Mal and Joni Telloian did their long-distance relationship the hard way.
The pair met in 1952, through family friends who had first come to know Mal, an Army veteran, while he was stationed near Joni Bevilacqua’s hometown of Fort Lewis, Wash.
Mal went on two dates with Joni before he was honorably discharged and promptly called back home to California.
Long-distance phone calls were expensive in those days, and Skype wouldn’t be invented for another 50 years.
Torrents of letters and monthly phone calls helped sustain the couple for two years before they were reunited and finally married in 1954.
They’ve been almost inseparable for 60 years since.
“We do everything together,” Joni said. “It’s so bad; we go everywhere together, and so my worst nights are when I have a dream that he’s lost, and I can’t find him.
“I remember he wrote to the newspaper the one year, our 54th anniversary, that he still wanted to squeeze the stuffing out of me, and that’s true.”
The Telloians don’t put much weight in holidays such as Valentine’s Day and rarely make much hay out of their own anniversary.
They try to make every day romantic, a task that comes easiest on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, when the pair can be found swirling around the dance floor with two dozen other members of the Sun City Aliante Steppers.
The Steppers, arguably the Las Vegas Valley’s largest and most visible senior dance troupe, perform roughly 20 paid gigs a year, packing venues from Santa Fe Station to The Orleans and donating all proceeds to local charities.
Mal, the group’s only male dancer, often finds himself the center of attention. The 85-year-old has played everyone from Elvis Presley to an outlaw biker in the five years since Joni talked him into joining the group. Lately, he’s featured as part of a solo number set to Britney Spears’ hit “Womanizer.”
He’s always been a good dancer and, according to Joni, an even better singer.
Mal took singing and tap dancing lessons growing up in Los Angeles, where he first cultivated a sense of rhythm and a lifelong love of jazz.
He ended up proposing to Joni at the Lighthouse, the famous Hermosa Beach jazz club where he once wooed her with a tongue-in-cheek rendition of Dean Martin’s “That’s Amore.”
“He loves jazz, and I learned to love it with him,” Joni said. “The most romantic thing he used to do is he would sing to me sometimes. … But, really, every day with him is romantic.”
Music and dance have provided a throughline in the Telloians’ relationship. Both admitted that one day they’ll have to quit dancing. Neither wanted to guess when that day would come.
The secret to a long marriage, they agreed, is laughter. Mal, a former real estate and banking professional, has always been able to make Joni laugh, especially when she didn’t want to.
Joni, who stayed home to raise four kids in the days before disposable diapers, has always been willing to laugh when others might have screamed.
The only rule the pair ever observed is simple: Don’t go to bed angry.
“Our whole life has been a romance,” Mal said. “If she gets real mad, I can make her laugh. … Ours has been a beautiful marriage because we just keep try and keep it light.”
Contact Centennial and North Las Vegas View reporter James DeHaven at email@example.com or 702-477-3839.