Josie & George Rovnan

In February 1958, Josie’s best friend, Dina, asked if she would double date with two Marines — friends of Dina’s brother, who, like him, had a weekend pass from Camp Lejeune.

A Marine escort to a swanky party in Clifton Heights sounded glamorous and fun to the girls — then 15-year-old Hallahan Catholic Girls High School sophomores. But it was neither, Josie said.

“We were young, and we felt so out of place with all of the Marines there, who all had something to talk and laugh with each other about,” said Josie. “They seemed like old men to us.” Her date, George, was 19.

“We were trying to figure out how to get home [to North Philadelphia] from there. But we didn’t know how, so we had to stay.” Since they were stuck, they danced with their dates. George seemed nice, Josie said.

After her brother and his friends returned to North Carolina, Dina told Josie she was writing a letter to her date, and asked Josie to write to George. “What would I say?” Josie asked. “Just write to him,” said her friend. So Josie did.

“I thought she was cute, but I was a little surprised to receive her letter,” said George, who is also from North Philadelphia. “I just thought she was my date to the party; I didn’t expect to ever see her again.”

George wrote back, and so did Josie. When George wrote next, he said he would be coming home again soon — the first weekend in March — and asked if she’d like to go out with him.

Their second date was just the two of them. “We probably went to get a hamburger at the Hot Shoppe [a place on Hunting Park that had carhops] and then sat in the car and necked, probably at Fairmount Park,” said Josie.

“Our letters got really different after that,” she said. “They got mushy,” said George. George and his unit were sent to Puerto Rico, and it would be six months before his next leave. He and Josie wrote each other several times a week and their relationship grew through the mail.

“By September, I couldn’t wait to see her. She was so fun to be with, and after that, I came home as often as I could,” George said.

Josie took George to her junior and senior proms. He finished his stint with the Marines in 1959 and spent a year making doughnuts for Josie’s parents, who owned William Penn Donuts.

“My parents loved him right away,” Josie said. Her mother liked that George was comfortable enough to help himself to ice water from their fridge. Her father bonded with him as a fellow Marine.

In February 1960, George began his career with the Philadelphia Police Department. That spring, Josie’s family moved to the Far Northeast. She graduated from high school and took a job at Spiegel catalog company. Josie was as close to George’s parents, Joseph and Mary, as he was to hers. His mother would invite her to dinner sometimes when George worked nights — even when things between Josie and her son were uncertain.

“From the time I graduated in 1960 and all through 1961, we were on again, off again, on again, off again, with no commitment,” Josie said.

George would go out after work with other police officers to places Josie, not yet 21, couldn’t go. And she had her first real job and plenty of offers to go get hamburgers from neighborhood boys. “It was, well, you go and do your thing, and I’ll do my thing,” she said.

They both went out with other people, but Josie said she always thought about George.

One night in January 1962, Mary invited Josie to dinner. “Lo and behold, George comes walking in. He was supposed to be working 4 to 12. I thought, ‘Oh my God, I don’t believe this!’ ”

“The sergeant let me go home early,” George told her at the time. (“I kind of knew she was going to be at my mom’s place,” he confesses six decades later. “I asked the sergeant if I could take four hours off.”)

Mary asked her son if he would drive Josie home. They made small talk until he pulled up outside her family home. Then he asked a very big question:

“Do you want to get married?”

“What?” asked the stunned Josie.

“Yes or no,” said George.

“Well, OK,” said Josie.

George pulled out a calendar, counted off the weeks of waiting their Catholic church required, and suggested they wed on Feb. 10, 1962.

They married at Corpus Christi Catholic Church before a small group of family and friends, held a reception at George’s parents’ house, and stayed one night at the George Washington Hotel on Roosevelt Boulevard.

Raising a family

The couple has four children: George Jr., Joseph, Matthew, and Jennifer. After their first was born, Josie stopped working. George worked more. “At one point, he had three jobs to provide for me and the children,” said Josie, now 79 and still appreciative.

George appreciates what she did, too. “I was never home — in addition to being a police officer, I worked part-time at a gas station, I drove cabs, I worked at the A&P. And she did a great job raising our kids. She is a good mother, a good cook. She’s got a heart as big as a mountain. She’s just a good person,” said George, now 84.

Soon after their youngest was school-age, Josie returned to work. She began volunteering, doing whatever was needed at Our Lady of Calvary school, then became a secretary at Archbishop Ryan and St. Thomas Aquinas before joining Holy Family University as secretary to the careers director. She worked there for five years, and in her 50s took journalism classes. For a couple of years, she wrote freelance feature stories for the local paper and still hopes to one day write a book.

After nearly 30 years with the Police Department, including 19 as a detective, George retired. He became a security guard and transportation manager for Provident Mutual Life Insurance, then drove a Bristol Township school bus for five years.

When their children were growing up, they played many sports, and Josie and George often helped with coaching. “We were so busy with who had practice, who had games, who was transporting the team to the games, and we loved it,” said Josie.

The couple raised their children in Kensington, Northeast Philadelphia, and Croydon. They downsized to an apartment for many years, but now live in Bristol Township across the street from son Matthew. They have seven grandchildren: Katarina, Jenna, Jessica, Joshua, Chelsea, Joseph Jr., and Jacob. Everyone is local, so family gatherings are frequent.

Asked what makes their marriage work, Josie said, “We can laugh at ourselves and laugh at each other. We can cry together and we can argue together.”

George is more succinct: “I do whatever she wants,” he said.

He does, said Josie. “He drives me wherever I want to go. I like thrift stores — he does not, but he will stay in the car and read.” George favors police and spy stories. Josie’s favorite find was a book, I Am Anthony — a story of a man who skips church to go fishing and saves a friend’s life — which she purchased for 50 cents while picking up donated uniforms for her Cub Scout troop at Goodwill. “It’s the best book I have ever read, and you can’t find copies anywhere.”

Pre-pandemic, George attended senior citizens’ meetings and played golf and poker. These days, he takes long walks and does the digging and the watering for Josie’s ever-expanding garden of bleeding hearts, Lenten rose, canna, columbine, and wisteria.

“It’s too much work,” George said. “But I do it because I love her.”