“I was the first one to say ‘I love you’ and I should have said it sooner," Joe Potenzano exclusively tells PEOPLE after tying the knot on Oct. 15
Longtime bachelor Joe Potenzano never thought he’d be getting married for the first time at 92. In fact, he never believed marriage was in the cards for him.
But he took a shot at love with widow Mary Elkind 64 years after they first met at his sister's wedding, where she was the maid of honor and he was a groomsman. Their story of late-life love exploded in the news, and included an appearance on The Drew Barrymore Show.
And on Oct 15, the couple tied the knot as about 90 people gathered in New Jersey to celebrate. Mary wore a “mother of the bride” dress, the couple tells PEOPLE exclusively — and she walked down the aisle with her daughters, grandsons and Joe’s nieces.
“It wasn't meant for us back then, but it is now and it's perfect," says Mary, 84.
After Joe and Mary met at the 1959 wedding, they saw each other for a while before going off in different directions. Joe went to college and Mary, a dancer, worked at Radio City Music Hall in New York City and a ballet company before meeting her late husband.
“In fact, Joe was at my wedding and we’ve always been very close through family functions over the years,” Mary says. “How we got back together was at the baby’s christening and we were sitting there and Joe decided to ask me if I’d like to go for coffee or lunch with him one day.”
“I don't wish loneliness on anybody,” Joe says. “It affects us all. Some of us remain silent, but I thought I don't intend to remain silent when I know my life is dribbling away from me in my late years.”
He says he thought about Mary many times, thinking they were both all alone and the solution seemed simple: just give her a call and ask her out.
So why did it take him 9 years after her husband passed away to make his move?
“All my friends can tell you. I was stupid,” Joe says. “I was the first one to say ‘I love you’ and I should have said it sooner.”
Still, it was quite a leap for Joe to take after decades of deciding he was never going to find his soulmate.
He says he only had one serious relationship in the early 1960s with a flight attendant. It turned out that she was lonely in New York and took up with Joe even though she had a boyfriend back home he didn’t know about.
“That knocked me off mentally,” says Joe. “And I just thought in my heart and my mind, marriage was not meant to be. No matter what I do, it's always going to be a failure. And I didn't want to pursue it anymore.”
But, he says, life changes — and after she came back into his life, Joe knew he wanted to spend his last years with Mary.
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The couple's love story really came full circle at their wedding — down to the bridal party.
“Joe’s sister was my maid of honor, and I was her maid of honor at her wedding,” says Mary. “The church ceremony was beautiful. We had planned just a small wedding, but everybody said we have to have a celebration so we did it up big.”
After the ceremony they went to "the fiesta" with a DJ that kept the party going all night long, playing Italian music as friends and family came from all over the country to join in the fun.
“We’re Italian, so forget about it,” Mary says with a laugh. “It was like having one big family reunion and we couldn’t be happier.”
As for their first getaway as husband and wife, the couple went on a short honeymoon — courtesy of The Drew Barrymore Show.
“We just wanted to go someplace nearby that we could drive to,” Mary says. “So we went to Woodloch Pines for a few days and it was beautiful.”
Even though Joe spent decades thinking matrimony wasn't for him, he's already enjoying life as a married man.
“She does things I normally wouldn’t do in the house and she teaches me things every day,” Joe says. “Like I should have all the buttons on my shirts and don’t mix the dark colors with the whites when you do laundry.”
Mary laughs and says he’s an easygoing guy and so far the marriage is going great.
“I’ve always loved him as a person, so I’m very happy," she says. "I couldn’t have picked a better man."
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