The odds of any couple staying married for 70 years - let alone 71 - are slim. Only about 0.1 percent of married couples in America have been married for 70 years. Tom and Genie Dimperio of Ceres, however, have beaten the odds. On Saturday they will celebrate their 71st anniversary with a gathering at a Modesto restaurant.
How did they make it 71 years - or 72 if you include their yearlong courtship? "It isn't easy," says Genie who recalls an age when women played more of a role in housework, child rearing and diaper changing than today. Tom's reply to that is: "I did a little. I didn't do much."
Tom is now 97, Genie 93. They both get around well and live fairly active for their age.
"Everybody asks our secret," said Genie. "I'll tell you, I don't know. I don't eat right. I don't exercise. I never smoked, that's one thing, and I had plenty of stress."
If Tom Dimperio hadn't been shot as an Army Infantry soldier by a Nazi war gun on Italian soil, it's not likely they ever would have met. The severe wounds he sustained in his left arm on Oct. 2, 1944 between Florence and Bologna, Italy resulted in Tom being sent home to undergo for 25 months of hospitalization. Tom spent over two years at nine different hospitals while mending. After being sent to Charleston, S.C. for surgery, he was on a train bound for DeWitt General Hospital in Auburn. There Dr. Edward K. Prigge shook his head and observed that Tom had signs of yellow jaundice.
"There were several times I knew I wasn't going to make it," said Dimperio who woke up in a pool of blood after one surgery went bad in Auburn.
After his condition stabilized, Tom was able to leave the hospital. One weekend in April 1945 he and a friend went to downtown Auburn to visit a bar. Two girls riding rented horses were moving past the Freeman Hotel. Tom wanted to meet them and followed in the 1940 Ford convertible. One of them was Genevieve "Genie" Foster who lost her brother, Airman Jesse Pierce, when he was killed aboard a fully loaded B-29 bomber that crashed as it took off from India for a Japanese bombing mission.
"I told everybody I liked the looks of the horse," joked Tom was who discharged from the Army in November 1945.
"I thought he was pretty good looking," admitted Genie. "He was quiet."
Tom was wearing his uniform, which "kind of made a difference," she laughed.
Tom asked Genie out for a burger but she politely turned him down. Sometime later he persisted and after her friends suggested she take him up on the date they finally went out.
"From then on we went to the movies and dated a whole year," said Genie.
When the Auburn hospital closed and forced Tom to be relocated to Birmingham General Hospital in Van Nuys, the young love birds stayed in touch by letter. Genie kept busy raising son David who was left fatherless by an unfortunate crash near Applegate.
Tom and Genie were married March 18, 1946 in Reno. With a cousin of hers in tow, the plan was that Genie would drive them to Reno because Tom had on a body cast from his hip up, his left arm was resting on a platform and his leg was in a leg cast. As they left the winding mountain pass, a snow storm swept in and Genie couldn't see the road very well. They were "stranded" in Baxter 45 miles from Auburn and ducked into a warm restaurant to wait for the bus. There a young couple headed to Reno offered to give the three a ride. Once in Reno they took a cab to the chapel for a short ceremony. They returned on the bus to their car and drove home at night in thick fog.
When Genie came to Tom's native Ceres - where he was a member of the Ceres High class of 1938 - she felt right at home.
"Ceres was small and nice," said Genie. "It was country. I was country. I was born in Folsom and we roamed this hills and climbed trees."
Tom and Genie had Thomas, who is now a retired clinical psychologist in Albuquerque. She was a stay-at-home mom busy raising the two boys. Fresh out of the Army, Tom went to work on his parents' 21-acre grape ranch on Richland Avenue, managing somehow to use pruners with a bad arm. For three years Tom and Genie lived in the ranch house - it is still standing at 941 Richland Avenue - until they got their own place.
There were some big adjustments after the wedding. Genie remembers being babied as the seventh of nine children but suddenly being expected to learn how to cook and produce three meals a day and raise the kids. She grew fond of Tom's parents, Italian immigrants Luigi and Lena Dimperio, who brought Tom to California from New Jersey where he was born on Aug. 18, 1919.
Tom worked at the Texaco station in Ceres in 1951 and 1952. He took a Civil Service exam to work at the post office and was given a job as a mail sorter in Modesto in 1952. He remained employed there until he retired in 1978.
In their Wallen Way home they have stayed in since 1964, Tom has spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how his life turned out and why he has defied the odds in many ways.
"It's a real mystery. I was drafted by the government about 19 months before Pearl Harbor. They said I had a bad heart. They said I was a 4-F. Then when Pearl Harbor came on, they called me back. They took a blood test. They put me in 1-A. Where did I wind up? The infantry is one of the hardest."
As if he hadn't faced enough trials in life, Tom was seriously injured on June 25, 1967 when he and David were riding to a car club rally on Tioga Pass outside of Yosemite National Park and their car slammed into head-on into another car. David suffered a broken neck. Suffering a fractured skull and concussion and being in a lucid mental state for three weeks, Tom was given last rites from a Catholic priest. But like on that European battlefield, he defied the odds.
He's gives the Almighty credit for seeing him through. Tom today attends Jesus Our Savior Anglican Church in Modesto while Genie likes to visit Village Chapel Free-Will Baptist Church to hear Rev. Adrian Condit.
Tom enjoys good health and just got a renewal for his driver's license for another five years.
"I'm good until 100. If things don't change, I'm going to make it."