by Erin COLLINS
Francis and Geraldine Iannuzzelli have something to celebrate. On October 17, 1953 they were married at Our Lady of Perpetual Help church in the First Ward of Buffalo. This month they will join family and friends to commemorate their golden anniversary.
Even though it was 50 years ago, the couple still remembers exchanging vows like it was yesterday. The bridesmaids wore blue dresses and the groomsmen sweated in their tuxedos in the 80-degree sunny weather. "We went to Delaware Park to get pictures taken. It was a scorcher," Frank said.
Frank and Geri's courtship began seven years before their wedding day when they met at St. Simon's Friday night dance.
"It's what the kids used to do every Friday," Geri recalled. The couple went on dates and group outings with friends to the Angola Dance Hall, roller rinks, bowling allies and movies. They remember taking the Crystal Beach boat across Lake Erie to the Canadian amusement park. "It had three decks, an open bar and a dance floor where they used to play music. They had slot machines, too," Frank said. Unlike the jeans and t-shirts of today, young ladies wore skirts and blouses and gentlemen wore slacks and dress shirts when they went out.
Both Frank and Geri started working at a young age. "My first job was in a candy kitchen and then I worked for Kleinhan's, a men's clothing store," said Geri. She also worked with Frank as a Child Support Enforcement officer and was even a mentor to a first grader at Truman Elementary School before retiring.
"The first job I had was sticking pins at Recckio's," Frank said. "My second job was at JW Clements paper factory." He also worked for Prudential Life Insurance and is now a security guard at Park View Towers, an apartment complex for seniors.
Eventually, Frank and Geri knew they wanted to get married. "It was just time," Geri said. Their first home was an apartment on Folger St. in South Buffalo. They lived there two years for $80 per month. At the time, Frank worked for Donna-Hanna Coke and Geri worked at Retail Merchant's Credit Bureau. They lived in several other homes before settling down permanently.
In 1956, Frank and Geri's only daughter, Audrey Ann, was born. A few years later, they started an annual family summer vacation to Crystal Beach. Every summer for about ten years they would spend two weeks at a cottage, which was walking distance to the beach and amusement park. They remember the rides, sugar waffles and loganberry.
Around the same time the Crystal Beach tradition started, Frank and Geri moved to their current residence in Lackawanna.
"There were only three houses on the circle, a dirt road and no street lights," Frank said. "Now, there are 27 homes."
They paid $15,000 for their home, but on the day they moved in it had no screens or storm doors. The installation would have cost around $500. "The contractor asked me if I was a gambling man. We flipped a nickel and I won, so he put them in for free," he said.
That wouldn't be Frank's last gamble. The couple started vacationing in Las Vegas in 1967 and have been going annually ever since. Spending so much time in casinos, Frank has learned a method for gambling responsibly. "I used to play it all and you'll lose your nose that way," he said. "So, for the last 15 years, I've stuck with video poker and I've been holding my own."
When Frank heads for the double-down poker quarter machines in Las Vegas, he has a plan for winning. "I've got a system, most of the time it works. The first thing is, you must understand the game you're playing. The second thing is luck. The third thing is money management. You limit yourself on how much you can afford to lose," he said.
Geri, who doesn't gamble at all, plays the role of banker. When Frank hits the jackpot, she takes the winnings and keeps it in her purse until they get home. It's a big job to manage the money of such a lucky gambler. Frank has hit the Royal Flush, the best hand dealt in poker, three times in one week. His biggest win ever was during a gambling junket in 1980 at the Tropicana Hotel and Casino. "I had to put up $2,500 to gamble, but all expenses were paid for," Frank said. "I won $6,000."
Las Vegas isn't the only place they like to vacation. Frank and Geri have been to places like Alaska, Florida and Hawaii. "We've driven through every state except Oregon and Maine," Frank said.
When they're not traveling, Geri spends a lot of time in the kitchen. Italian food, particularly sauce, is her specialty. "I learned to cook from all of my friends and relatives," she said. "I was very interested in learning and I would ask anyone that I came into contact with about it."
The couple also loves spending time with their two grandchildren. For Frank and Geri Iannuzzelli, the past five decades have been full of happy memories and love. They know what it takes to make a relationship last.
"Love for each other first, and trust," said Frank. "As the years go on, you get stronger. It's a two way street," he said. "You cannot have one person 'wear the pants'. That's when a relationship doesn't succeed. It has to be a joint effort."
"It takes understanding and patience, a lot of patience. And love," said Geri.
"You just have to make it, that's all." And obviously they did!
Erin Collins is a staff associate for Living Prime Time and the granddaughter of Frank and Geri Iannuzzelli.
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