A couple who married on St Valentine's day in 1952 celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary by renewing their vows at St Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Whangarei yesterday.
Jack Katavich and Vera Babich met as youngsters attending the school at Waiharara, 24km north-west of Kaitaia. Jack told his future bride he knew she was wearing black socks because she had dirty feet and she ran home in tears.
Despite this inauspicious start, romance later bloomed between the pair. Both have cups for athletics prowess displayed in their home at the Jane Mander retirement village in Kamo, and Vera reckons she was the faster runner and chased Jack down.
When 25-year-old Jack proposed to 19-year-old Vera he had severe rugby wounds and her father, Johnny Babich, insisted he give up rugby - a big ask for Jack, who had played for Ponsonby with All Black legend Bob Scott, and today has a photo on his wall showing him as the only Pakeha among Maori players in a Far North team.
But he gave up playing and they married at Awanui with their wedding celebrations attended by hundreds of people -"everyone from Waiharara to the Cape [Reinga]".
Jack had moved to the Far North from Auckland with his father Mijo and mother Anka during the Depression. They lived in a tent on the gumfields for five years until Mijo - who came to New Zealand from Dalmatia in 1908 - scraped together funds for a house at Waiharara and the family developed a dairy farm.
Newlyweds Jack and Vera lived in a bach on the farm. They were typical of Dalmatian couples of their era - hard work, huge community involvement and close-knit family as they raised three children. Vera had a stroke about 18 months ago and they moved from Kaitaia to Whangarei to be close to medical services.
After renewing their vows in a ceremony conducted by Fr Damian Caccioppoli, Jack, 85, and Vera, 78, went home to Kamo for lunch with family and friends.
Their affection is palpable. Jack says it's been 60 years of hard labour, but Vera counters with jibes about how before moving to Whangarei she had thought he might need an electronic collar to keep him away from city widows. Never mind Coronation's Street's Duckworths - this Jack and Vera are far more attractive and humorous.