‘Longest married couple’ keeping love alive at 95

| April 10, 2017 | 0 Comments

Leona and Vince Arceno, both 95, on a walk. The St. Paul couple and St. Pascal Baylon parishioners have been recognized as the longest married couple in Minnesota by Worldwide Marriage Encounter. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Vince and Leona Arceno first met at a St. Paul roller skating rink in 1938, and the wheels of love keep spinning for them well into their seventh decade of marriage.

Their bond of 74 years has been forged by friendship, faith and mutual support. Married at age 22, the couple maintains a daily commitment of going on walks and attending Mass — a routine they’ve honored since retiring from their jobs 36 years ago.

“You’ve got to keep busy, even now at this age,” said Leona, 95.

Parishioners of St. Pascal Baylon in east St. Paul, the Arcenos regularly attend the annual Marriage Day Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul. Another couple took note last year and nominated them for Worldwide Marriage Encounter’s Longest Married Couple award for Minnesota, which they received in February 2017. The marriage-supporting organization presents the awards annually based on nominations.

The honor surprised Leona.

“You’ve got to be kidding; there are people married longer than us,” Leona recalled saying when she heard the news. “But they weren’t nominated.”

Love begins

Vince and Leona’s first encounter while roller skating led to dating off and on over the next seven years.

“Finally it was meant to be, I guess,” Leona said.

Vince was Catholic and Leona was Lutheran, and they were pursuing marriage in a time when interdenominational marriages weren’t widely accepted. At first, Vince’s associate pastor at Holy Redeemer in St. Paul refused to officiate. Then, Vince’s mother, who supported their engagement, contacted the parish and spoke with the pastor about the matter. He agreed to the wedding.

On Feb. 27, 1943, Vince and Leona had a simple ceremony in the parish’s rectory, followed by a small reception.

The couple settled in St. Paul’s East Side. Vince worked in the warehouse at 3M’s old site on Forest Street in St. Paul. They raised three daughters — Judy, Jackie and Jill —  in their one-story home. The house had only one bathroom, but its door had a knocker, used frequently as a reminder to limit time. That fact remains a point of humor in the family.

As a family, the Arcenos enjoyed game nights and trips to their cabin in Forest Lake. On weekdays, Vince left early in the morning for work before the others arose, and he didn’t stay home long after coming home for family dinners. He usually bowled or played softball in the evenings.

Leona would eventually work at a bank, but she first focused on child-rearing at home. She said she had little difficulty in raising the three girls.

However, having children sparked a change in Leona’s faith. As a Lutheran, she had not been attending Mass with Vince, but she began to see a need to become a Catholic.

It took Vince by surprise when she told him that she had plans to meet with the pastor at St. Pascal, Vince’s parish.

“[Vince] dropped the [news]paper and said ‘What did I do?” Leona recalled.

She became Catholic, and the family began attending Mass together every Sunday. Vince served at Mass and helped with collection envelopes. He also headed the men’s club. Leona, meanwhile, led the women’s club. The girls went to the parish school before attending Murray High School in Maplewood.

The daughters later married and had families of their own. The Arcenos now have six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

A fruitful union

The Arcenos seem to have passed on the legacy of a long-lasting marriage. Their oldest daughter, Judy Montpetit, recently celebrated 50 years of marriage with her husband, Joel.

“My own marriage has held together because I have parents who have set a pretty high bar,” said Montpetit, a parishioner of St. Ambrose in Woodbury.

Their middle daughter, Jackie Mlynarczkyk, also noted the importance of her parents’ daily witness.

“We knew loving each other was important [and] we knew taking care of each other is important,” said Mlynarczyk, who attends St. Peter in North St. Paul.

Vince and Leona now have their 75th anniversary on the horizon. As they near their 96th birthdays, they approach their few health challenges as opportunities to serve each other. Vince has become hard of hearing, so Leona helps him catch conversation. Leona has macular degeneration, so Vince, who still drives, helps her get around safely.

“Right now, we help each other a lot,” Vince said.

Their walking hasn’t slowed down, though — they log 40 minutes per day.

People ask the couple how they’ve made it so long, and Leona says it’s nothing remarkable. It’s the stuff of their day-to-day actions.

Vince states it simply: “We’re blessed.”

Their marriage’s challenges, such as tight finances in the years following the Great Depression, have only strengthened the Arcenos’ marriage. They also faced their share of conflicts, but found a consistent way to deal with them. In arguments, Leona said she would often refrain from talking any further and start over fresh the next day.

“Sometimes, you’ve got to bite your tongue,” she said.

They said they may have quibbles over sports, but they can still be found watching the Minnesota Twins on TV together at their St. Paul home of 68 years. The couple spends little time apart.

Their alone time includes daily prayer, with worn-down prayer books to show for it.

“We’ve got an arm-list long of people that we’re praying for,” Leona said.

It’s an expression of how they live their marriage vows.

“They are always looking out for the interest of the other spouse,” said Father Michael Byron, pastor of St. Pascal. “When you do that [and] when you’re that much in love, that’s how you make a marriage last.”

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