After 70 years of marriage, Neville Island couple finds plenty to talk about
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Many nights find John and Margaret Yuknavich sitting on the porch swing of the Neville Island house they've shared for most of their married lives. They hold hands as they swing and they talk to each other, sometimes for hours.
"They still have this gift of communication and caring," said their daughter, Janet Skotko of Tampa, Florida.
Friday, the couple will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. He's 93-years-old and she's 88-years-old.
Most of their relatives won't be able to visit and celebrate the anniversary as jobs and school have scattered children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren throughout the country. But the couple's loved ones have worked for months on surprises that will make Friday a very special day.
"They read the newspaper cover to cover," said their grandson, Jeremy Skotko, 31, of Charleston, South Carolina. "They'll be flipping through the paper, and there it will be."
Mr. Skotko, an emergency room physician, is referring to the full-page advertisement on the next page of today's paper that salutes and celebrates the couple's lives and marriage with photos. He came up with the idea to honor his grandparents, John "Jack" Yuknavich and Margaret "Peg" Minarish Yuknavich.
Other relatives quickly endorsed the plan, including his mother and his sister, Anna, 35, an attorney in New York City. The anniversary couple has one surviving daughter, five grand children and six great-grandchildren, including the youngest, 5-month-old Jack, who was brought to Neville Island this summer to meet his great-grandmother and the great grandfather he was named for.
The full-page ad isn't the only part of the surprise.
Mr. and Mrs. Yuknavich know that their daughter, Janet, will be coming to visit them in Neville Island for the anniversary. They expect they'll go out to dinner.
They don't know that they'll be picked up in a limousine that will drive them to their favorite restaurant -- Red Lobster. All of these touches are part of the surprises that the family had so much fun planning.
Janet Skotko grew up in Neville Island, which she said was "a magical place" during her childhood. Her children, Jeremy and Anna, grew up mostly in Tampa, but they visited their grandparents for weeks at a time every summer for 25 years.
The couple has lived in the same Neville Island House for 65 years. Her father still shovels the snow, mows the lawn and tends a very large vegetable garden, Mrs. Skotko said. Her mother cans the vegetables and does the couple's taxes, as she has always done. For many years Mrs. Yuknavich worked as a judge of elections at local polls.
Details of the lives of the couple come from out-of-state relatives.
John Yuknavich, who always goes by "Jack," grew up with four brothers on a farm in Spangler, Pa.
His father grew up in Lithuania, and when he immigrated to America he moved to Spangler, in Cambria County, because other Lithuanians lived there.
When he was 17, Mr. Yuknavich lied about his age so that he could work in the coal mines to help his family. He joined the Navy in World War II, and his service included time in Iwo Jima and Okinowa. He rose to the rank of master chief.
Meanwhile, back in Spangler, there wasn't a lot to do in a small town, but there was a roller skating rink and that's where the couple met.
"They didn't just skate. They danced on skates, Mrs. Skotko said.
After their marriage, Mr. Yuknavich was looking for a house and found a fixer-upper at a good price in Neville with enough of a yard for the farmer's son to grow fresh vegetables. The island also had a roller skating rink, and the couple continued to dance on skates well into their 50s.
Mr. Yuknavich found work with Duquesne Light and attended night classes so that he could advance in the company, where he was promoted to supervisory positions.
"It was heaven to grow up on that island," Mrs. Skotko said. "Many people had boats and we skied and fished on the Ohio River. The industries built a swimming pool for the kids," she said.
Jack Yuknavich regaled his grandchildren with tales of growing up and stories about the Navy.
"When he starts to talk you don't want him to stop," Jeremy Skotko said. He's glad that he has audio tapes of some of those stories, including tales told at the 90th birthday celebration.
"During summer visits he taught me how to golf," Mr. Skotko said.
Mr. Yuknavich began to play after his retirement, playing several times per week. He was very proud of the hole-in-one accomplished, in his mid-'80s, at Beaver Creek Meadows in Ohio.
"I have never heard either of my grandparents complain about anything," Mr. Skotko said.
When she was 16, Jeremy's sister, Anna, spent an entire year with her grandparents because she was dancing with Pittsburgh Ballet Theater. It was a special year for her, for she had time to know her grandparents in ways that most children don't experience.
"My grandmother is such a nurturing person and my grandfather helps everyone in the family and in his neighborhood," Ms. Skotko said. "And they are so in love."
First Published September 13, 2012 5:14 am