For romantics who believe in true love and live for Valentine’s Day, John and Gisella Castanza have a love story that spans decades and one Gisella enjoys sharing.
It was 1941 in Manhattan, when John, a college student, met Gisella through a friend, Evelyn, who set them up on a blind date.
John, and Stella, as he calls her, dated until 1942, when John entered the Navy and was sent first to Seattle, and then the Pacific, during World War II.
The two exchanged letters for a while.
“In 1942, I got a Dear John letter and didn’t hear from him again,” Stella said.
Stella married in 1948 and lived in Long Island for a time before moving her family to a home and acreage in upstate New York. After a lengthy battle, her husband died from cancer in the 1980s.
John married a girl from the Seattle area in 1946 and spent time in this area, Boston and points around the globe, before retiring in Enumclaw to be close to his son. His wife of 60 years died in 2006, not long after the move to Enumclaw.
John pulled out his photograph of he and Stella and started searching.
“It cost me $40 and I’m still trying to collect,” John laughs, about the amount he spent with an agency that searches for people. He sent out letters to a number of strangers gambling they knew Stella, but he didn’t get any response until he reconnected with Evelyn, who was living in St. Louis. She shared Stella’s phone number.
From the other side of the country, Stella answered the phone, but when the male voice wouldn’t tell her who he was, she got angry.
“If you don’t tell me who you are I’m going to hang up,” she tells. “I’m not wasting my time.”
John piped up and they began calling regularly for about a year.
“He sent a ticket and I flew out,” Stella said. She spent three weeks in Enumclaw.
“I felt I needed to go home and clear my head,” she said. “I’d been widowed for 21 years.”
Being with John, she concluded, made sense.
“Why not? Why should I sit here alone,” she said. “It was just tough being alone.”
She sold the home she had lived in for 45 years and returned to Washington state, where she and John were married.
“After 63 years, he found me,” she said.
With Valentine’s Day on the horizon, Stella, 87, jokes with John, 89, about buying her something nice. Through their relationship, he’s showered her with a number of beautiful items, but there is one that is very special.
On her left arm, she wears a gold bracelet engraved with Stella M. Ertl. John had given it to her when they were dating back in those early years of the 1940s.
“I kept it,” she said. “You don’t think after the Dear John letter I’d give it back?”
She kept it from her first husband and had passed it down to a daughter.
When John came back into her life, so did the bracelet.
“He’s a good man and we’re having a good life,” she smiled.