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Florida couple celebrates 73rd wedding anniversary with surprise parade from friends

Louis Berney
Special to the Daily News
Walton Sun

How much Joe and Yolanda Tenaglio mean to their friends was vividly and loudly clear Sunday morning.

As the unsuspecting couple sat on purple cushions placed on a wicker bench under a portico at the entrance to Lely Palms, a horn-blaring procession of about 20 cars and one motorcycle circled in front of them, with people waving and cheering, balloons floating, streamers flying and painted signs wishing them a happy 73rd wedding anniversary.

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“Oh my god,” said Joe Tenaglio, who was overcome by emotion and in tears. “I can’t get over it. I can’t believe it. It’s a total shock.”

“It’s wonderful,” said Yolanda Tenaglio. “It’s a real surprise.”

It’s not often that a couple is feted with their own personal parade for an anniversary celebration.

But Joe and Yolanda Tenaglio are no ordinary couple, and this was no ordinary anniversary.

And, of course, they're living in a very un-ordinary time.

The Tenaglios reached a milestone reached by only an infinitesimal percentage of couples who marry. Yolanda is 96 years old, and Joe is 98.

They had lived in the Riviera Colony in South Naples for about three decades when their house was obliterated by Hurricane Irma two-and-a-half years ago.

Of 250 homes in the community, theirs suffered the most grievous damage. They were in their mid-90s, and they lost almost everything they had, except their friends and each other.

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Rather than try to rebuild, they moved into an independent living community at Lely Palms, almost 2 miles to the east of their former neighborhood.

The Tenaglios had been active and beloved Riviera Colony neighbors, “like step parents,” said community member Suzie Brackett, who is almost a generation younger than them.

Joe, a World War II veteran, was organizer and impresario of the regular Riviera Colony bingo games. Yolanda played mahjong. They both were competitive bocce and shuffleboardd participants. The former Pennsylvanias, who worked at Haverford College before they came to Naples, were deeply missed when they moved to Lely Palms.

Friends from Riviera Colony continued to pay them them regular visits. But that ritual was made trickier by the state's stay-at-home order and social distancing policies that have invaded people’s lives along with their precipitator, the novel coronavirus.

Since the advent of the pandemic, former neighbors from Riviera Colony have serenaded the Tenaglios, played instruments and performed dance skits on the lawn outside their home, while the couple watched from a safe distance, inside their lanai.

The old friends and neighbors recently decided to throw a surprise anniversary party for the nonagenarian couple.

But how do you put on a surprise party when the honored couple is usually confined inside and the guests who are throwing the party can’t enter the home?

“It’s hard because they can’t get very active when they’re still stuck in their room,” said Brackett.

The idea was hatched to treat the Tenaglios to a parade of cars outside their home as a testament to how much their old neighbors still revere and love them.

“Our community has not forgotten how much they meant to our community and to us,” said Cathy Davis, one of the organizers of the anniversary event.

Once the parade of cars circled around a loop and passed by the Tenaglios several times, their friends from Riviera Colony parked and stood across the drive from the couple.

Everyone sang "Happy Anniversary" and cheered. Home-baked cupcakes, brownies and banana bread were served. Some could not resist the temptation and approached the beaming and waving couple, trying to avoid touches but exchanging greetings and posing for pictures. Gifts were offered to the beaming couple.

A bit later, after the guests had departed with their cars and the Tenaglios were back inside their home, they said they were still in a state of shock over the morning’s celebration.

“I couldn’t believe what I saw today,” said Joe. “It proved how many friends my dear wife and I have after 73 years. All those cars and traffic and dear friends I hadn’t seen in a long time. It was unreal. Unreal.”