As the story goes it was not love at first sight for Jean. But Al did not give up and a few years later they began to date and eventually he won her heart. They were married on April 23rd, 1950 at St. Barnabas church in Long Beach. This setting for the marriage was especially significant for the Riga family as Jean's parents, Frank & Elizabeth were founding members of the church. As their family grew the church continued to be a significant place for Jean and Al. Four of their children and two grandsons went to school and graduated from St. Barnabas and their daughter Nancy took her wedding vows in the same sanctuary as Al and Jean had done years earlier.
Jean and Al's love for each other was priceless. Every look, every gesture, every little gleam in their eyes was for one another. Theirs was the perfect role model for a good marriage...58 years together was an inspiration to all who knew them. In the years prior to her passing she gave fully of her services to her family, friends and to her beloved church. Among the many hats she wore was that of planner for the Seniors activities. This included field trips to plays, museums, various places of interest and to Laughlin Nevada.
Last February, St. Barnabas school created the "Jean Simonetti Education Foundation" in her honor for her life long dedication to fund raising for the church, school and religious education program.
Now there was something that Al wanted to do for his beloved wife. Something that would honor her memory. Since both Jean and her mother were devoted to Mary an idea was born to build a "Grotto for Mary" in the garden of the church. The groundwork was started last October. Al received help from family members and started to sketch out ideas and model the structure out of styrofoam. Of course all of this planning came with blessings from the church but Al had to make many trips to the city planners to get permits. Months passed, Al drove back and forth many many times to the city building refining the design. He contacted family members to help him build the grotto.
The garden area was chosen.
Al was ever present and working to make this grotto perfect.
The Lady of Lourdes grotto was built in loving memory of Jeanette Simonetti. It was completed and dedicated on the grounds of St. Barnabas church on Sunday October 11, 2009.
Note: I did not have the good fortune of knowing Jean Simonetti. I attended her memorial service at St. Barnabas because she is the mother of my friend Nancy. But I felt like I had known her through stories Nancy had shared about her warm and loving Italian mother. At the service for Jean I was in awe of all that was told about Jean's life. She was a very loving wife, mother and grandmother. Her grandchildren stood before the congregation telling heartwarming stories about their beloved "nonna" . I felt as though I had known Jeanette as they eulogized her and gave reflections on her life. She was "so italian" in her warmth, and generosity. She gave of her self to the family, to friends and to the church which she dearly loved. The church overflowed with people mourning her passing. So many heartfelt stories of Jeanette's wonderful ways, opening her home for big italian parties with lots of homecooked food and donating time, week upon week to volunteer for church functions. And then there were the most tender and endearing stories of the love between Jean and her dear husband Al, who adored her. I think this grotto is a fitting and beautiful tribute to a loving and generous woman who never stopped giving through out her entire life.
It is a sweet and enduring love story of Al and Jean Simonetti.