Joseph Valonis, who married Ms. Valonis in 1966 and died of heart disease, was a Navy veteran. Mr. Mirra joined the U.S. Air Force in 1953. After 51 months of active duty, he became a reservist. From 1957 to 1992, he was recalled to active duty twice: first in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis and again in 1990, during the Gulf War, where he served in Portugal.
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Mirra said that, before he was 10, he was selling bananas off a truck on a street corner to help his mother, a factory seamstress, make ends meet for him and his sister, Della; their father died when he was 8. West Philadelphia Catholic High School for Boys kept him out of trouble. “Going to Catholic school is one of the best things I ever did in my life,” he said. “The nuns would have me stand against the wall and beat my hands. It made me learn to stay home and study.”
He and Elizabeth married in 1954, while he was stationed in Canada with the Air Force. In 1955, the couple had a baby who died upon delivery. In 1960, they adopted a daughter, Donna Mirra, now 62. Later, they adopted two sons: Michael Mirra, now 59, in 1963, and David Mirra, now 50, in 1970.
The Mirras’ 59-year marriage, 22 years of it spent raising their family in Norwood, Pa., before they moved to Morton in 1976, was happier than the Valonis’s union. “Ninety percent of it was perfect,” Mr. Mirra said. When Elizabeth Mirra died in 2013, he was bereft. But he made an effort to keep busy. “I’ve always had a very active social life,” he said. That September, he joined the Senior Community Services center in Folsom, Pa. Ms. Valonis was a member, too.
“I saw him in the pool room, shooting billiards,” Ms. Valonis said. “It had been about 15 years, but he recognized me from church. He came over and gave me a big hug.” Her mother, Agnes Pugh, who lived in Rutledge and occasionally attended senior center events with her daughter, saw the embrace, which sent her into Cupid mode.
Sometime that fall, Ms. Valonis and Ms. Pugh ran into Mr. Mirra in the parking lot and stopped to chat. After, “my mother said, ‘I think he likes you,’” Ms. Valonis said. “She talked really loud. I was afraid he heard her.” He hadn’t, but her mother was right. And soon Ms. Valonis — and Ms. Pugh — were equally taken with Mr. Mirra.