Joseph F. Berenato
Catching up with high school sweethearts
For those who choose to marry, the origins of their relationship are often as varied as the couples themselves. Some know immediately that this person is the one with whom they will spend the rest of their days, while others don’t meet their special someone until much later in life.
A select few are fortunate enough to meet their future spouse in their early years, becoming high school sweethearts before eventually tying the knot.
Stephanie DeCicco (née Amoriello), for instance, did not know when she became a member of the Hammonton High School Blue Devils Marching Unit as a freshman in the fall of 1992 that she would soon meet her future husband, Chuck.
“I guess you can say we grew up together. We met in marching band; I was 15, and he was 16. He played the tuba, and I played clarinet,” DeCicco told The Gazette.
DeCicco said that they were introduced by mutual friends, and that their courting began at a very popular Hammonton event.
“Our first date was at the Red, White and Blueberry Festival in 1993,” DeCicco said.
Seven years later—almost to the day—the couple was married, on June 24, 2000. Since then, DeCicco said, they have had “one amazing daughter, Emily, who graduated high school this year.”
In the ensuing 21 years, DeCicco said that they have had a number of memorable experiences, though it is at times difficult to pick a particular favorite.
“We have been together so long I can’t remember,” DeCicco said.
However, DeCicco said, she does look fondly at the trips they have taken to Walt Disney World—the first one being taken roughly a year before the couple wed.
“It became our favorite place to travel to. We used to go every year—sometimes twice a year—up until Emily started school. When we were there, it felt like we were closer as a family and all of our life stresses didn’t exist,” DeCicco said.
DeCicco said that the keys to their successful relationship are simple ones.
“Being married to your best friend, being honest and having open communication are definitely our secrets,” DeCicco said.
Kathy Lemons (née Macrie) said that she and her husband, Bill—both members of the Hammonton High School class of 1974—had somewhat of a similar start to their relationship; he was a member of the band, and she was a member of the color guard.
Lemons said that it was her future husband who first initiated conversation.
“My friend and I went to see the freshman football game in September of 1970. We were sitting in the bleachers, and Bill came up and sat next to me. After the game, I walked with him back to the school parking lot, where he had his bike and I met my mom ... He didn’t know what to say and he wanted to leave with a lasting impression, so he said, ‘See you tomorrow’ and patted me on the butt. That was a surprise—but a cute one,” Lemons said.
Lemons said that it took a little bit of time for her to return his affections.
“He looked to be with me in the halls of school—even though, in the very beginning, I didn’t want any parts of him. But with his sweetness and persistence, he won me over. How could I not?” Lemons said.
After their first date to see an orchestra performance at the high school, Lemons said that the two of them were almost inseparable.
“We spent a lot of time on and off the fields and in school. We went to the hops and proms together ... Bill met me at my locker between most classes, and we either went to his house or he came to mine as much as possible since he worked at Olivo’s since he was 14, on many weeknights and weekends. He never forgot a holiday with a gift of jewelry, flowers or stuffed animals,” Lemons said.
The couple married on September 8, 1979, and welcomed their first child—Lacey—in 1981.
“We lived on Pratt Street, then we built our home on Fairview Avenue next to his grandmom,” Lemons said. When it was finished, Laurie was born in 1983 on the couch in the new home. Then Lisa was born in 1985 and Leric came along in 1987, Lemons said.
When their youngest was a few years older, the family moved from Fairview Avenue to a more familiar location.
“Sometime around 1992, we moved to Bill’s homestead, remodeled it and we raised them until some left—and came back then left again—which left the huge home empty. We decided to sell and downsize,” Lemons said, noting that she and her husband are now living in a 55-and-older community.
As to their longevity, Lemons said that there are many facets that keep them going.
“There’s not just one thing. We put up with each other. You have to pick and choose the battles; every argument or disagreement doesn’t have to be a battle. You have to stop and forget about it ... There is this connection; it’s hard to explain. It’s chemistry,” Lemons said.
Unlike Lemons and DeCicco, who met their future husbands in high school, Bernadette Durney (née DePalma) fell in love with her future husband, Martin, while attending St. Joseph Regional Elementary School in 1952.
“We were in the same class in second grade, and I always loved him,” Durney said.
That love, however, was one-sided for a number of years.
“He really didn’t pay attention to me until we were about 14. He had something wrong with his knee, and the nun put him in the back of the class. I was one of the taller girls in the class, and he was always ornery, so he was up front where the nuns could get to him, but he had a cast on his leg, so she put him in the back of the class so his leg could rest on another desk, and that’s when we really started talking,” Durney said.
Durney said that she was also taken with his fashion choices.
“He used to come to the movies in Hammonton, and he’d always come with his black leather jacket and I always thought that was so cool. I was very young,” she said.
Dating in the early 1960s, Durney said, was slightly different than it is today.
“We were taught by nuns and they were very strict about dating or having boyfriends, and parents were, too ... We didn’t actually date until I got into college. Once I got into college, my parents lightened up, but when I was in high school, we didn’t date. It was a different time,” Durney said.
Martin Durney concurred with his wife.
“When we were in high school, a big date was when I went to her house and sat in the kitchen with her,” he said.
Bernadette Durney recalled one such night in particular.
“One time, Martin was allowed to come to the house; of course, my parents were home. My mother came in and told me that she was having guests, and I had to set the table. Martin was there, and I was setting the table, and he put his arm around my waist to give me a hug. My father walked in, and he didn’t say anything. The next day he called me in while he was shaving. ‘Bernie, come here. I want to tell you something. I saw what you did last night. I’m not going to tell your mother.’ I said, ‘Daddy, what did I do?’ It was crazy then,” Bernadette Durney said.
The couple, both of whom graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1963, were together for seven-and-a-half years before marrying on August 17, 1968.
“It was the hottest day of the year, but I have to say that the day I got married was the most exciting day of my life,” Bernadette Durney said.
A few short days after exchanging vows, Bernadette and Martin Durney moved to Nebraska, a time that Bernadette Durney remembers with warmth.
“We had nothing. We moved to Nebraska and I taught school there—he didn’t make much money doing post-doc; he would teach to make money at the college, but basically I was the breadwinner—and we lived in a furnished apartment, and we had nothing, but we were so happy. Today, the kids have to have everything. They want the house, they want the furniture before they get married, and I think they’re losing something. They’re cheating themselves, because it was exciting ... We were married 17 years before we got to go away, because my kids were really ornery, and my one son had night terrors and nobody would take them,” Durney said.
Bernadette Durney said that Martin’s work had him traveling a great deal, which was difficult for her, but their relationship always remained strong.
“I cried a lot, because he was gone so much and I had three children, and it was hard. He was always understanding, and he always listened to me, and he always tried to make it better for me. He had to travel; that’s the way it was ... I went to a bridal shower once, and they asked the question: what’s the secret to a successful and happy marriage? I wrote, ‘having a husband that travels.’ I won the prize,” she said.
Martin Durney has another theory as to how the couple has enjoyed more than 50 years of a marriage that has yielded three children, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
“I just do whatever she says,” he said.
Bernadette Durney didn’t quite agree with her husband in that regard—”No, he doesn’t,” she said—but she did agree that taking the other’s feelings into account was largely responsible for their long life together.
“I think it’s respect, listening to each other and trying to understand the other person,” she said.
Whatever the secret, Martin Durney said that he has been “just very lucky.”
“It’s just been great. We have a great family, and we’re very fortunate,” he said.