolling the aisles dur­ing Mass with a col­lec­tion bas­ket in hand. For­tu­nately, he says, most people give pa­per money these days, not coins.

THEY’RE ON THEIR OWN

They still live in­de­pend­ently in a neatly kept single home that they bought 45 years ago. Jim still drives a car.

“This home is per­fect be­cause it has no steps. It’s easy for us,” Jen­nie DiRuger­is said. “I like a clean house and I don’t want it too big.”

Be­fore set­tling for good in Bustleton, the couple lived in sev­er­al homes in North Philly and the North­east, in­fus­ing their old-world work eth­ic and joie de vivre in­to each.

Both are first-gen­er­a­tion Amer­ic­ans of Itali­an des­cent. Jim was born in Phil­adelphia on Dec. 15, 1914, and Jen­nie in Pitt­ston, a small min­ing town between Scrant­on and Wilkes-Barre, on March 13, 1918. Her maid­en name was Del­laVella.

When she was about 4, her fath­er moved the fam­ily to Phil­adelphia to be close to his sis­ter. They settled in a pre­dom­in­antly Itali­an sec­tion near Sixth Street and Erie Av­en­ue. The neigh­bor­hood be­came known as Little Italy.

The DiRuger­is clan lived three doors away.

As chil­dren, it wasn’t ne­ces­sar­ily love at first sight, par­tic­u­larly con­sid­er­ing the mo­nu­ment­al three-year age dif­fer­ence between them.

“She had her friends and I had my friends,” Jim said. “We didn’t mingle un­til we were older. And then I said, ‘Maybe it’s time to look around.’”

FOR­GET IT, BUSTER

They of­ten met in her par­ents’ home. That’s where he made his big move.

“I re­mem­ber be­ing in the par­lor in her fath­er’s old house,” Jim said. “I snuck a kiss and her fath­er caught me and he chased me out. I re­mem­ber that pretty well.”

But even Mr. Del­laVella couldn’t deny their mu­tu­al af­fec­tion.

“I was eight­een go­ing on nine­teen and he was twenty-two when we got mar­ried,” Jen­nie DiRuger­is said.

They found a place to­geth­er in the old neigh­bor­hood, near their fam­il­ies.

“He did a lot for my fath­er. We got a house at 533 Glen­wood Av­en­ue and my fath­er lived two doors away,” Jen­nie said. “He was so handy.”

“Every­body helped each oth­er then, not today so much,” Jim said.

Marino was their first son, named after Jim’s fath­er. Then came Mar­ie, named after Jim’s moth­er, and then the young­est, Jimmy. All mar­ried and to­geth­er gave their par­ents nine grand­chil­dren.

Today, the DiRuger­ises have 18 great-grand­chil­dren and one great-great-grand­child.

“All of the chil­dren were mar­ried and all of the grand­chil­dren are mar­ried and one great-grand­child is mar­ried,” Kampf said.

“My chil­dren are very good to me and I love my in-laws,” Jen­nie said.

In the 1930s, Jim DiRuger­is played ac­cor­di­on with the Ferko String Band, which at the time in­cluded le­gendary founder Joe Ferko.

He took a job in the bot­tling de­part­ment of the old Ortleib Brew­ing Co. in North­ern Liber­ties. The best parts of the job were the fringe be­ne­fits.

WORK, DRINK AND BE MERRY

“I worked in a brew­ery for forty years,” Jim said. “If they made three thou­sand bar­rels of beer for the year, they had a party. I worked hard in my life, but I was built for it, so I didn’t mind. I got used to it.”

“I don’t know how he did it,” said Jen­nie, who worked at Crown Cork & Seal when she was “young­er.”

After a few years in the old neigh­bor­hood, they moved to May­fair, then a newly built house in Bustleton. That’s where the chil­dren grew up and where the couple had a private wine cel­lar.

Jim missed World War II, be­cause by the time the United States got in­volved in the war, Jim was already in his late 20s, mar­ried and had three young chil­dren.

“In those days, they took the single guys first,” Jen­nie said.

With the kids grown, they moved back to May­fair for a bit, then back to Bustleton for the dur­a­tion.

Mar­ie fondly re­mem­bers Sunday af­ter­noons at the first Bustleton house.

“The house was al­ways open for every­body who wanted to come,” she said. “All the aunts and uncles would vis­it. In those days, you would vis­it every Sunday after church.”

Jim and Jen­nie got out of the house quite a bit, too. Fri­day nights typ­ic­ally were for dance parties, no mat­ter how long or dif­fi­cult the work­week had seemed.

“We used to get done work­ing and go to Sci­oli’s on Fri­day night. We’d go there and we would have a good time,” Jen­nie said.

“He’s a very good dan­cer, bet­ter than I am. There are no more dances around like the places we used to go.”

A WORDLY COUPLE

They toured the world to­geth­er, too: Por­tugal, Spain, Ja­maica, Acap­ulco and, of course, Italy. Of­ten, they traveled in large groups with close friends, in­clud­ing one 17-day ex­cur­sion to their par­ents’ home­land.

“[A friend] booked the whole plane and we had an open bar for the whole flight over and back,” Jim said.

After land­ing in Italy, the loc­als wel­comed the cheer­ful mob with open arms.

“We had good times when we were young­er,” Jen­nie said.

They still go out to din­ner from time to time, al­though the people have changed. Most of their friends now are closer in age to their chil­dren.

“One day, you have all of the friends and then you say, ‘What happened to them all?’” Jim said. “Now we have an­oth­er group, but there’s not as many.”

The couple are as mys­ti­fied as any­body about their sus­tained good health. They each take just one pill a day.

“There’s noth­ing I really did to stay healthy,” Jim said. “I worked, came home, ate, had a glass of wine and was with the fam­ily.”

And what was on the menu?

“A lot of dan­deli­ons,” he quipped.

Jen­nie at­trib­utes their en­dur­ing love to Jim’s calm dis­pos­i­tion. She’s the fiery one, after all.

“He’s pa­tient,” she said. “He nev­er gave me any stress. He was al­ways easy­going. Me, I had a little more.”

They com­ple­ment each oth­er per­fectly.

“I like him to be with me and hold my hand,” Jen­nie said. “I don’t know what I’d do without him.” ••

End­Frag­ment

You can reach at wkenny@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus