It was December 1947, just a few days before New Year’s Eve. 21-year-old Anthony “Tony” Gillistro had just returned from the Marine Corps and paid a visit to his childhood friend, William Manocchio, on Standish Street, their old neighborhood in Wethersfield, Connecticut.
“The guys met for a New Year’s Eve party. We all just got home. That was 47, I think. And I wasn’t on a date,” Gillistro said. “Billy said, ‘Why don’t you ask my sister?’ So I asked Dottie, she asked her dad and he made the sign of the cross.”
Since Dorothy “Dottie” Campanelli was only 17 at the time, her old-school Italian father said she was too young for Gillistro, leaving him without a date and the two were just friends.
“I’ll tell you — she had a crush on me when I was a kid. Because when I used to go to her brother’s house, I could see her and her friends peeping out the door to see us. We were the older guys,” Gillistro said. “She was always like a sister, and Billy kicked me out if I tried to date his sister.”
Almost 75 years later, the two are in their 90s and almost inseparable. Sitting comfortably in Campanelli’s home, they look back on their lifetime together, from playing outside in the neighborhood as kids to their first date in 2005.
Gillistro had just undergone knee surgery and was recovering in hospital. His wife had died just a few years earlier, and he “didn’t feel like going out with him again. I was up there, about 79, 80 years old.” But when Campanelli came to see him, he began to reconsider and called his daughter for advice.
“After that I said, ‘Judy, Dottie came to me. Do you think I should call her?’ And she said, ‘Yeah dad, what do you have to lose?’”
Although dating her age wasn’t what they expected, Campanelli felt there was no reason not to. “There were no obstacles. My children were all grown. I was free,” she said.
Since then, the couple has never spent more than three days apart. At every opportunity, they create more memories together, attending events at a senior center, sharing Wendy’s meals while riding a ferry, and even traveling to Florida to meet up with Campanelli’s friends.
“Dottie, she doesn’t like to sit. She’s always go, go, go,” Gillistro said. “She likes to go here, there and everywhere. I sit happily on my posterior. I’ve always been like this. We have been to many places.”
The couple’s bond is everything their five children could have hoped for. After the death of her husband Al Campanelli in 2002, they worried if their mother’s lively spirit would return.
“We were so happy when she started dating Tony because she got her spark back,” said Meg DeLeo, Campanelli’s second oldest daughter. “I think that’s why they’ve lived so long and are thriving in their old age. They thrive in their 90s.”
Her relationship with Gillistro came as no surprise to her children, as their families have been intermingled since their days on Standish.
“All our lives, even growing up, we used to go to the Gillistros,” said Mary Beth Welch, Campanelli’s eldest daughter. “He’s like part of the family. He’s like my second father.”
In 1982, Tony helped Dottie and her husband renovate their new home in Bittersweet Hill, just minutes from his Bunce Road home. Tony was always just a phone call away to help with repairs and repairs of anything needed.
Now, with almost two decades of dating under their belt, the couple continues to enjoy life together and reminisce about lifelong memories.
“It’s rare to know someone for so long and to have known someone since they were children. She went her way, I went my way, but we stayed in touch. We knew where everyone was, up to the point where the inevitable happened,” Gillistro said.