The story of Rita and Joe begins with the story of Louise and Jake - Rita's mother and Joe's father.
Rita grew up in Collingswood and left home to study journalism at American University. But in 1984 her father, Walter, died of cancer. Two years later, Rita transferred to Temple University and moved home to be closer to her mother.
One Sunday in 1992, Louise had a confession about a man she had met at church. "He wants to buy me coffee, but I keep turning him down," Louise told her. "You should say yes," Rita told her mom. "He might be nice."
Jake, who lived in Maple Shade, also had lost a spouse - Irene died in 1990. From a cup of coffee bloomed a relationship that led to marriage. Louise chose Rita, who was then 29, as her maid of honor.
Shortly before the July 1994 wedding, Rita stopped by Jake's to talk to him and her mom. In walked the best man, Jake's son Joe, then 42.
Rita was bowled over by his looks. She liked him even more after they chatted. "I was shaking the day of the wedding, when I had to pin on his boutonniere," she said.
Joe and Rita ran into each other when they visited their parents, but Rita was not certain whether Joe was interested.
He grew to be. "She was beautiful and attentive - and persistent," he said.
Rita saw firsthand how kind Joe was. "He took my mother out to breakfast, and to her doctors' appointments," she said.
In 1995, her employer rewarded her with a dinner out - anywhere she wished, with anyone she wished. She chose Le Bec-Fin and Joe.
"It was a lovely evening," she said. And then Joe took her hand when they crossed Walnut Street. And then he stopped to kiss her. "That's when I realized it was mutual," she said.
"We didn't have a spontaneous beginning," Joe said. "Our love grew over a long period of time.
Sometimes, they went on fun double-dates to dinner or to Flyers games with his dad and her mom.
After the year 2000, Louise and Jake began having health problems. Louise broke her ankle and had multiple surgeries. She also suffered diabetes complications. Jake was diagnosed with early-stage Alzheimer's. "From then on, they were really dependent on us for all transportation," Joe said.
But through it all, Joe and Rita held their Saturday date nights sacred. They would go to dinner or sporting events alone, taking time to reconnect and recharge.
Around 2006, as Louise and Jake deteriorated further, Joe moved from his home in Pemberton Township back into his old bedroom to care for Louise and Jake. He has his own accounting firm, and his flexible schedule allowed him to care for them. On the weekends, Rita, a marketing manager at the accounting firm Grant Thornton L.L.P., was there, too. Joe and Rita continued to assist - and enjoy the company of - their parents, until Jake died in February 2009 and Louise died that November, the day after Thanksgiving.
The couple had previously traveled to Martha's Vineyard in September 2008. By then, the only way they could get away was to arrange for temporary care for Louise and Jake at an assisted-living facility. Joe and Rita can't remember much from that trip; their thoughts were with their parents, and they made frequent calls to check in on them.
In fall 2010, Joe suggested he and Rita take another trip to the Vineyard to "see the places we sorta, kinda, half looked at before," Rita said.
They took the ferry to Chappaquiddick Island and began walking near the water. "I think it's time we get married," Joe said, offering Rita a ring that had caught her eye a few months before. "Will you marry me?"
Rita and Joe were amazed at how emotionally powerful their engagement felt. And they couldn't help but think how pleased her mom and his dad would have been.
Rita, now 46, and Joe, 60, were married at the same church where their parents had met, then later exchanged vows: St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic in Cherry Hill.
As is traditional in that faith, Joe and Rita entered the church together, to signify their equality. Joe came to Rita's family home - the one they now share - and they drove together in the same car they had once used to take their parents on outings.
Rita gave Joe the wedding ring that was his dad's. And he gave her a replica of her mom's. As a tribute to their parents, who both loved music, a Ukrainian American ensemble sang traditional songs.
Joe's Uncle Paul not only made a toast, but led the 110 guests in singing "Mnohaya Lita" - which means "Many Happy Years" - also a traditional Ukrainian song.
Joe and Rita saw their wedding as a celebration for family and close friends who had so often supported them in trying times.
"Everybody looked forward to this wedding," Joe said. "We were getting together for a happy reason."
Rita loved hearing "Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Tkachyk" for the first time.
"When we walked down the aisle, coming out of the church, I felt like we really did it," Joe said. "I was elated."
A bargain: "I don't think we had one," Rita joked.
The splurge: The flowers. The florist incorporated peonies, which grow at the Maple Shade home, and phlox, which grow at the Collingswood home - where the couple now lives - with blue hydrangeas, which Rita and Joe saw another bride carrying when they got engaged on Martha's Vineyard.
A week in San Francisco and the Napa Valley.
Rev. Ruslan Romanyuk,
St. Michael's Ukrainian
Catholic Church, Cherry Hill
Ceremony, St. Michael's Ukrainian Catholic Church; reception, Tavistock Country Club, Haddonfield
Tavistock Country Club
Dzvin Ukrainian-American Male Vocal Ensemble, Philadelphia; Reception:
Trio Nova, Audubon, N.J.
Curt Hudson Photography, Oaklyn, N.J.
Michael Bruce Florist, Collingswood
David's Bridal, Maple Shade
Sealed with a Kiss, HaddonfieldEndText
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