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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

They were each other’s first crushes. 70 years later, they said ‘I do.’

By Maham Javaid Washington Post

As they took the dance floor at their wedding in late March, Elaine Hall and Roland Passaro asked the band to announce that their first dance would be a romantic number.

Then they stepped out to hop a fast-paced jitterbug while the band broke into a rendition of “Kansas City,” a hit from the 1950s – when they first danced together as teenagers.

The wedding party, consisting of their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, laughed and cheered in delight watching the 88-year-old newlyweds cut up the dance floor at the Grand Haven Amenities in Palm Coast, Florida.

The wedding was the culmination of a decadeslong love story that saw them reconnect after about 50 years apart. Hall and Passaro grew up four blocks apart in Allentown, Pennsylvania, developing crushes on each other as they attended middle and high school together in the 1950s.

They took diverging paths in their 20s, then met again at their 50th high school reunion in 2003. A heartfelt conversation that evening led to months of emails and phone calls. They moved in together after about a year of dating, and in October, they decided to get married.

As teenagers, the couple danced together at the YMCA or parties at friends’ houses. At the time, Passaro was a star athlete and Hall the head cheerleader. While playing games such as “spin the bottle” at house parties, cheering and competing at school games, and taking classes together, each felt the chemistry between them.

“In today’s parlance, you would say, she was hot,” Passaro said. “She was the smartest girl in class and knew the answer to every question.”

Hall remembers: “Roland was as handsome as could be, he was the star player, and all the girls liked him. But he liked me, so that was nice.”

But Hall and Passaro didn’t date each other in high school.

Passaro felt he was “too young to go steady with anyone at that age,” he said. “I wanted to play the field.”

After high school, Passaro went to college, got married, raised three children, played professional baseball, built a business and eventually ended up working for an airline in Miami.

That’s when his first wife, Suzanne Passaro, got sick. Passaro nursed her through her four-year battle with cancer. Less than a year before Suzanne passed, their family was faced with the sudden death of their 37-year-old son, John Passaro.

“He had some depression,” Hall said about that year of Passaro’s life. “He wasn’t even planning on attending the reunion until his family talked him into it.”

At the 2003 reunion, Passaro, dressed in a dark suit, laid eyes on Hall after 50 years. She was wearing a black pantsuit and a silky top with a scoop neckline that they both remember.

Hall stayed in Allentown after high school. She joined the Morning Call, a local newspaper, and began working her way up. She got married, raised three children, got divorced in her 40s, and retired at 66 as the Morning Call’s director of advertising and business development.

She was settled in a condo in Atlantic City when she traveled to Allentown for the reunion.

“There was an attraction between us that night,” Hall said. “When I went over to say goodbye, he leaned over and gave me a kiss.”

The two agreed to keep in touch over email, but before that promise could materialize, Passaro mailed Hall a handwritten letter from Miami. She read the letter and called him. That first phone call was six hours long.

“That preceded three months of phone calls and emails,” Hall said. “It was such a magical time.”

Three months into their correspondence, Passaro invited Hall to Miami. That first time, she stayed for four days. But when Hall went to see her beau for Christmas that year, they decided she would be staying forever.

“By then, every time I opened a closet, it was filled with her clothes,” Passaro said. “And I asked her to have anything else she needed sent to us.”

The couple said their secret to happiness together is sharing values and interests.

“We are both family-oriented,” Passaro said. “Devoted to our kids and grandkids, and now our great-grandkids.”

Hall and Passaro enjoy art shows, going out to dinner and traveling together, they said. They take turns reading to each other before they fall asleep at night. And they love to golf together.

“They are so adorable at the golf course,” said Roland Passaro’s son James Passaro. “He hits the ball, and she tells him which way it went because he can’t see very well.”

“He’s an incredible player at 88; he can still score if she can see for him,” James said.

The couple has also seen dark times together. Hall’s 67-year-old son, Robert Hall, passed in 2021, and Passaro proved to be “my rock, through the toughest period of my life.” The pair said they believe they understand each other so well because of their shared history.

“The thing about getting older is that very few people remember you from when you were young,” Hall said. “But I remember Rollie as the vibrant young fellow who could throw a ball as far as the eye could see.”

“And I remember how beautiful and exciting she was when she was 15, and I can say that she’s just as beautiful and exciting today,” Passaro said.

Last October, as they sat down to have a glass of wine after dinner, Hall wondered out loud why they hadn’t gotten married.

Passaro remarked that neither of them had discussed it until this point.

“Well, what do you think about it?” Hall said.

“Let’s do it,” Passaro replied.

Both of them had tears in their eyes, Hall said.

The wedding was a family affair. Hall’s daughters, Elizabeth Zakeosian and Patricia Beals, visited six wedding gown boutiques with her until they found the “classy” gown that fit Hall like a glove. They also had a girls’ night with her on the eve of the wedding, and they walked her down the aisle. A daughter’s husband assembled the arch that held the flowers.

Passaro’s sons James and Ron kept him company on the eve of wedding. They walked him down the aisle, and James served as officiant while Ron was the best man. James’s wife selected the flowers. Two great-granddaughters, ages 11 and 1, dressed in white, were the flower girls.

The couple even had an in-house wedding planner, a granddaughter who had the unenviable task of ensuring that their family, spread from Hawaii to Allentown, was present at the wedding.

In keeping with tradition, the couple spent the night before their wedding apart.

The wedding had a “celebratory mood,” James Passaro said. “The families have known each other for years so this was a good climax to a great love story.”

The next day, they set off on a short honeymoon, seven decades after they were first smitten with each other at school.

“We all have a special place in our hearts for our first big crush, and he was mine,” Hall told The Post on a phone call, as she sat beside her husband. “And I think I was his.”

“You were,” Passaro told her. “You were my first big crush.”