Betty noticed Jack in the fall of seventh grade, when kids from all around Burlington, N.J., wound up at the same middle school.
His good looks and confidence made her swoon, but, to her disappointment, she was not the only one. “He had the girls all buzzing around him,” Betty said. She saw no point in entering that fracas.
Jack noticed Betty in eighth grade, when their town offered free badminton for students on Tuesday nights. Sometimes, they were matched as partners, to his delight and her dismay.
“If I made a mistake, he would yell at me,” Betty said. “Why did he care so much about a game with friends?”
Jack was trying to help her improve her game. He was certainly not worried that his shouted instructions would hurt the feelings of this girl, who had no problem standing her ground. “She was feisty! That’s what I liked,” said Jack. “Plus, she had this cute little button nose.”
One night as the kids waited for their parents to pick them up, Jack tapped Betty on the shoulder. She braced for a sports lecture that never came. “Can I talk to you?” he asked.
He called her daily for two weeks straight, but Betty didn’t think Mr. Popular was really interested until he asked her to the Valentine’s Dance. After that, they went together to every dance and school event, and to the movies once a week. They even celebrated their September birthdays – just two days apart – together.
Sophomore year of high school, her family and his attended the same wedding, and Betty suggested their parents should finally meet. Jack got his mom and Betty got hers. When they saw each other, the women gasped out loud, and then could not stop laughing. They had already met – they had shared a maternity ward hospital room when Betty and Jack were born.
After Betty and Jack – who are now about to turn 78 – graduated from high school, he was off to Massachusetts to study health and physical education at Springfield College while she commuted from home to Trenton State – now the College of New Jersey – to earn a history degree.
They wrote each other every day, and once a week, Jack stood in line at the pay phone to hear her voice for a few minutes. He hitchhiked or drove home as often as he could.
They broke up once during the summer before their sophomore year. Neither remembers why. Dating other people made them miss each other. In November, Jack sent Betty a letter asking if he could call her. She accepted his invitation to Homecoming weekend, and their relationship and its daily letters resumed.
Jack and Betty married one week after graduating from college.
“Thank God!” said the postman who carried nearly four years of daily letters when he heard the news.
Surprising no one, Jack became a physical education teacher and a coach. He also served as an assistant principal and athletic director before retiring in 2004 as director of athletics at Northern Burlington Regional High School.
Betty taught high school history full time until shortly before the birth of son Rich. Five years later, David was born. When the boys were a bit more independent, she returned to work part-time, teaching remedial classes, then working in a program that helped pregnant teens get their diplomas and in a night education program. She retired in 2000, but returned to work as a history teacher at a Rowan University adult education program before retiring for good in 2016.
Jack is completely devoted to everyone and everything he cares about, Betty said. He’s fiercely loyal to her and their family. He worked tirelessly for the students and athletes he taught and coached, and then he’d get home and do things for his wife and children. “Everything around this house was always done by Jack,” Betty said. “I would come up with the ideas and he makes them come to fruition.” That’s why there’s a living room loft where Christmas decorations used to be stored.
Jack said he could never doubt how much Betty loves him. “Since the day that we got married, if I’m not home when she’s expected me, she will call me to check and be sure I’m OK,” he said. “She did everything for our kids. Marrying her was the best decision I ever made.”
Always the history teacher, Betty planned family educational excursions, including trips to Europe where they also visited her Italian family.
David and Rich grew up. Rich is married to Melissa and they have two children, Ryan and Alexa. David has a partner, Colleen. Colleen’s daughter Emma lives with them and they are also expecting. David also has an older daughter, Daphne, from a previous relationship.
Family trips now continue with a new generation.
It’s not always about history – Jack was thrilled to ski down Camelback Mountain with Ryan and Alexa last winter. “I got to cross that off my bucket list,” he said. But it’s often about history. “The biggest COVID-related disappointment is that we can’t go to Plymouth for the 500th anniversary,” said Betty.
They have lived in their Edgewater Park home since 1970. Most of the people who lived in the neighborhood when the couple arrived moved on after their children grew up. Betty and Jack miss them, but new neighbors mean a delightful new crop of neighborhood kids and dogs.
The kids and dogs are often in the Lukis backyard, which has space for a pickup ball game or lying in the grass, plus an old fashioned rope swing. Even when the dogs are home, they bark through the fence for the treats the couple buys them. The kids come to the door in search of cookies and cupcakes that Betty bakes from scratch.
This new crop of kids is growing up. Izzy, among the oldest, is 22, on the cusp of med school, and engaged. When she’s home, she’s happy to serve as the Lukis' computer and phone tech guru.
“Thank goodness!” Betty said.
Once or twice a week, Betty and Jack hop in their car and head north. This summer, they were awed watching Alexa perform with her gymnastics team. Now, Ryan’s travel baseball team plays with social distancing in place, and most often with Nana and Pop Pop cheering in the stands and a post-game review with the coach.
The couple has a lot of plans – travel and otherwise – for when COVID doesn’t loom so large. Betty misses aquacise and the Rowan adult education classes she began taking when she stopped teaching them. Jack misses his volunteer position wheeling patients around at Virtua Memorial Hospital in Mount Holly.
In the meantime, they still have their favorite things: A growing family. A home that’s a hub for their neighbors.
“It’s a warm old age,” Betty said. “The only real immortality a person can have is that in the future, when your name comes up, a smile comes across someone’s lips. That’s what we’re going for.”