Springdale couple celebrates 75th anniversary
By Joyce Hanz
Published: Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
ussell and Jenny Zalepa still hold hands. They still smile and laugh, and profess their love for one another each morning when they rise in their Springdale home.
Big deal, right?
It is for the couple who has been married for 75 years. They still have a twinkle in their eye for one another.
“It was love at first sight,” Russell says. “I saw her in study hall at Springdale High School, and she was pretty, blonde and petite.”
“I knew he was the man; I wanted a big handsome guy,” Jenny recalls, while holding Russell's hand and reminiscing about the day they met in 1935. “We passed notes to each other and told each other ‘I love you.' ”
Russell, 94, and Jenny, 96, recently were guests of honor at their 75th anniversary party hosted by family and friends at Springdale Township fire hall.
“I enjoyed it immensely,” Russell says. “All of the people that I had not seen in a while were there, over 100 people, and we had two cakes and good food. People came from Maine, New Jersey and Ohio.”
A special Mass was celebrated at the party (St. Alphonsus Church in Springdale is their parish), and Jenny was “honored to see all the people I love” there celebrating. Their special song was played — “The Object of My Affection” by the Boswells. And, polka dancing was enjoyed in honor of Jenny's Polish heritage.
Reaching the milestone didn't happen without years of love, hard work, adventure and raising three children.
“It snowed on our wedding day in 1938 at St. Mary's Church in New Kensington,” Russell says. “Jenny was from Boswell, (Somerset County), and worked for her mom after high school as a seamstress. I was from West Deer, and my parents emigrated from Slovakia. Jenny's had emigrated from Poland. It also snowed on the day of our anniversary party last month, so I thought that was neat.”
The newlyweds, who didn't go on a honeymoon, settled in New Kensington. They would later relocate to Springdale.
“I saved, and after one year of marriage, I bought a Model A Ford for $60. I drove Jenny to Boswell to see her family, and that was when not a lot of people had cars. I still have that Model A; it's over in Lower Burrell at a grandson's house,” Russell says, beaming. “I drove fast; people would ask ‘What's under that hood?' ”
The Depression years were difficult, and Russell worked two jobs to provide for his quickly growing family. He worked in coal mines and took a second job painting B-29 plane parts for the war effort at Ralph Meyers company. “I had a deferment from the war because I was married, had kids and was already painting the plane parts,” Russell says.
He worked for Lampus Co. in Springdale after his coal-mining job ended in 1952 because of mine closures. He returned to coal-mining, working in Renton, and retired after 34 years of working in the mines.
The Zalepas soon had a full house with three children born within nine years.
“I paddled them when they needed it, “ Jenny says, jokingly.
“I got the most paddling,” says Monica, 70, the middle child, who lives with and is the full-time caregiver to her parents. All three children live on the same street in Springdale; Richard is the oldest, and Amara Valentine the youngest.
The Zalepas settled into raising a family in post-WWII America and enjoyed many family vacations together.
“One of my favorite vacations was California,” Monica says. “We went for a month in that Model A. We took a cruise to the Bahamas, went to Niagara Falls and also toured the New England states. My parents always took us on vacations.”
Richard, 74, recalls his favorite family vacation. “We took our '37 Ford to California and went for a month; we visited friends, and I was about 9 years old. We saw St. Louis, The Badlands, all different parts of the U.S.”
Richard lives across the street from his parents in the home in which Russell and Jenny lived while raising their family.
“I was married with a son,” Richard says, “and I asked Dad to lend me money to buy a house, and he said I could live (in the family home) if he could buy and build a house across the street in a vacant lot. My mom wanted a pool, and we built the house — my Dad and I and friends — and put in the concrete in-ground pool ourselves. That's how we ended up neighbors.”
Visiting their native countries was a highlight for the Zalepas. Russell took Jenny to Poland in 1970 to visit her family and explore her heritage.
“We were there a month,” Jenny says. “Monica went with us, too.”
Russell has traveled to his native Slovakia more than a dozen times.
Although international travel is no longer on the daily docket for this couple, they still keep busy and involved in their community.
“I'm the oldest volunteer fireman in Springdale,” Russell says. “I still go to the meetings and help with the Relief Association handling finances. I've been there over 60 years.”
Jenny was a homemaker and expert seamstress for years and served on the Springdale Council in the 1970s.
“I sewed all of my clothes and the children's clothes,” Jenny says. “I learned from my mom, and I also enjoyed crocheting and knitting.”
Russell sent Jenny packing one day.
“I left him once,” Jenny says. “He tore down a chimney in the house, the soot was flying, and I was in the middle of sewing a white communion dress. I went to my mom's house.”
“Dad cleaned it up real fast so Mom could come back” Monica says, jokingly, recalling that her parents “never fought.”
Richard recalls that infamous incident, as well. “Dad made a real mess with soot everywhere; my mom was gone a few days until he cleaned up. Otherwise, they didn't argue.”
After seven decades of marriage, Russell still has his driver's license and scoots around town, cuts fir-ewood for their wood-burning stove, which he built, and keeps up with the tech world with his Facebook page.
“We like to go out to eat,” Russell says. “Burger King, Valentine's bar and Kings; we like all of those.”
When asked the secret to a long and successful marriage, Russell keeps it simple.
“Don't talk too much,” he says, “I tell the men, if you talk too much, you'll just get yourself in trouble.”
Jenny says, “Be sweet and love each other.”
Russell enjoys any “mechanical stuff” and gardening and takes pride in his peppers, garlic and zucchini.
“Everyone who is (from) Slovakia has a garden,” Russell says. “I love garlic.”
The couple thrives in their 90s after some health scares.
“I've had my gallbladder removed, my knee replaced, two heart bypass surgeries, and I do eat healthy now after that,” Russell says.
He and Jenny don't drink or smoke.
“When I was a coal miner, they all wanted me to chew snuff,” Russell recalls. “I tried it once and puked. I drank a beer once in Slovakia after working outside building a fence, and that's about it.”
The Zalepas have six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
They look forward to their 80th wedding anniversary.
“You never know, huh?” Russell says, smiling.
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