Vinnie and Jessie Titus -
and Lots of Laughter
As our readers pick up their papers
this morning, most of them - unless they reside on a far-strung
planet out past the Milky Way - are aware that today (Friday) is
Valentine's Day. Right now, this horrific truth is dawning on
husbands, boyfriends and lovers all over the country - many of whom
are scurrying into shops, malls and boutiques fearing that if the
perfect gift is not found, they will spend the rest of the year (or
at least the month) in relationship meltdown. But for those who have
found true love, no material thing can even come close to
representing the depth of their commitment to each other. Though they
may indeed buy each other flowers or cards, these lucky folks will
spend 'V-Day' serene in the knowledge that their love needs no
physical manifestation, it simply is. Such is the case with Vinnie
and Jessie Titus, married a hair over 35 years. Their love story is a
perfect representation of them as a couple - a lot of funny, a little
bit of curmudgeon, but never once wavering in sincerity.
"I'm from Middletown, Ohio, and
Vinnie's from Dayton,” Jessie told us this week as she spent her
Tuesday morning volunteering at the Chamber of Commerce's information
booth - 'The Roxie'. "He moved to Middletown after his mother died,
but we didn't meet until after high school.”
Jessie herself had suffered an early
loss - of both parents - and moved out on her own when she was 18 and
attending nursing school. She told us that the first time she met the
man who would eventually become her husband, she thought he was cute
but 'that was about it'.
"He was the maintenance man at the
apartment building where I lived, and when I moved out he wanted my
apartment because I had painted a jungle mural on the wall,” she
said. "I remember thinking he was cute with all his long blond
hair, but he was five years older than me so we didn't run in the
same circles. I didn't see him much until a little while later, I ran
into him in the grocery store and he told me he was getting my mail.
I was 19, it didn't seem important to me, so I basically ignored
Undaunted by this rebuff, Vinnie would
once more try using the post to get Jessie to notice him.
"A little while after that, I had
moved in with my two girlfriends and was staying in the upstairs
bedroom,” Jessie told us, laughing. "One night, real late, I
heard something hitting my window and when I looked out it was Vinnie
- throwing little rocks! Apparently, he'd been out with some friends
and had a couple of beers. I asked him what he was doing, and he told
me he had my mail.”
This time Jessie let him inside - "I
made him sleep on the couch - bet he wasn't expecting that!” - and
agreed to go on a date with him. The year was 1976, she had just
graduated from nursing school and - looking to get out of Middletown,
Ohio - had signed up to join the Air Force.
"I was supposed to be sworn in the
very next day, but after that one date I just knew in my heart, I
just knew,” she said. "So I called my recruiting officer and told
him and - this being a small town it turned out he knew Vinnie. He
got real mad and said, 'I promised you medical school, Hawaii, an
officer's appointment - that damn Vinnie Titus!’ He even called
Vinnie and yelled at him.”
Jessie has never once regretted that
decision, and years later Vinnie would take her to more places than
the Air Force ever could have. But in the beginning, however, they
were broke - which is how they ended up getting married two days
"We got married on December 23rd,
1978, because we couldn't afford flowers and the church was already
filled with them for Christmas,” she told us. "We even catered it
ourselves from our deli - 'Dilly Deli'.”
The newlyweds would remain in Ohio for
another two years before moving to Florida.
"The economy was starting to go bad,
and Vinnie was working in construction,” Jessie said. "He was the
guy up on the high rises, working outside in the ice and wind which
made me nervous, so when his boss was looking to lay someone off
The Titus's moved to Fort Myers in
April of 1980.
"We were poor - I mean dirt poor -
when we came down here,” Jessie told us. "We looked like the
Beverly Hillbillies. When we left, Vinnie's mom packed us up with a
chicken and two pumpkin pies to eat on our way to Florida. We ate the
chicken on top of a mountain in Tennessee, but when we got to the
first pie we realized his mom had forgot to put sugar in it so we
threw it out.”
Vinnie and Jessie would make good use
of the second pie, however, trading it for a $4 headlight replacement
to a hapless country boy in Georgia.
"We needed the headlight, and we
didn't have $4,” Jessie said. "To this day, I bet that boy is
convinced that people from Ohio can't make pie.”
The pair ended up in Cape Coral, with
Vinnie working for the company that owns South Seas Mariner and
Jessie for a Realtor on Sanibel.
"One night we came down to Fort
Myers Beach,” Jessie said. "I sat on the end of the pier and told
Vinnie I was never leaving.”
Since they were on a budget, very
early in their marriage Vinnie and Jessie began coming up with
creative gift ideas, one of which backfired in a very painful way.
"Our first Christmas here in
Florida, I went out and got oils, flavored them myself, and made a
massage table so I could surprise Vinnie with a Christmas massage,”
Jessie told us. "It started out really great and he loved it, until
I mistakenly used cinnamon oil on his face! I swear I didn't know,
but that was bad, bad, bad - 'Merry Christmas, you're on fire!'”
Over the years, Vinnie and Jessie
gradually saw their financial situation improve, as Jessie used her
medical background to help open Bonita Medical Center and Vinnie
worked in sales while teaching himself how to sail. Vinnie began his
'rent-a-man' business and it's still going strong 30 years later.
They bought the building where Lahaina Realty is now and sold it,
opening Fort Myers Beach Realty in Seagrape Plaza in 2008.
"About 25 years ago, we decided we
were going to start building our own sailboat that we are going to
use to sail around the world,” Jessie told us. "We built it from
our own design - which is a Polynesian style - and it should be done
by the end of this year”
Like their sailboat, the couple has
always come up with ways to have fun together - traveling the world,
visiting volcanoes and haunted houses, and - in 2002 - graduating
from clown school.
"I'd never acted before or done
anything on the stage,” said Jessie - who would go on to become
known on the island as her alter ego, 'Buttons', star in several
plays with Nienhaus Productions and be one of the founding members of
the Beach Arts Cooperative.
A few years after graduating from
Caloosa Clown Alley in 2003, Jessie and Vinnie celebrated their
silver anniversary in true Titus fashion.
"We decided to have our vows renewed
in Vegas, so we went out there with two other couples, one of whom we
had gone to clown school with,” Jessie told us. "Without telling
the others, we dressed up as clowns and got married for the second
time at the Viva Las Vegas Wedding Chapel by a man dressed as Elvis.
It was awesome.”
Though these days most of the
traveling that Vinnie and Jessie do is back to Ohio to visit their
grandkids (Vinnie has a son, Bryan, from a previous marriage), they
still keep their love and hilarity going - 'clowning' together and
finishing their boat.
"I never minded being a step-mom, I
always got along great with Vinnie's ex-wife - our family actually is
one of the rare ones with no drama and no crazies!” she said.
"Vinnie is a great guy - patient as the day is long and he keeps me
grounded. He even taught me how to golf and I beat him...once.”
As far as advice for new couples,
Jessie told us that respect, total honesty and kindness is the key.
"We've always had such a good time,”
she said. "There is no perfect man, perfect love or perfect
marriage, but Vinnie is perfect for me.”
Keri Hendry Weeg