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