February 14 is Valentine’s Day, a day set aside each year to celebrate love, admiration, and friendship with a special person. Richard and Mary Onorato, of Wiscasset, have celebrated that day together for over 60 years.
The Onoratos thank God every day for giving them the opportunity to share their lives together. Their love of God and their love for one another has seen them through some rough times, which made their love stronger, they said.
During a recent interview with the Onoratos, they told the story of how their love survived humble beginnings.
Their love story begins in Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1956. Mary was 15 years old and Richard was 18.
Mary’s mother died when she was 2 days old. She was in foster care until she was 6 years old, when she went to live with her father. He died when she was 15 years old. After the death of her father, she went to live with an older sister in Brooklyn, in the same neighborhood where Richard lived with his family, just around the corner from Ebbets Field.
Richard was working in a factory in Brooklyn, and would often see Mary walking home. He was very interested in getting to know the young redhead and finally got up enough courage to talk to her. From then on, he would often walk her home.
Mary quit school when she was 16 because her sister told her she had to support herself if she was going to live with her.
Mary worked as an information operator for the telephone company. Her sister charged her room and board, plus 25 cents for each blouse she ironed for her.
When she was 16, Richard asked her on a date and she accepted.
After nearly two years of courtship, Mary, 17, and Richard, 20, wed in the Brooklyn Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ on Jan. 28, 1958. Their wedding gifts included $5, a blanket, and two pillows. Mary said they used those pillows for 30 years. They were covered and re-covered several times. Her wedding ring, which she still wears today, cost Richard $18.75.
After they were married, they lived briefly with Richard’s parents before moving into a furnished apartment.
Richard was working at Lee Bed Spring Factory in Brooklyn. His pay was $40 per week, his take-home pay $36.35. After paying their rent, $20 per week, and other expenses, the couple had $12 for food and clothing.
“Then we got a break,” Richard said. “The landlord asked if we wanted to manage the building, which included keeping the hallways clean.” In exchange, they did not have to pay rent. “Then we had $20 more a week,” Richard said. “That was looking good.”
Richard worked nights in the Waldbaum’s supermarket, in Brooklyn, and took a second job during the day to support their growing family. By 1970, Mary and Richard had four children: Richard Jr., Darryl, Lorraine, and Susan.
Richard’s parents had moved to Edgecomb, and encouraged Richard and Mary to join them. The couple agreed, and Richard went to work for Hannaford in Rockland. He earned $100 per week to start and traveled about 70 miles a day.
Hired as a clerk, Richard worked his way up to assistant store manager at Hannaford, when he left to work for Shaw’s Supermarkets.
Shortly after moving to Maine, the Onoratos had another child, Sharon. Things were tight. Their two young sons, Richard and Darryl, worked odd jobs and turned over all the money they made to help support the family.
“They never complained – at least not to us,” Mary said with a chuckle.
Richard’s family, all members of The Church of Jesus Christ, had left their branch in Brooklyn when they moved to Maine. Richard’s uncle, Frank Zaher, an elder from the Brooklyn branch, would visit Maine and hold church services in Richard’s parents’ garage in Edgecomb.
Richard became an elder of the church, and until the death of his mother in 1981, conducted the religious service in the garage. When the garage was no longer available, Mary and Richard moved the pews into the dining room of their Wiscasset home for church services.
In the early 1990s, members of the congregation purchased a church building on Coombs Road in Brunswick. The members, including several members of the Onorato family, renovated the building.
The Brunswick Branch of The Church of Jesus Christ was dedicated in 1993, and continues to be the place of worship for the Onorato family. Both sons, Richard Jr. and Darryl, have been ordained as elders of the church.
Things began to get better as the years went on. Mary and Richard bought a home on Route 1. As the children grew up, Mary was able to take a job at Lincoln Academy. Later, she went to work at Wiscasset Primary School as a custodian. Both Mary and Richard have now retired.
Throughout the years, the Onoratos said they have trusted God in all aspects of their lives and God has never failed to give them the confirmation they need to make life’s necessary decisions.
The confirmations were sometimes given through finding coins unexpectedly. For example, when they were looking to purchase a new home in Wiscasset, unsure of which home they should buy, they found two pennies on the steps going into one house. They knew it was confirmation that they should buy that home.
During an interview, they said they found two shinny pennies after a recent shopping trip and didn’t know why, but were confident something good was going to happen.
The day after the interview, an excited Mary called the interviewer and said, “I want to tell you the rest of the story.”
She had received a call from two cousins who live in Staten Island, N.Y., whom she had not heard from since 1960. They gave her information about her mother, whom she never knew, and are going to send her photos and other information about her father.
The cousins had been trying for years to contact her. They finally went to Facebook and located a family member, who provided Mary’s contact information.
Mary and Richard are enjoying their retirement together, and give thanks each day for the love they share.
“We are very appreciative for what we have today. We know what it is not to have,” Mary said. “We were told by Richard’s uncle Frank when we got married, ‘God will always take care of you. Not a steak dinner every day, but he will take care of you.’ Uncle Frank was right.”
Richard’s advice to young married couples is something he learned a long time ago that has contributed to his long love affair with his wife. “Everyone has faults. No one is perfect. Learn to accept your partner’s faults. We all have them,” he said. “Don’t sweat the small stuff, and never go to bed mad.”
The couple recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary, hosted by their children at the home of Darryl and Kathleen Onorato in Brunswick. The children toasted the couple for giving them the gift of having wonderful parents and good examples.
Richard Jr. and his wife Cindy have been married 38 years, Darryl and his wife Kathy 39 years, and Susan and her husband Daniel 33 years.