Couples celebrate half-century of joy, suffering, hope, sorrow

By Michelle Martin
Sunday, October 2, 2016

Couples celebrate half-century of joy, suffering, hope, sorrow

Archbishop Cupich gives his homily during the Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass at Holy Name Cathedral on Sept. 18. (John Smierciak/Catholic New World)
Melba and Kevin Cuttore from St. Edna Parish in Arlington Heights, renew their vows along with the rest of couples during the Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass at Holy Name Cathedral. (John Smierciak/Catholic New World)
Couples renew their vows during Mass. (John Smierciak/Catholic New World)
Ramon and Gregoria Ortiz from Resurrection Parish take part in the Mass. (John Smierciak/Catholic New World)
Richard and Charlene Elmore of Prince of Peace Parish in Lake Villa, hold hands as they wait to cross the street to attend the Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass on Sept. 18. (John Smierciak/Catholic New World)
Jay and Lorraine Popek on their wedding day in 1966. Photo provided (unknown/unknown)

When Lorraine and Jay Popek went to the Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass at Holy Name Cathedral Sept. 18, they joined the other couples in bringing with them a half-century’s worth of joy and suffering, hope and sorrow.

“It turned out pretty good,” said Lorraine Popek.

They were among about 450 couples wed in 1966 who participated in the annual Mass honoring people married for 50 years.

The Popeks, who plan to celebrate their Oct. 8 anniversary with a getaway to Michigan, met at a Valentine’s Day dance at Chicago Tech College, where Jay earned a degree in engineering, they said. At the dance, Jay’s date was a friend of Lorraine’s, and Lorraine had another date.

A year and a half after they became friends, they starting dating. They married when Jay was 24 and Lorraine was 23. Shortly after marrying, they moved from Chicago to Cicero, where they still live. They belong to St. Leonard Parish in Berwyn.

The Popeks faced plenty of challenges over the years. Jay, who suffers from degenerative retinal disease, started losing his vision in his 20s, and their daughter, who had bipolar disorder, died at 35. Their son — now married 25 years himself, with seven children, went through a rough time as a teenager, Lorraine Popek said, and for a time, the whole family was in therapy.

“It was totally different than we thought it would be,” Lorraine Popek said. “There were all the trials and tribulations and things that happened.”

As their marriage started, the whole country was going through great social change and civil unrest, Jay Popek said, but some things were easier then than they are now.

“It was still quite easy to get a job back then,” said Popek, who had a 40-year design engineering career even as his eyesight failed. “You could have a job in a week if you wanted one.”

Asked what the secret to a long marriage is, Jay Popek said couples must find a source of stability. That includes financial stability.

“If you don’t have a steady income, if you can’t meet the bills, people argue and marriages break down,” he said.

Other kinds of steadiness are just as important.

“Look for stability where you can get it,” he said. “In a lot of cases, that’s your religion. If you can keep things steady and even, things will go a lot better.”

Lorraine Popek said couples must work together to get through their problems, and not ignore issues in hopes that they will go away.

“Don’t separate yourself from your issues, and don’t try to do it alone,” she said.

When it comes to making a marriage work for half a century, Janis Praznowski agreed that all the practical advice applies.

“Talk, talk, talk,” she said. “You have to communicate.”

But laughter, she said, is also essential.

“That’s what I’m having put on our cake, ‘Love plus laughter equals 50,’” Janis Praznowski said.

Stanley Praznowski said he remembers seeing his future wife at a parish festival, working at a booth.

“I was too shy to go up to her and say anything,” Stanley Praznowski said. “I was only maybe 17.”

He ran into her later, when she was in high school and working a part-time job in the admitting department at St. Mary of Nazareth Hospital.

“He came in with his mother,” Janis Praznowski said. “And then he asked if he could drive me home. I was 16.”

That was in 1963. The couple married on Oct. 1, 1966, and they have two grown sons and four grandchildren, all of whom live within eight blocks of their North Side home.

Janis Praznowski said she wanted to make sure they could attend the Golden Wedding Anniversary Mass because she appreciates the gift that her marriage is.

“The church is very important to me,” she said. “And I have so many friends and family members who didn’t get to celebrate 50 years. I am so grateful I was able to do it.”

Janis is 70 now. In addition to raising her sons, she worked in the personnel department of a major corporation and then at the Merchandise Mart. Her husband is a retired Chicago police officer.

He said the secret to making a marriage last is marrying the right person to start with.

“You find the right person,” he said. “I was so lucky that I did.”

After that, he said, you can’t hold grudges. The Praznowskis said they didn’t argue often, but if they did, they got over it quickly.

“We always seemed to make it up shortly after,” he said.

In October, the whole family, grandchildren and all, will celebrate their anniversary by going to Disney World.