By Michelle Graff
From left, Selma Tripi during the vow renewal ceremony; her husband of 67 years, Vito, finally kissing the bride; and the couple with Florida jeweler Jim Dunn, who donated wedding bands for the ceremony.

What is the secret to making love last? How do couples make it 40, 50, 60, even 70 years?

I don’t think anyone really knows the formula for sure, though Jim Dunn, a man who essentially makes his living from celebrating love, has an idea of a couple of the essentials that must be present if a relationship’s going to last.

One is respect, and the other is commitment to seeing it through, even when times are tough.

Dunn is the owner of J.R. Dunn Jewelers in Lighthouse Point, Fla., a store he opened in 1969 outside of Boston and migrated to Florida in 1978.

In the four decades he’s had his store, he’s seen countless couples come in and out, buying engagement rings and wedding bands at the start of what’s supposed to be a lifelong commitment.

How many of them are still together decades later is anybody’s guess, which is what makes the event Dunn got to take part in this week so special--a vow renewal ceremony for a couple who have been married for 67 years and never had a real wedding or, as far as Dunn can tell, any real wedding jewelry.

The story of Vito and Selma Tripi started nearly 70 years ago, in Brooklyn, N.Y. She sprained her ankle, he rushed to help her and love blossomed even though their families weren’t thrilled initially about the match between a very young couple from two very different backgrounds (he is Catholic, she is Jewish.)

The couple eloped on Dec. 30, 1948 while he was on leave from the Army; he was 18, she just 17.

They’ve been together even since, raising five sons and welcoming three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren but never formally walking down the aisle, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by Zita Wilensky.

Wilensky is the head of activities--her official title is “life enrichment director”--at Palm Garden of Aventura, the skilled nursing facility outside Miami where Selma, now in her mid-80s, is a permanent resident.

She said though Vito doesn’t live there, he visits his wife every single day no matter how she’s feeling, playing bingo with her, eating dinner with her and participating in whatever activity the home has going on that day.

It’s is the kind of dedication couples vow to on their wedding day but that, unfortunately, doesn’t always endure.
Wilensky set about soliciting donations to organize a vow renewal ceremony for the couple that was grand enough to double as the wedding they never had. She decided 20160304 FGF-wedding-bandsThe rings J.R. Dunn donated for the Tripis’ wedding ceremony are simple 14-karat white gold bands with milgrain edging, but the couple was thrilled to have them. “When they put those rings on, it’s like you gave them a 5-carat diamond,” Wilensky approach J.R. Dunn Jewelers for the rings because of the store’s other charitable endeavors in the community.

A few months ago, I wrote about a program J.R. Dunn Jewelers is doing in conjunction with the Humane Society of Broward County, Diamond in the Ruff, in which the store sponsors one pet adoption per week for a year.

Wilensky also happens to be very involved with the Humane Society, fostering dogs and bringing animals into the nursing home to do pet therapy for the residents. She said when she heard J.R. Dunn’s advertisements on the radio for Diamond in the Ruff, she thought the store sounded like the type that might be willing to give.

She was right. The rings J.R. Dunn donated for the Tripis’ wedding ceremony are simple 14-karat white gold bands with milgrain edging, but the couple was thrilled to have them. “When they put those rings on, it’s like you gave them a 5-carat diamond,” Wilensky said.

Dunn said the store is not able to fulfill every charity request it receives, but this one--a celebration of the kind of commitment every couple believes they are making when they walk into a store in search of wedding jewelry--was a perfect fit.

J.R. Dunn Jewelers donated a pair of 14-karat white gold wedding bands, visiting the home prior to the ceremony to make sure they got the right size for both Vito and his bride-to-be again.

Engraved on the inside are the words “Love You Forever.”

“This is an example of how life should be,” Dunn said. “If we could ever get society to go back to having the marriage commitment that these [two] have (it) would be wonderful.”

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