Immigrant Stories: Pat and Tony Tonozzi, a love story
Immigrant Stories by Walter Gallacher appears monthly in the Post Independent. Today: Pat and Tony Tonozzi’s love was something special. Anyone who had the good fortune to know them, knew that.
Tony was the son of Italian immigrants who grew up in the Dust Bowl of southeastern Colorado. Pat was an Irish lass, one of four children born to Stephen and Marie Wall in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They fell in love 73 years ago amid the chaos and uncertainty of World War II. During their life together, they had 12 children, 24 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and 1 great-great-grandchild.
Pat died on Feb. 15, 2015.
Pat: I remember when I met Tony. I thought, “He’s really a nice boy.” In those days you didn’t call them men yet. I had been with one boyfriend all through high school. I was never one to “play the field.” I was 19 when I went with my folks out to my brother’s wedding in California, and I decided I was going to go out with a bunch of fellas.
My mother said, “Don’t you go falling in love with a sailor,” and I met Tony and I never went with anyone else again. That was the beginning of our romance.
Tony: (with a wink) She really fell for me, and I was ready, too. We went to the movies on our first date. Her folks had gone back to Minneapolis after the wedding, so she was kinda lonesome, and I really took over.
Pat: We borrowed my brother’s Plymouth and drove down to Muir Beach near San Francisco. I still don’t know how we found it but the phosphorus waves were lit up that night. It was so beautiful!
Tony: We committed to each other that night and kept going together and having a lot of fun. Her brother finally called her folks and said, “I think they’re getting pretty serious. You’d better get Pat to come home.”
Pat: So Tony gave me $5 when I got on the train for home. I didn’t have any money. I had planned to get a job in California, but I didn’t have any skills at that time, and the World War II jobs hadn’t started.
Shortly after I got home, Tony got orders to go overseas. I wrote him letters while he was gone, and a year later, when he got home, we got married in Minneapolis.
Tony: I took the train to Minneapolis, and Pat met me at the station and told me she was taking me to a bar for a drink.
Pat: It was the Hotel Radisson, not a bar. (laughs)
Tony: The waitress came to take our order, and I ordered a drink. She didn’t card me because I had a uniform on, but she asked Pat what year she was born, and Pat couldn’t remember what the year was to pass for 21. So we had to leave. (laughs)
Pat: I’ve never been good at math. (laughs)
Gallacher: Tell me about your wedding day.
Pat: Well, we didn’t have a very big wedding because there weren’t a lot of men around, and Tony didn’t know anybody in the Twin Cities. We were married at St. Helena’s and had a short honeymoon at the Lowell Inn in Stillwater, Minnesota.
And then we headed back to California on the train. In those days, the dining cars had linen tablecloths and napkins. We stopped and met Tony’s family in southeastern Colorado on our way. I had never met them.
Tony: I was assigned to the naval hospital at Corona, California, and became the chief pharmacist mate there. I was making about $160 a month with a dependent allowance, which was quite a bit of money in those days. We weren’t too far from my sisters, and my folks had moved out there by then, so it was good to be near family. We found a little house, and that’s where we started our family.
Gallacher: Tony, tell me when you knew you were in love.
Tony: When she walked into the room and I was introduced to her.
Pat: Oh (laughs) you’re not Irish but you are full of … the blarney.
Tony: I had had a few dates in high school and a few in college but I had never really gone steady with a gal. But love just came onto us like a thunderclap, didn’t it, Pat.
Pat: Well, I just thought, “He is too nice a man to never see again.” I was a little bit practical, but I think love involves being a little bit practical.
Gallacher: So when did you go back to Minnesota?
Tony: In 1945, when I got out of the service, I went to the veteran’s hospital in Minneapolis with a letter of recommendation from one of the officers I worked for in California. They started me as a clerk at $1,440 a year, and when I retired 28 years later I was the supply officer for a five-state area. I was awful fortunate.
We eventually moved out to *Fort Snelling and got one of the army houses there.
Pat: Our kids had so much fun out there. Our house overlooked the Mississippi River, and they would go down there and play. They made rafts, and Tony got some barrels and made them a pontoon boat, and then he made a trailer for it so we could take it to the lake on weekends.
Tony: Yeah, we tried it out on the Mississippi River. It’s a wonder we didn’t all drown, the thing was loaded with kids. We floated down the Mississippi about 80 miles to Lake Pepin.
A big storm came up, and that was the end of our trip. We were gonna sleep on the boat but my son, Joe, was afraid we would get struck by lightning. That was a good call because the pontoon barrels were held together with hog wire. It was real fancy (laughs).
It blew like mad that night, so we took shelter in the women’s bathhouse there at the lake, and the next day I called Pat and she came down with the trailer and all the little ones. Ah, we were crazy people.
Pat: We had fun but I am convinced we had a guardian angel.
Gallacher: What was the hardest part of your time together?
Pat: I think having our children so close in age. At the time, it seemed difficult, and I would envy Tony going off to work. But when I look back on it now and see how women have to balance work and kids, I feel pretty fortunate.
Tony: Yeah, Pat had her hands full. In 1971, I finally decided to retire after 33 years in the civil service, and we packed up and moved to Colorado. We had some friends who told us if we moved anywhere in Colorado it should be to Glenwood Springs. They said it was the most beautiful place in the country.
I converted an old mail truck into a camper with carpet and army bunk beds along the sides. I glued Velcro along the back so we could enclose it with a tent when we stopped to camp.
We had a regular caravan. Pat drove the station wagon with all the bikes, I drove the mail truck, son Brian drove the U Haul and Tim and Joe drove the Volkswagen. We got to Glenwood Springs and put the kids in the pool and they all said, “This is where we want to come to.”
Pat: There weren’t very many places to rent at that time, so we ended up at the Hideout in one of the trailers.
Tony: Yeah, we were all stuffed in a 14-by-70-foot trailer. Nick Massaro, the school principal at the time, came out to check on us because someone had reported us for having too many kids in that space.
We were having fun, but we really needed to find a place. Rachel Mangnall, a local Realtor, finally found us a lot on Iron Mountain, and that’s where we built our house.
Gallacher: Tell me what you love about each other.
Tony: We’ve had a lot of fun, and we really work good together.
Pat: We are a team, and we never stopped to think about what something was going to cost. We just did it, and the money always seemed to be there.
There are so many divorces these days, and I know there is always a reason, but I wish that people would work harder on their marriages and put more value on the companionship.
Tony: Yeah, we’re getting better at this as forgetfulness sets in. We can’t remember what we were fighting about. (laughs) We have had a great family. The kids love Pat so much I’m jealous.
Pat: The thing I love about Tony is his ability to engage people and make them laugh.
Tony: Ah, we have so much to be thankful for and if you can be grateful you’ve got a lot goin’ for ya.
*Fort Snelling was a military fortification at the confluence of the Minnesota and Mississippi River in Minnesota.
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