by Jill Ragar Esfeld
OVERLAND PARK — When asked about their long marriage, Church of the Ascension parishioners Sam and Teresa Mentesana confess that in their earlier years, they argued frequently.
“We’d just fight every day and make up every night,” said Sam.
Five children, 22 grandchildren and 20 great-grandchildren later, they’re still together.
In fact, Teresa and Sam will have been married for 80 years this month. In October, they’ll celebrate that anniversary along with Teresa’s 99th and Sam’s 100th birthdays.
What’s their formula for staying together so many years?
“I don’t know,” said Teresa. “I guess we just loved each other.”
Fire and ice
The couple now lives with their youngest son Leo, who is also their main caregiver. And he attributes their peppery relationship to their heritage.
“She’s Italian,” he said. “And he’s Sicilian.
“It’s that fire and ice.”
Even when they met during high school in northeast Kansas City, Missouri, it wasn’t love at first sight.
Teresa remembers seeing Sam walking home and telling her girlfriends, “Let’s cross to the other side. I don’t want to walk with that old crazy Sam.”
“She didn’t like my reputation,” Sam confessed.
But Sam was smitten by the pretty girl who went out of her way to steer clear of his charm.
One day when he was driving to a friend’s house, he spotted Teresa leaving her father’s store.
She didn’t look well.
“So, I asked her, ‘Can I take you home?’” he recalled. “She really was sick, and she said, ‘Well, if you take me straight home.’
“I told her I would take her straight home and so she got in the car, and that’s when we started dating.”
Four months later, Sam asked for Teresa’s hand in marriage, but her mother was adamantly against it.
“I said, ‘Well, if I don’t run off with her, someone else will,’” Sam recalls telling her. And a few months later, we ran off.”
They were married in 1939 in the Olathe courthouse by the famous Judge Bert Rogers.
Eventually, their marriage was blessed in the church. But even that didn’t satisfy Sam’s new mother-in-law.
It took the words of a priest friend of the family to reassure her.
“‘Don’t worry,’” Teresa recalls him telling her mother. “‘This marriage won’t last.’”
A rough start to a happy ending
Money was tight, so the young couple started out living with Sam’s parents.
Eighty years later, Teresa still regrets that decision.
“I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone,” she said. “His mother spoiled him; it was terrible. It was awful.
“She did everything for him first — it was like I wasn’t even in the house.”
But they found salvation in a mutual love — dancing.
Every Saturday night, they would leave their children in the care of Sam’s mother and go to the Pla-Mor ballroom in Kansas City, Missouri.
“We used to make a day of it,” said Sam. “We would go downtown, we’d go to a show and, after the show, we’d go to the soda shop and have a malt.
“Then we would take a streetcar and for a quarter we could get to the Pla-Mor. I always made sure I had a quarter left so we could get home.”
The couple eventually moved out on their own and raised their family in St. Augustine Parish in Kansas City, Missouri.
Their five children attended St. Augustine School and Bishop Hogan High School.
Teresa was known as a mother’s mother.
“She could do anything,” Leo said. “Good cook, good baker. I don’t remember her sitting down; she was constantly on the move.
“I can see her doing wash in the basement.”
By “doing wash” he means something very different from what we think of today.
“She had a board and bloody knuckles,” said Sam.
Sam worked hard, too. He started out as a baker for Roma Bakery until he discovered he was allergic to flour.
Then he ran a liquor store and subsequently became part-owner in a Hamm’s beer distributorship.
Family, faith and cookies
Family dinner was a ritual that always waited on Sam to get home from work.
“Nobody had anything to eat until I got home,” said Sam. “And then, the table was set and we would eat as a family.
“We did that all our life.”
Sometimes, it was a long, hungry wait for Sam to arrive home, but the Mentesana children had a workaround for their empty stomachs.
“We would sneak stuff,” admitted Leo. “At Christmas especially, Mom would make Italian cookies — she would fill tin cans and we would sneak them.
“She would hide them, but we would find them.”
Weekends meant family time, too; Teresa would make popcorn to share while watching a movie on television, or they would gather with extended family.
But Mass was their constant.
“You wouldn’t think about missing church,” said Sam.
For the ages
At the heart of it all, however, was a love story. A love that both of them nurtured their entire marriage.
“She spoiled him, and he spoiled her,” Leo said. “To this day, when they go to bed, she will crawl over to be near him every night.
“They have to be right next to each other, side by side.”