Despite challenges, East County couple celebrates 50 years of marriage.
It’s evening at Windsor Reflections in Lakewood Ranch, and that means more love songs for John and Margie Polites.
Now that his wife of 50 years has moved to the memory care center, John’s daily routine includes a musical tour of their happiest moments. He selects their favorite songs from artists such as Neil Sedaka and The Carpenters. He reclines on the bed with her, talking about the songs and the times they represent.
“It’s one of our favorite things to do,” said John, who for more than 30 years played in his own band.
John’s saving grace is Margie’s ability to remember, at times, their most cherished moments from their childhood and beyond despite her battle with dementia. At 74, her short-term memory has declined
dramatically, but she continues to reminisce about the old days.
She looks at John and touches his face before saying her husband can be patient, kind and a little bit silly.
“I love everything about him,” she said.
The Polites had purchased a condo in Palm Aire in 2008 and were snowbirds, splitting time between their longtime home in Dayton, Ohio. Thirteen months ago, John noticed his wife’s health was declining. Her dementia first became noticeable in 2013, and she stopped driving a year later.
Eventually, the disease progressed to the point where Margie needed full-time care. John never missed a beat, switching his daily routine to Windsor Reflections. Dealing with his wife’s dementia, though, has been difficult.
“I miss her, but I see her every day,” said John, who is 77. “This is a very insidious medical condition. It has no bias.”
On Margie’s better days, they can still step out for a night on the town, as they did Feb. 2 when they celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary with family and friends at the Grove restaurant.
“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Margie said of their 50 years together.
Longtime friend Marilyn Blazakis and her late husband, Nicholas, were church friends in Ohio with John and Margie, and they raised their children together. Blazakis helped John plan the 50th anniversary party and even made sure the flowers were red and white, like at the couple’s Valentine’s inspired wedding.
“They’re so loving. They’re so kind. They think of everyone,” said Blazakis, who lives in Lakewood Ranch. “What one lacks, the other always picks up.”
Their time together actually goes back farther than 50 years.
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, John and Margie met when they were children. Margie was about 3, while John was 6.
The two were friends growing up, attending Sunday school together at Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church.
They lost touch as teenagers when John left his hometown after graduating high school. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in January 1963, working as a musician for the Navy and playing clarinet, saxophone and flute. After being discharged in March 1967, John lived in San Francisco and worked as a professional musician.
He returned home in December 1967 to visit his ailing parents, Bessie and Peter Polites, for a few months but planned to return to California and pursue a career in music.
“It never happened,” Margie said with a grin.
She then remembered when she first saw him upon his return.
She tapped him on the shoulder at a dance in May 1968.
“Are you John Polites?”
“Why yes, I am,” he said.
They both laughed at the memory.
“I’ll never forget those words, ‘Are you John Polites,’” John said.
By the end of the summer, John needed to return to California. But he didn’t.
“He dumped California,” Margie said.
Over time, they raised two sons, Michael (now 45) and Steven (now 43). Margie talked about earning her college degree in computer science at Wright State University, at the age of 45.
“She wanted to beat the boys to a college education,” John said.
The two continued to share memories as they sat in front of a wedding album on a table inside Windsor Reflections. They held hands and smiled as they talked. John would gently caress his wife’s face.
Now, more than ever, he’s intentional about looking into her eyes and saying “I love you.” Margie’s memories come and go, but she knows she loves her husband and he loves her.
John, who worked 31 years selling soap for Ecolab Inc., stroked her face again.
“You’re the best thing that’s every happened to me,” he said.
He then headed out the door.
“She is as beautiful as she was then,” he said. “She’s so precious. So precious.”