By John Michael Lockhart
It began with an email, Valentine’s Day 2013. The subject line immediately caught my attention: LA Family Forum Announces Louisiana's Top-Ten Longest Married Couples. As my eyes scanned down the list of ten couples, there it was: Ed and Hilda Guedry, 73 years, Brusly, LA.
For the past six Valentine’s Days, Louisiana Family Forum has included in its “longest married” list at least one westside couple every year. Ed and Hilda Guedry made the list in 2013 and 2014, Jack and Felicie Rogillio were included in 2015, 2016, and 2017, and Charlie and Rita Serio of Morganza were on the list 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018.
For an area that represents about one percent of this state’s population, the westside has been well-represented with six nonagenarian lovebirds. For me, someone who was particularly close to my maternal grandparents, getting to know all six of these representatives of the “Greatest Generation” was a blessing like no other.
Ed and Hilda Guedry The first time I met the Guedrys was on Valentine’s Day 2013.
Just as quickly as I had opened the email from Louisiana Family Forum was I on the phone to call them. That afternoon they returned my call, and 20 minutes later, I was in their living room. The Guedrys hadn’t been home that long from the Governor’s Mansion when I arrived. Of the ten “longest married” couples La. Family Forum was honoring that day, they were one of just three pairs to attend the party in their honor.
They also stole the show, LFF’s Jennifer Beard told me after the event. During the reception, an arrangement of 'I Left My Heart in San Francisco' was played, and Edward set his cane aside and invited his bride to dance. The guests in the Great Room in the Mansion fell silent, eyes were tear-filled, and we witnessed a special expression of love,” she said.
What I remember most about the first time I met them was how many of their family members I knew, including a couple of their grandsons I first met in college. There were two things about Mr. Ed that I learned quickly: he loved to play golf, and he loved making miniature birdhouses. After the article ran, I continued to keep up with the Guedrys. Mrs. Hilda and I became Facebook friends and, on occasion, they would invite me over for a slice or two of Mr. Ed’s banana nut bread. A few months after our first visit, I received a request from Mrs. Hilda. She asked if I would email the local newspaper in Assumption Parish the story I’d written.
I did them one better. I rewrote the article to highlight their connections to Assumption Parish and sent that to the Assumption Pioneer. They were so excited that their friends and relatives in their hometown could share in their seven-plus decades of married bliss, and I was honored to play a part in making that happen. When Mr. Ed died on New Years Day 2015, I was out of the country. In fact, I didn’t learn of his death until early February. I thought about visiting Mrs. Hilda on Feb. 6, which would have been their 75th anniversary, but decided Feb. 14 would be better. Because Valentine’s Day fell on a Saturday that year, the annual LFF list was emailed three days early and, to my great joy, two additional westside couples were now being honored for the longevity of their marriages. I wasted no time in calling both couples. Jack and Felicie Rogillio were closer to me, and I visited them that day; Charlie and Rita Serio were in Morganza, and I made arrangements to visit them that Saturday morning.
Shortly before making the drive to Morganza, I signed on to Facebook and learned that Mrs. Hilda had passed away at 7:33 a.m. that same morning. After eight decades of dating and then marriage, Mr. Ed and Mrs. Hilda’s death came just 45 days apart. For nearly two weeks I had thought every day of how I would visit her on Valentine’s Day, the second anniversary of the day we had first met, and now that day had arrived, and I’d waited too long. Jack and Felicie Rogillio Like the Guedrys, the Rogillios were a couple anyone would be blessed to have as grandparents. Mrs. Felicie’s nickname was “Happy” and you could see that in her face. Like Mr. Ed, Mr. Jack had also served in World War II. While Mr. Ed loved to talk about golf and his birdhouses, Mr. Jack was very proud of his service during World War II, and rightly so.
Mr. Jack volunteered to become a paratrooper because, he told me, the pay—an additional $50 per month— was better and he needed every dollar. From the fall of 1942 until June 1944, Mr. Jack was being trained in England to prepare himself for the liberation efforts in France. He served with Service Company, 506 Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division (Screaming Eagles). Mr. Jack was part of the first wave of paratroopers who landed in France just hours before the official start of D-Day, and from there he marched his way across Europe and one Allied success after another for nearly a year until victory in Europe was declared.
After the war, the Screaming Eagles’ exploits were published in book form, and Mr. Jack and I went through that book page by page. To this day, I feel so blessed to have shared that time with him. On the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend 2015, I paid the Rogillios a surprise visit. With me were two boys, age 10 and 11, and two girls, both eight. I was taking the kids to the Heartland Fair in Lafayette, but before that fun began, I wanted them to meet a real hero of World War II. The kids, especially the 10-year-old boy, Christian Fluker, were glued to every word Mr. Jack shared with them. Until the time of Mr. Jack’s death, Christian would continue to ask me about him.
On March 11, 2016, I visited the American cemetery at Omaha Beach with a friend of mine who is an aviation attorney in Paris. Like me, this was also her first visit to honor the thousands of men who gave their lives to liberate her country. Heloise and I shared the driving that day and, as she drove, I read her the article I had written about Mr. Jack’s heroic exploits.
The following year, May 15, I paid a surprise visit to the Rogillio’s home in Rosedale. I was headed back to France the following day and visiting Sainte Mere Elise, the village Mr. Jack helped liberate, was the top item on my agenda.
Upon my arrival, I learned Mr. Jack had entered hospice care and his days were numbered. Suddenly, a trip to France was the last thing on my mind, and the purpose of my visit did a 180. “When you’ve been married for 76 years, I have to assume that you don’t get to spend much time with other couples who have been together for as long as you have. Well, I have some friends in Morganza and tomorrow they’ll be celebrating their 75th wedding anniversary. When I get back to Port Allen, I’m going to give them a call. They are wonderful people; I think the four of you would love getting to know one another,” I told the Rogillios and their eldest daughter, Jackie, who was visiting from Tennessee.
Mr. Charlie and Mrs. Rita both loved the idea, and we made plans for the three of us to visit the Rogillios around noon on Wednesday. The first call I made that Wednesday morning was to my contact in Congressman Garret Graves’ office. I requested that two flags to be flown over the Capitol building in honor of two World War II veterans who had led exemplary lives as soldiers, citizens, husbands, and fathers. That was a request the congressman’s office was more than happy to grant.
On Wednesday, I drove to Morganza to pick up the Serios. The two of them sat lovingly in the back of my Tesla Model S bewildered that we were riding from Morganza to Rosedale on all-electric power. Of course, this would be of interest to Mr. Charlie since his father had established the first service station in Morganza 99 years earlier.
Arriving in Rosedale with a couple that had celebrated 75 years of marriage just one day earlier to meet a couple who had observed 76 years one month earlier was the most poignant moment of my 23 years as a publisher. You could feel the energy in the room as the two men discussed their military service in Europe and the women, seated a few feet away, discussed their families.
The Rogillios and Serios had briefly met on one other occasion, the previous Valentine’s Day at the Governor’s Mansion in Baton Rouge. Now, however, they were finally getting to know one another. As for my part, I just sat back and soaked it all in. I couldn’t stop thinking to myself, “This is so much better than any trip to Europe could ever be.”
At the end of the four hours, when we were winding this down and were preparing to leave, Mr. Jack had a request. He wanted to check out my all-electric car. Mrs. Felicie again reminded me that she drove an all-electric delivery truck during World War II that had a top speed of five miles an hour.
A couple of weeks later, I received a call from Congressman Graves’ office; the flags had arrived. I was so excited that I braved the Friday afternoon work traffic to the congressman’s office and arrived just before they closed for the weekend. The flags came packaged in plain cardboard boxes with separate certificates honoring the men’s service to their country and the couples’ long years of marriage.
On the morning of Saturday, June 3, I picked up one of my best friends, Stacy Ryan, and drove her to the Episcopal church in Rosedale to get married. From there I headed to the Rogillios home nearby. Mr. Jack, Mrs. Felicie, and Jackie were all so excited to receive such a special American flag from the U.S. Congress. I knew when I left the Rogillios that morning it was unlikely that I’d ever see Mr. Jack again. I was in downtown Boston when I received the call from Jackie I had been expecting for weeks. The date was July 16 and Jackie called to let me know her dad had passed away the previous day. He was just five weeks shy of his 99th birthday.
I was traveling outside of Louisiana for nearly all of the second half of last year and on one winter Saturday, when I was back home, I rode out to Rosedale on a whim to check in on Mrs. Felicie. My knocks on her door caught the attention of a neighbor who questioned me. “I’m John Michael with The Riverside Reader, and I came by to check on Mrs. Felicie.”
“She’s dead; she's been dead for a couple of months.” “Oh, I didn’t know. I’ll call Jackie and let her know I came by.” “She’s dead too.” I couldn't have been more stunned.
When I arrived back at my office, I immediately went online to read the obituaries in The Advocate. Felicie "Happy" Langlois Rogillio passed away on Sunday, October 15, 2017, three months after the death of her beloved husband of 76 years, Joseph C. "Jack" Rogillio, and 12 days after the death of her precious daughter, Jackie Rogillio. She was 95 years young. She traveled the world with her family and was a nurturer to many. She was the foundation of her family. Felicie enjoyed cross-stitching and working in her flower beds. She was a very happy, good-natured person who never met a stranger and never withheld love. Felicie was devoted to her husband, her faith and to God. While I knew that it was unlikely I would ever see Mr. Jack again, I hadn’t allowed myself to consider that I would never see Mrs. Felicie again.
Charlie and Rita Serio
When Valentine’s Day rolled around again this year, Charlie and Rita Serio were ranked among La. Family Forum’s Top 5 longest married couples. I first met them on Valentine’s Day 2015, a meeting which provided me with one of the most memorable moments of my life. My passion for American history dates to about the time I learned to crawl. My book collection, which began when I was in first grade, didn’t start at a bookstore or a school-sponsored book fair; it originated at an antique shop. It was there that I picked up a 658-page book published in 1876 on the history of the United States for $15; that 142-year-old book sits on my desk today.
If you can grasp how engrained America history has been throughout my life and how overjoyed I get by the discovery of a century-old history book as a first grader, then perhaps you’ll understand how excited I was when I learned that the Serios were holding on to a treasure trove of roughly 700 World War II era letters Mr. Charlie had written during his 26 months of service in northern Africa and Italy. Seven hundred letters that had been stored away in a Lucky Strikes cigarette box on the top shelf in their bathroom closet, untouched by human hands for 70 years. With their permission, I grabbed a step stool and dashed to the bathroom. It was a hefty box, and it required some maneuvering to ease out. For me it was like discovering the Titanic; the letters had been organized chronologically, and each stack of 15 or so letters was bound together with string. They offered me a stack of their letters, and that stack has had a special place in my office ever since.
When my birthday arrived this year, there was no question in my mind where I would spend it. I had been planning on writing a story on Serio’s Service Station, which Mr. Charlie’s father began at some point in 1918, since the summer of 2016. I conducted a round of interviews with Mr. Charlie and his younger brother, Jacko, and reached out to one of their nieces, Jeanine Lemoine, and great nieces, Natalie Thompson, to schedule a family reunion at the service station the following week, on March 1. That article will run Sept. 3, which marks the first day of this publication’s 25th year in business. The last time I visited Mr. Charlie and Mrs. Rita was on June 18 of this year. I had ridden with Natalie, who is deeply involved with Morganza’s revitalization efforts, to one of their committee meetings in Morganza. After the meeting, we visited her great aunt and uncle, and I saw a photo that caught my attention. One of the Serio’s great-grandchildren had recreated a photo Mr. Charlie and Mrs. Rita had posed for seven decades earlier when Mrs. Rita was pregnant with their first child. I had a brainstorm; at 10:20 p.m. that night I sent Jeanine a text: Jeanine: Do you have an Adirondack chair? Natalie and I are going to recreate an old photo of Mr. Charlie and Mrs. Rita. Two days later the chair was at the station. Just I was in Boston when I received word that Mr. Jack had passed away, I was in Boston when Natalie sent me a text that Mr. Charlie had died. While I knew Mr. Jack’s time was short when I left Louisiana to spend the summer in Cape Cod last summer, I had given too much thought to attending Mr. Charlie’s 100th birthday party in 2020 to ever consider that he could leave us in earlier. Mr. Ed and Mrs. Hilda, Mr. Jack and Mrs. Felicie, Mr. Charlie and Mrs. Rita: my life has been blessed by getting to know each of them.