Love: Francisco Juarbe & David Rondinelli
October 23, 2011, in Pennsauken
On Dec. 14, 1995, a rescheduled rehearsal of The Messiah led Frank - who studied opera and concert piano at Westminster Choir College - to take a day's vacation from his proofreading and ad design job with Verizon.
David had also taken an unexpected day off from his food service job at what was then Hecht's Department Store in the Wanamaker building. He was also bartending at Woody's and had offered to fill in for the regular lunchtime waiter who couldn't work that day.
After rehearsal, Frank and some of his Choral Arts Society friends hit Woody's for lunch and cocktails. David took their order.
"Somebody that will sit home at night and watch television and will not run around," Frank said.
"Well, you're not going to find that here," David replied. "So, you'd better order something off the menu."
The lunch bunch thought David was hilarious. David thought Frank was cute. After the meal, the waiter handed the bill to the ladies and gave Frank a slip of paper.
"If you'd like to stay home sometime and watch television, my name is David," it read, along with a phone number.
Frank called that evening. One great conversation led to another, and the two were soon meeting for drinks or movies on the weekends.
For months, things stayed platonic. Then, one night at Tavern on Camac, Frank gave David a big kiss.
Frank, who is now 60, and David, 59, have been together ever since.
David soon met Frank's parents, Floridians Betty and Frank, at their Delaware summer house. David waited two years to introduce Frank to his parents, but Frank rapidly became a fixture at their place.
In 2001, Frank, who had lived in Conshohocken, bought a house in South Philadelphia, near where David lived in his childhood home with his elderly parents, Jennie and Sam.
Several years passed, and Frank took an early retirement buyout from Verizon. He planned to get another job soon, but that was not to be.
Soon after Frank accepted the buyout, he and David were shopping for Thanksgiving decorations when David said his chest hurt, and he wanted to go home. At 2 a.m., he called Frank and asked him for a ride to the emergency room.
Tests revealed that David's immediate pain was caused by a case of shingles. However, his arteries were also blocked. As soon as his shingles cleared up, David had a quadruple bypass. Frank helped care for him for about six weeks.
Then, two weeks after David returned to work, his mother was diagnosed with congestive heart failure and a stroke. When she returned home, Frank helped David and his siblings care for her.
Frank began working part-time at Woody's and helped care for David's parents until both of them passed away.
Frank, David, and their dogs found a home in Merchantville, N.J., in late 2009. Unexpected snags had them living in a hotel for a few months. Across the street was a Wegmans. Frank was fascinated by the store, and noting that a bunch of employees were around his age, he applied for a job. He now works in prepared foods and does cooking demonstrations for customers.
How does forever sound?
In 2002, David left what had become Lord & Taylor to work full-time at Woody's. He worked there until August 2011 when he left for the Tabu sports bar.
There was just one problem with his otherwise perfect job: no health insurance.
Ever since New Jersey made civil unions legal for gay people in 2006, the couple had talked about getting hitched. The insurance situation pushed them to move forward so that David could get on Frank's health plan at Wegmans.
One day at work, Frank got dizzy. His blood pressure had skyrocketed. In early October 2011, David accompanied him to a checkup to see how the medicine was working. The doctor gave Frank a stellar report.
"Well, I guess you're stuck with me," Frank said to David. "I guess it's time we finally get married, since I'm not going to croak."
It was so them
Frank and David kept things simple. They held the ceremony at the Pennsauken Municipal Building, and the mayor officiated. Friends Jess and Chris served as witnesses. Two other friends and the mayor's wife were guests.
David wore black pants and a black dress shirt. Frank wore black pants and a white Calvin Klein sweater.
Though Frank and David had worn rings as a symbol of their commitment for years, they marked their new union with family heirlooms.
"He gave me his father's wedding ring, and he wears his mother's," Frank said.
After the ceremony, guests joined Frank and David at the home they share with their "children," dogs Eartha, Popi, and Wendy. For dinner, David prepared a huge pot of sauce, in keeping with his Italian heritage. Frank says he'll honor his Spanish and Puerto Rican roots with rice and beans on their first anniversary.
This was unexpected
The men had been together for many years when the ceremony took place, so Frank did not expect David to react as he did.
"He started crying during the service, after all this time," Frank said. "I was quite surprised and pleased."
Frank and David didn't read the civil-service ceremony ahead of time, so they didn't know the mayor would say, "You may now share in your first official kiss as a truly united couple."
Those words brought home the fact that their relationship was now legally recognized by their state, and it felt wonderful, they said. Should New Jersey legalize gay marriage, the couple will take that step, too.
The bargain: keeping it simple.
The splurge: David got a new outfit for the ceremony. Frank got a new pair of pants.
The honeymoon: a quiet evening at home with the dogs.
Behind the Scenes
Pennsauken Mayor Jack Killion
Pennsauken Municipal Building and the couple's home
Black dress shirt and pants, Macy's in Cherry Hill
Black pants, Macy's Cherry Hill; white Calvin Klein sweater, his own
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