First published in the Feb. 11 print issue of the South Pasadena Review.
It started as a softball game.
She hit the ball so hard that it went into a field where the boys were playing. The girls were so embarrassed that she had to go over and retrieve the ball from him.
That was how the love affair began when they were growing up in the Detroit area. Now, seven children, 15 grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren later, they are teammates and friends, husband and wife.
Joe and Sylvia Platte — longtime residents of South Pasadena — celebrated their 71st wedding anniversary earlier this month and they are each other’s valentines 365 days a year. Joe still holds his wife’s hand and still holds the chair for her when she sits down. Sylvia recalls that once when they were going into Holy Family Church, a priest commented glowingly on the fact that he always saw them holding hands.
“Every night, he takes my hand before he goes to bed,” Sylvia said.
“I sleep holding hands with her,” Joe confirmed.
I can see some couple reading this and the wife thinking, “Why doesn’t my husband do that?” At the same time, there will also be people who think such a custom is antique and too much for them.
But when you are Sylvia and Joe, there is no such thing as too much when it comes to showing their affection for each other. Sylvia is going to be 88 on Feb. 26, while Joe will be 92 in August.
“They are true valentines,” said daughter Theresa Gillette. “Mom used to put notes in dad’s lunch box every morning when she packed his lunch, and he would write one back to her. Sometimes they were romantic, and sometimes they were silly, but they always did it.”
Sylvia recalled that her first date with Joe was to church, during Lent.
“My dad sat in the row behind us,” she said. “He was very protective of his daughters.”
Sylvia remembers Joe as “the nicest looking guy in class” and the one who took her to his senior prom when she was a sophomore, and who she later took to her junior prom.
Joe proposed to her in front of the local A&W Root Beer stand after a movie and they were married the following year in 1951. She recalls her nice shoes got all wet that day, but she wasn’t showing up for the wedding in boots. Joe built the home they moved into in Saint Clair Shores, Michigan, after they were married.
“One of my favorite stories of them is that when they got married, the priest almost refused to perform the ceremony — saying they were too young and it would never last,” Theresa said. “They still laugh about that now.”
The three children I talked to all had “mom and dad” stories.
Oldest daughter Sondra Platte said after the family moved west to Highland Park in 1958, and later to South Pasadena from 1977-98, her mom used to get homesick.
“He’d make sure she got to call home and he’d also make sure that we didn’t bother her while she was talking,” Sondra recalled of her father. “Back in those days, it was a big deal to have the money to make a long-distance call for 10-15 minutes.”
At that time, Joe was a carpenter and master craftsman for a grocery chain, while Sylvia ran the household. After the children were out of school — the youngest three graduated from South Pasadena High School — Sylvia entered the real estate business. Son Fred recalled the time everyone — including mom — got sick and dad had to do all the cooking — something that he was definitely not a “master of.” Luckily, everyone got nursed back to health that week.
Sondra remembers that if someone got a great report card, he or she got something extra special, but everyone went along to share in the good fortune when they went for ice cream.
“They wanted to reward the person who did the something special, but they wanted to make sure everyone was in on the celebration,” she said.
Sylvia said that they always tried to teach their children by example, and Fred’s wife Debbie said that her husband learned his lessons well.
“I’m a 30-year cancer survivor and I could never have gone through it alone,” Debbie, married to Fred for 45 years, said. “Fred’s been with me every step of the way.
“They respect each other and their opinions,” she said of Joe and Sylvia. “Fred learned from his surroundings. His parents are a great example of what parents are supposed to be and those are the kind of things we’ve tried to pass along to our kids.”
It was Fred who told me about his dad taking care of the family when everyone else got sick and he also recalled being shooed away when his mom made her phone calls home to Michigan.
“Mom and dad just like each other and they respect each other as friends,” he said.
That love is on display in their well-perused wedding album, and it is especially on display during the family’s annual Christmas party, where every year, except for 2020, there is a group photo taken and it is used for a family calendar.
Theresa said that when her daughter got married in 2021, the bride and groom had an “anniversary dance” where all the married couples started dancing. The DJ then eliminated the couples by years of marriage until only Sylvia and Joe were left.
Then the bride and groom presented Sylvia with the bouquet.
You probably won’t be surprised to learn that they are both good dancers and took up roller skating after they retired and moved to their current home in Claremont.
“Mom and dad are devoted to each other and their family,” Theresa said. “They both worked hard and sacrificed much while raising their kids but are able to enjoy the results and live comfortably now.”
I confess that the Sylvia and Joe, until 1998, were my neighbors and are still my landlords and good friends. I can second every single bouquet that their children have tossed their way.
“It’s hard to imagine that it has been 71 years,” Sylvia said. “I can’t imagine not having Joe by my side. I couldn’t get along without him.”
“We need each other,” added Joe.
Columnist’s Note: If you have a Valentine’s story you’d like to share, please send a letter to the editor to share a romantic moment or to say why your valentine is so special to firstname.lastname@example.org.