Joe & Marianne Trovato
Marianne was into rock and roll, feminism, and her freedom. But to support the dear friend looking for a nice Catholic boy to settle down with — and because there was always free beer and snacks at these things — Marianne would sometimes attend church-affiliated singles dances. That’s where she was one spring evening in 1976 when, from among the clean-shaven familiar, a bearded, long-haired stranger appeared, walking toward her.
Joe was into rock and roll, motorcycles, and his freedom. He lived in Rochester, N.Y., but his father had taken the family to Philadelphia yearly to visit his best World War II Army buddy. Both men had passed, but their families remained close, and Joe and his mother were visiting in 1976 when his father’s friend’s son invited Joe to go with him to a singles dance. It was Dullsville until he saw her — a tall, thin, redhead.
“Are you as bored as I am?” he asked, launching a discussion of everything from his Harley and the Beatles to her career in special education and her Woodstock experience. Joe had so wanted to be on Max Yasgur’s farm, too. But he had followed his father into the Army via the ROTC, and had to report to basic training instead. He was supposed to go to the war in Vietnam, but his orders were changed so the Army could use his engineering skills stateside.
Marianne, who lived with her parents in Northeast Philly, was enchanted. “There was a connection right away,” she remembers.
“She kissed me goodbye and gave me a piece of paper with her phone number on it,” said Joe.
For years, they exchanged phone calls and letters filled with ideas about the world. Whenever they managed to see each other, there was romance and adventures on the back of Joe’s Harley-Davidson. But the majority of the dates Joe and Marianne had were with other people.
Marianne earned her master’s degree from Millersville and launched a 35-year career with the Bucks County Intermediate Unit. She spent her summers traveling — camping in the Pacific Northwest, and then the Southwest, flying to Egypt to visit a friend who was teaching English there.
Joe earned his master’s degree from Purdue University, then joined the Peace Corps. He spent about two and half years in Jamaica, training engineering graduates in Kingston, perfecting his diving, and learning about the culture from new friends who were part of it. Marianne visited him there twice. The second time, she came with a suitcase packed with peanut butter, magazines, and other things he missed from home, and he borrowed a friend’s car so he could take her to Negril. They were having drinks at Rick’s Cafe, watching the sunset and the cliff divers, when Joe asked:
“Will you marry me?”
“Oh!” Marianne gasped, her mind racing. She did not want the kind of marriage that worked for her parents. But she knew Joe didn’t, either. They had a solid friendship and undeniable chemistry. But was his question even real? Or was this just the loneliness of a mid-30s guy living in a country where virtually all women his age had long been married mothers?
Maybe Joe was just feeling this in the moment, but she was, too.
“Yes!” she said.
Joe returned to Rochester in May 1982. Since she had a career, they decided he would move to Philadelphia. He didn’t need to find a job right away, she told him. She wanted them to figure out if marriage was really what they wanted before he built a Philly-based life.
Joe drove down in his 1971 Plymouth Valiant. They removed the back seat, loaded up gear and supplies, and camped their way west to Colorado, and then north to Juno, Alaska. By the end of that 12,000-mile summer, there was no doubt they wanted to travel through the rest of their lives together, said Joe.
Their wedding was set for Valentine’s Day weekend 1983, but the snow started hard and kept falling. The priest said he couldn’t get the church doors open. A girlfriend did not know exactly where her Volkswagen Beetle was buried. Joe was stuck without a snow shovel at the Bensalem apartment the two would soon share. There was no choice but to postpone the wedding. A week later, Joe and Marianne married at St. Jerome’s and had a reception for 100 at the Shack on Roosevelt Boulevard. It was a sunny 45 degrees.
The following summer, they honeymooned in Bavaria, Northern Italy, France, and Switzerland.
The next year, they bought their Bensalem home, not far from their first apartment. In 1985, son Matthew was born. Marianne took a year’s sabbatical from teaching, but after that, a child-care solution had to be found. Joe, a mechanical engineer who worked at several local manufacturing companies before retiring in 2016 from Insinger Machine Co., told Marianne he would take a break from his career if they couldn’t find a good option. It turned out her sister, Bernadette, wanted to care for her nephew, but Joe’s willingness to stay home with his son — rare for the time — underscored for Marianne that their partnership was special. Marianne was also able to be with her children for a year after son Luke was born.
Joe and Marianne took their young boys everywhere. A favorite family trip: 18 days in California, from San Francisco to San Diego, exploring the redwoods and Alcatraz, and then dipping down to Tijuana. As teens, Matthew and Luke were way more into sleeping in and hanging out with friends than traipsing about with their parents. Aunt Bernadette welcomed them to the Shore while their parents saw Mackinac Island, Mich., Atlanta, and much more of the country, summer after summer.
After their boys got places of their own, the couple added to their nest, creating a Victorian room, filled with findings from Marianne’s favorite historic era, a rock-and-roll room with memorabilia, and a Harley room that’s an ode to Joe’s two motorcycles. The Trovatos love their home base but whenever they can, Joe, now 72, and Marianne, 74, take to the open road, or the skies, or the sea.
Marianne retired in 2005. In 2008 — 25 years after they married — she and Joe won a Farmers’ Almanac Worst Wedding Weather Contest and a cruise to Aruba, Puerto Rico, St. Martin, and other islands. They have since hiked to Machu Picchu; saw the Galápagos Islands by guided panga boat; walked to the Great Wall of China’s fifth watchtower; and communed with kangaroos, koalas, and the fish of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. In 2019, they traveled to Bethel Woods for Woodstock’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Joe and Marianne were set to see Antarctica in March 2020 when the United Nations declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
“Airports were still open, but we were worried that by the time we would have been returning, we would have gotten stuck in quarantine, outside of the country,” Joe said. “And we were listening to Dr. Fauci, and he said that seniors shouldn’t travel,” said Marianne.
Disappointment disintegrated into pure joy that May, when Leonardo, their first grandchild, was born to Luke and daughter-in-law Jackie. Every family member was very careful so that a masked Joe and Marianne could meet Leo. This spring, vaccinations and lower COVID rates meant Leo could see Grandma and Grandpa’s faces without masks for the first time. Joe, Marianne, and Leo spend a full day together each week.
The easing of restrictions has also brought the couple back to the gym, where they are getting in shape for a September trip to Iceland and a rescheduled trip to the bottom of the planet in February 2022.