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Friday, July 27, 2007

Latest UB story: Mr. Wonderful and Betty Crocker

Here's my latest UB story out today. It's not available online, so I've copied it here.

Sharing their faith and the heritage for 50 years
By Wendy A. Hoke

Geraldine Semproch learned of her husband Ray’s marriage proposal when a sportswriter published it in a newspaper.

Ray was a pitcher in baseball’s minor leagues. When the writer asked him about his success in pitching in an interview after a game, Ray responded that he thought it was because he was getting married to Geraldine.

“The guy asked, ‘When’s the wedding?’ and I just threw out the first date after the playoffs, which was Nov. 16,” he said.

And so it appeared in print the following day. Geraldine learned of the proposal when Ray mailed her the clipping. “I showed it to my father and he said, ‘Well, I guess we’ll be having a baseball player in the family.’ I was an only child, but my father thought he was a good fit for me,” she said.

Geraldine and Ray Semproch met on a blind date. They will celebrate their golden anniversary on Nov. 16, 2007, with a Mass at Corpus Christi Church and a celebration to follow on Nov. 17.

The two, who grew up near Cleveland’s Slavic neighborhood, said they shared many things in common including their Polish ethnicity and the closeness of their family. Their strongest bond, however, is their Catholic faith.

Ray, who was the youngest of eight children, lost his mother at an early age and was taught and influenced by his older sister, his father and the nuns at Sacred Heart School. Geraldine was an only child and the daughter of Bohemian and Polish parents.

Together the Semprochs share the traditions of faith and ethnicity with their three grown children (Debbie, Karen and Raymond, who were all born on Aug. 10 in different years) and their seven grandchildren ages 13 to 19. They celebrate all the holidays together and are proud that their children and grandchildren also are strong in their faith.

“We always go to their parish events, too,” said Geraldine. “We’re a very close-knit family.”

For 46 years they have lived on the same tree-lined, red brick street in Old Brooklyn. Their home is filled with photos and mementos of their life together.

Ray played two years with the Philadelphia Phillies and one year with the Detroit Tigers. Most of his career was spent as bar manager of Broglio’s, a fine Italian restaurant that used to be located in Independence and was owned by Ray’s brother. Geraldine also worked in the family business as an office clerk and later a banquet manager.

Some of their fondest memories were of patrons who used to egg on the “Singing Bartender of Broglio’s” to serenade them with “Jingle Bell’s” in Polish. What most didn’t know, until recently, was that Ray also doubled as the Singing Polish Santa Claus on the “Big Chuck and Little John Show.”

“Big Chuck lived down the street and I grew up playing basketball with him,” explained Ray. “We did this shtick and it was funny. He tried to pay me royalties or something, but I told him to just use it. So every first Saturday in December, my kids would watch. They couldn’t understand how dad could be sitting in the living room with them and be on TV at the same time,” recalled Ray, laughing.

Laughter is one of the qualities that Geraldine and Ray still have in common. They laugh easily together and still enjoy a bit of good-natured teasing.

“We went to a hockey game on our third date and the announcer said, ‘Cleveland icing the puck.’ When she asked what that meant, I told her there was a little refrigerator where they kept the puck…”

“And I believed him!” said Geraldine. “I repeated the story to a couple who came to a hockey game with us 15 years later!”

Both laugh at the memory.

Friends know him as Mr. Wonderful, prone to impersonating Don Ho singing, “Tiny Bubbles” at weddings and parties. She is known as Betty Crocker and makes gift baskets filled with home-baked goodies for First Communions.

Together they share a life that has grown through faith, love and tradition.

Hoke is a freelance writer.

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