70 years strong

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Lucas Gallegos, a parishioner of St. John the Beloved Church in McLean, can still remember the first time he saw his wife of 70 years. As children living in Albuquerque, N.M., their two families knew each other. When Lucas met his future wife in 1928, Earlene was only 4 years old.

More than a decade later, the pair started dating when they were in high school. Lucas was a senior and Earlene a junior. When her family moved to Colorado before Earlene's senior year, the two wrote letters to each other.
At the time, Lucas was 18 years old. Both of his parents had died years earlier leaving him responsible for his younger brother and sister.

"We had to take care of ourselves," he said. "I needed to take care of my younger brother and sister to keep the family together."

To be closer to Earlene, Lucas and his siblings moved to Colorado, where Lucas worked as a printer apprentice in Denver and then for a bakery in Colorado Springs. During weekends, he would spend time with Earlene.

The summer after she graduated high school, the couple married. The ceremony took place Aug. 1, 1942, and was very small, with only Lucas' younger brother and sister in attendance. Knowing her mother wouldn't approve, they kept the ceremony a secret. To celebrate, they bought a 49-cent cake from Safeway.

From the beginning, Earlene and Lucas were caregivers - first taking care of Lucas' younger siblings and then, in the years to follow, six children of their own. The couple moved to Virginia a few months after their marriage. In the early years, Lucas worked at a print shop in Washington and the couple lived in what is now Tysons Corner.

"Where Tysons Corner is now, we used to go berry picking," Lucas said. "It was really out there - really country."

After a few years working in the government printing office, Lucas decided to heed the advice of his deceased mother and became an independent businessman. Since he had worked in several bakeries and enjoyed baking, he and his brother decided to buy a bakeshop.

"We didn't know hardly anything about baking, but we hired good people and studied a lot," he said.

Eventually the business - Lee Bakery - took off. At one point, the bakery had five locations in Alexandria, Mount Vernon, Cherrydale, Chesterbrook and on Pershing Drive in Arlington. When Lucas' brother died in 1976, Earlene stepped into the business and helped take care of the bakery's finances. This kept up until 1992, when Lucas retired. After 42 years of operation, Lee Bakery closed.

Today, Earlene and Lucas have 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. They live in McLean, in the same house where they've lived since 1958, and their youngest son is 55 years old. After retiring from the bakery, Lucas worked in banking and helped found Embassy International Bank in Washington. He also spent many years traveling to Eastern Europe, where he taught baking in Albania, Bulgaria, Romania and Russia. Through it all, he said Earlene has always backed him up and provided great support.

"She has been the mainstay of the whole family," he said.

This summer, Lucas and Earlene celebrated their 70th anniversary three times. First they celebrated with friends from St. John the Beloved, where they have been parishioners for more than 50 years. On their actual anniversary, they celebrated in Chicago with Lucas' younger brother and sister, the two people present at their wedding. And then, upon returning to Virginia, their children threw them a family-only anniversary party.

"It's been one party after another," Lucas said. "Maybe we're party animals."

When it comes to making a marriage work, both Earlene and Lucas believe it's valuable to have the same faith. Throughout their marriage, they always have been engaged Catholics, sending their children to Catholic schools, attending Mass together and remaining active in church organizations like the Knights of Columbus. Up until last year, Lucas was an altar server at 6:30 a.m. daily Mass. For the past four years, he has taught religious education.

"Mostly what has kept us together is our faith," he said. "It could have been different. Each marriage has their problems somewhere along the line and you just resolve them, talk them out."

That faith involvement, he believes, has helped keep their marriage on track.
"If one parent's going one way and another's going a different way, there's not that unity, that singleness of purpose," he said. "That's important."

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2012