John and Delores Reitmeier had quite the magical love affair, and not just because they were married for almost 69 years.
It was a storybook romance that blossomed in an unlikely location, the West Seneca orphanage. That’s where they met while young children in the 1930s and early ’40s.
And then in their late teens, Delores Schumacher ran away from the orphanage, crossing Cazenovia Creek late one night, at age 17, to be with her future husband.
He had left at 16, when most boys aged out of an orphanage in those days.
They married at Eastertime in 1944, before he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, and they went on to raise eight children, living in the same Town of Tonawanda home for 63 years.
John Reitmeier, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease in the last few years, died peacefully Sunday in his room at the Weinberg Campus in Getzville. He was 87.
“We were very happy, very much in love,” Delores Reitmeier said Tuesday. “He always called me ‘my love.’ ”
Not many people can celebrate a romance that lasts 74 years, especially one forged in the tough daily life of an orphanage.
Delores’ mother died when she was 1½. She entered St. John’s Lutheran Home at 4, with all three of her siblings.
“Our father just took us and dropped us off at the orphanage – all four of us,” she recalled. “But we all stayed together.”
John Reitmeier came later, at age 9.
Orphanage life could be tough. Getting caught stealing fruit from a nearby orchard meant a nasty dose of castor oil. Other transgressions led to a night sleeping in the shower room. And Delores Reitmeier broke both wrists in a fall while washing the outside windows.
But they had a roof over their heads, and the friendship between two of the kids grew into something more.
“When I was about 13, we kind of planned that we wanted to get married,” Delores Reitmeier said. “He got out when he was 16. I ran away one night at midnight, when I was 17.”
That meant crossing Cazenovia Creek early in the morning, an adventure that ended with her losing her Bible and a bag of shoes that broke open, both swept away by the current.
She was upset about that, for a moment.
Then she told herself: “Heck, I’m going to a better place.”
To this day, the Reitmeier children marvel at their parents’ romance.
“It was like opening up a storybook about Cinderella,” said one of their daughters, Patricia Banko. “Mom crossed Cazenovia Creek, and my dad was waiting for her on the other side. It was like Cinderella meeting her prince.”
John Reitmeier entered the Army during World War II. They married April 23, 1944.
“He was home on leave, and he said, ‘We’re getting married,’ ” his wife recalled. “I said OK.”
Her new husband returned to the war and was wounded at the Battle of the Bulge, in December 1944 and January 1945. He lost part of an ear and suffered a head wound in an incident his wife said would now be called friendly fire.
After the war, John Reitmeier spent more than 30 years working in the air-conditioning, heating and refrigeration field before he retired in 1978.
He was preceded in death by a daughter, Pamela Warner, who died in 2009.
Survivors, in addition to his wife and daughter Patricia, include four other daughters, Gloria Chassar, Brenda Basher, Joyce Corigliano and Debbie Ailinger; two sons, John and Gary; and two sisters, Edna and Grace Frazzini.
Services will be at 10 a.m. Thursday in Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 2669 Sheridan Drive, Town of Tonawanda.
As family members say goodbye to their husband, father, brother, grandfather and great-grandfather, Delores Reitmeier is trying to look past the last few years when her husband was ill.
“As far as John and I go, we’ve had a beautiful life,” she said.
“We’ve had a beautiful life together.”