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Issue 679

02/13/2014 at 4:16pm

Vinnie & Jessie TitusVinnie and Jessie Titus -
Love, Life 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 him.”

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 before Christmas.

"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 Vinnie volunteered.”

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