If history had been a little different, Nancy Lauro and Anthony DiBernardo might have met in their village of birth on the small Italian island of Ischia. Perhaps they would have married, had a family and lived their lives on the sunny, Tyrrhenian isle. But as fate would have it, both families immigrated to San Pedro in the late 1930s, and it was in this coastal town that the two would be introduced and fall in love.
“My father came over in 1910,” recalls Tony. “It was happening a lot that young people would get married and the husbands would come to San Pedro to work in the fishing industry.” As the years progressed and “things started getting turbulent before the Second World War,” more and more families from Ischia would come to settle in San Pedro.
“We all knew each other,” adds Nancy of the community of Italian transplants that were now making their home in San Pedro. “I had met Tony when I was 12 or 13 because his sister, who had a young family, lived across the street from me.”
Several years later, Tony was working as a retail clerk at Sunshine Market, where Nancy would go with her family to shop.
“She caught my eye, and that was it,” he recalls. “So one day — it was in 1948 — I asked her to go out with me.”
If only romance was that easy.
“Next thing I know, her brother comes over to tell me that Nancy’s mom wants to talk to me,” remembers Tony, “and her mom, who was very strict, made me basically promise to marry her before I got to take her out!”
“Well, he didn’t realize at the time that I was 16,” laughs Nancy, “and there was no way she was going to let me go out with a 19-year-old. So it was daytime dates on the weekends.”
Tony graduated from San Pedro High in 1947, and their courtship continued under the watchful eye of friends and family. The sweethearts got engaged during Nancy’s senior year at St. Anthony High School in Long Beach, and they were married on August 5, 1950, a few months after Nancy graduated.
The wedding was held at the old Mary Star of the Sea Catholic Church, followed by a lunch reception at the Assistance League that afternoon. The day got off to a rough start when Nancy’s younger brother locked the door to the room where she was getting ready with her wedding party.
“He was such a little monster,” laughs Nancy. “He took the key, so we couldn’t get out. Tony had to come over and remove the door!”
The festivities went off without another hitch, and the two celebrated their union with dancing, snacks and drinking with about 300 friends and family members.
“Back then, the whole town would come out,” says Nancy. “You didn’t invite just the parents and immediate family; you invited every sister, every uncle and aunt you had and their whole families and their kids and their kids. So that’s how everybody got to meet and got to know each other.”
Much to the surprise of the newlywed couple, Tony was drafted to serve in Korea and deployed a few months after their wedding, putting their future on hold while he served abroad.
“I had to move back in with my family,” recalls Nancy. “I took a job at Bank of America and worked there … off and on for a couple of years.”
When Tony returned from Korea, he took a job loading and delivering bananas to local markets. Nancy got pregnant with their first child (daughter Annmarie who was born in 1953), and they purchased a 900 square foot home “on a large lot with huge trees on the corner of 9th and Meyler” that was close to family, church and school for the kids. As the couple settled into married life, their house needed to be expanded to accommodate four more children (Neil, born in 1954; John, born in 1958; Anthony, born in 1961; and Grace, born in 1962).
“I took four permits out and did all the work myself,” Tony proudly remembers. Over the years, this home would become the gathering point for their growing family.
“Every Sunday, I would cook,” Nancy recounts. “At first, it was just us and the kids, then it was their kids. Sometimes it would be 10 of us, other times there would be 17, depending on who was around.”
“It is a special thing for our family,” says Anthony, the couple’s youngest son. “No matter how many of us show up, there is plenty of food to go around.” Nancy is known for her traditional meat sauce spaghetti, lasagna and Italian Easter bread.
“And their Christmas Eve seafood dinner is the highlight every year,” continues Anthony. “Mom and Dad have lived their lives based on the principles of faith, family, friends and food — or any combination of the four.”
The arrival of COVID-19 has disrupted their weekly dinner tradition, but that doesn’t mean the DiBernardos feel isolated. With 17 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, there are plenty of Zoom calls and grocery drop-offs to keep the two connected to their family, most of whom are still living in the area and taking great care to keep Nancy and Tony safe and well-stocked.
In a long and faith-filled marriage that has spanned seven decades, Nancy and Tony have taken life’s unexpected curveballs with grace and love and created the strong foundation for each other and their family.
“In addition to their numerous years of service to their church (Mary Star of the Sea Parish), they show a never-ending love to our family, from their oldest child to the youngest great-grandchild,” notes their daughter Annmarie. “Every member of the family — especially the grandchildren and great-grandchildren — has their own special connection and relationship with Nana and Papa.”
Nancy and Tony celebrate 70 years of marriage on August 5. spt