For couples celebrating 70 and 35 years of marriage, happiness is not found in material things
June 16, 2018
As Diana Dickhute spoke to her friend on the phone, she didn’t know that her future husband of 70 years was listening in.
At the time, Diana was working for an American family in Italy, and her now-husband, Donald, was stationed on an army base nearby, working as a switchboard operator.
Diana and her friend were having a conversation when Donald interrupted, speaking a dialect of Italian that Diana could not understand, but her friend could. Her friend and Donald started having a conversation, which Diana later found out was her friend setting her up on a date with him.
They eventually met, and dated for about nine months, during which time Donald would sneak off of the base to go see her. They got married in Italy in 1948.
Soon afterward, the couple moved to the United States, where Donald got a job at Fort Belvoir. At first, Diana was staying with his family on a farm in Louisiana. She did not enjoy it because she did not speak English, and his siblings gave her a hard time.
Diana wrote a letter to Donald in Italian, telling him, “If you don’t come and get me, I’m going back to Italy.”
So, he got her a babysitting job at Fort Belvoir, and they lived together in the Barracks, where their first baby was born. They eventually moved out and rented a place of their own.
For more than 30 years, Diana continued babysitting for different children, who her daughter, Mary Ann Clementi, said “became like family.” After working at Fort Belvoir for about 20 years, Donald got a job at the Pentagon, where he worked until he retired. Most of the time, he was also working a second job as an auto mechanic.
“We didn’t have much, but we worked hard, and we were happy,” said Diana.
The couple has two children and now five grandchildren. Donald went to church every Sunday with Diana and their kids, and when it came time for his kids to receive the sacraments, he was inspired to formally become Catholic. After he did, they were married again, this time in the Church, at the Basilica of St. Mary in Alexandria.
For their 50th anniversary, they renewed their vows at Holy Rosary Church in Washington, which is now their parish.
“I think it is going to stick,” Donald joked.
Diana said she believes that the sacrament of marriage is important because, “If you have faith in God, things work out better.”
While her kids were growing up, Diana was determined to send them to college, “if I had to scrub the floors,” she said.
“I wanted my kids to have a college education,” she said, adding that she never had school because she started working on her aunt’s farm when she was 11 years old.
Their children did go on to college and have also built strong marriages of their own. Their son, John, recently celebrated his 40th anniversary, and their daughter, Mary Ann Clementi, is celebrating her 35th wedding anniversary in July.
Mary Ann’s daughter recently got engaged and will be getting married in July 2019.
When asked what advice they would give their granddaughter or other couples preparing for marriage, Diana said it was important to “be happy with what you have.”
“Never be jealous of your neighbor, because as long as you are healthy and happy, you’ll make it,” she said. “…The young people want too much, they aren’t happy with little. We were happy with what we had.”
Mary Ann said her advice for her daughter would be, “If you think it is all going to be a bed of roses and easy, it is not.”
Agreeing, her husband, Sal Clementi, said, “It requires work every day.”
“When you get married, try to remember it is only happening once,” he said. “When you make a commitment, you will be happy.”
Mary Ann’s final piece of advice was, “Don’t give up your faith. That is the one thing that is the only constant.”
Mary Ann and Sal met at work, while Mary Ann was working for the Marine Corps and Sal was working for the Navy.
“I knew right away he was different,” said Mary Ann. “He really respected you. He treated me like I expected to be treated.”
The two got married a little more than a year later, and had three kids, who they said were the biggest blessing of their marriage. When they were born, Mary Ann stopped working to stay home with them.
During that time, Mary Ann started volunteering as a CCD teacher for her children. She said that experience helped her grow in her faith, which later sustained her through some of the difficult times in their marriage, such as having two miscarriages.
“If it hadn’t been for my faith, I don’t know what I would have done,” she said. Mary Ann and Sal also attend Holy Rosary Parish.
Like her parents, Mary Ann noted that they were happy despite not having everything that the people around them did, like many of their neighbors who would take elaborate vacations. But when she mentioned to her kids how she wished they could have done, they said, “We never missed it.”
“We both have the idea that material things are just material things,” said Mary Ann. “They are not important. For us, the most important thing is God and then our family.”
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