You might say that Toni Schiavoni and Lou Durbin have a stonemason and a Golden Reunion to thank for finding each other after more than 50 years. In fact, that’s exactly what they say.
In 2012, Tomas Lipps, a world renowned stonemason was called from Sante Fe, New Mexico back to his hometown of Connellsville, PA to rebuild some of the aging stone pillars at East Park. As he chiseled and hammered new stone, little did Tomas know he was actually forging a relationship between these two former sweethearts.
This is Toni and Lou’s love story.
The newly restored East Park was the perfect place to bring together graduates of Connellsville and Geibel Catholic high schools. It was built during The Great Depression by the Works Progress Administration and just about everyone who grew up in the area has a memory there.
The first Golden Reunion, an initiative of the Fayette County Cultural Trust, was planned at the newly renovated tree lined park that features walls, pillars and water fountains made of hand-crafted stone as well as waterfalls, a ball field, band shell, pavilions – even a stone castle high atop the hill.
Lou remarked, “I got a call from my friend, Tom, who did the stone restoration at the park. ‘The Golden Reunion committee wants me to give a dedication speech,’ he said. ‘I can’t be there. I have to be in Japan! Will you give it for me?’ I told him, ‘Yes, as long as you write it for me!’”
I wasn’t even going to go, but I had to give Tom’s speech!
An Unexpected Ride
He remarked, “On the day of the reunion, I volunteered to drive the four-seater golf cart and drive people from their cars into the park to save them from walking up and down the hill.
Around 12:45 p.m., I was sitting the golf cart and talking to Galen Wagner, one of the main park restoration organizers, who was standing nearby. Just then, I saw her and said to him, “Hey, here comes someone I haven’t seen in 55 years! Galen yells, ‘Hey, Toni! Here’s someone you want to meet!’
Looking back at Lou, Toni answered with a smile, “I really don’t need an introduction!’
Back in Time
No, she didn’t. Because she had met him long ago as a teenage waitress at DeMarco’s Dairy Bar, a restaurant owned and run by her father.
Lou, a Connellsville Area High School graduate and a University of Pittsburgh freshman, headed to DeMarco’s for a hamburger and a milkshake. It was summer and he had just gotten off of his shift at Maple Grove where he was the pool manager. He kept coming back and got to know Toni’s mother.
“One day, Toni was out on a break talking to this guy who had eyes for her. Her mom called me over, saying, ‘Lou, have Toni come here. Her break is over.’ She was talking to this fellow and I told her, ‘Your mother wants you now!’ My first real encounter with her was breaking them up,” he said.
She commented, “I was only a sophomore in high school. Lou and I dated two and a half years until my senior year. I was a cheerleader and involved in activities. He was swimming and involved at college. We were both doing our separate things. But when he’d come home from school, I was his girlfriend.”
When she graduated from high school, Toni went off to St. Joseph School of Nursing in Pittsburgh and said goodbye to Lou. They eventually married other people and had children. In recent years, their spouses passed away. And with their children grown, both lived alone – just one hour apart. But they never looked back.
What a line!
That is until Lou spotted her from the golf cart he was driving that fateful day at East Park.
No, Toni didn’t need an introduction when she saw him.
“She walked over and extended her hand to me. I said, ‘Sorry, I don’t shake hands,” and I pulled her in and kissed her on the cheek!”
To which Toni responded, “What a line!”
“I rode her down to the pavilion where her class of 1957 was all gathered. She told me she had to leave at 2:30 p.m. to be home for the arrival of her daughter and son in law who were coming in to visit for Memorial Day weekend.”
Time to Say Goodbye
The Wally Gingers Band was playing when Lou drove the cart over to the pavilion at 2:30 p.m. to pick her up.
“She got in the cart and we talked for about ten minutes. Do you have to get going?’ I asked. “I really do,” she answered. “People in Connellsville are going to be talking about me if I stay here any longer!,”
Lou replied, “Let’s give them something to talk about!’ Then I kissed her right on the lips! Just then this guy called to me. ‘Can you take Wally up the hill? “I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got to talk to Toni,’ Lou said. ‘I may never see her again!” Toni commented, “I didn’t want to stop talking either.”
They brought on more passengers and headed up the hill.
All the while Toni said she was thinking, ‘They ruined my plan. I wanted to stay and talk to Lou!’
As she got out and walked away towards her car, Lou thought, ‘I guess she’s not going to turn around.’ Toni was actually saying to herself, ‘I want to stay here. I’ll never get to see him again. Well, that was nice.”
Lou wasn’t giving up so fast. He called her the next day and the two stayed in touch. Six months later, Lou and Toni had their first date. Now, they are engaged.
Yes, some things are just written in stone. Like a thing called love. And the stonemason and Golden Reunion that brought a teenage couple back together. This time, for good.
The 5th Annual Golden Reunion takes place on Sunday, 5/29/16 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at East Park in Connellsville. All those who graduated from area schools including Connellsville, Immaculate Conception Geibel Catholic, Dunbar, Mt. Pleasant, and Uniontown, along with their guests, are welcomed. No reservation is needed. The cost of $10/person can be paid at the event. Enjoy food provided by Keedy’s Pizzeria. And go back in time with the music of The Sam Brooks Band.