Source: Sherman Publications

Lasting love

by Phil Custodio

February 09, 2011

After 25 years of marriage, Mike and Renee Garavaglia of Independence Township know the importance of family.

They learned how much last Fourth of July. Doing some yard work, Mike suffered a massive heart attack.

“A widow maker,” he said. “They got me to the hospital, they saved my life – it’s phenomenal.”

Doctors put in a stent, he had bypass surgery in September, and a grueling schedule of cardiac therapy. Their sons Joe, 25, who lives in Seymour, Ind., and Tom, 23, living in Tampa, Fla., came home to help, joining their sister Gina, 14, already living at home.

“The whole time, I was so grateful for what I have,” Mike said. “Renee had to steer the ship – it was a hardship on the family. I was so appreciative. I found out how much I love them all.”

“We all love him,” Renee said.

This Valentine’s Day is another reminder to always make your feelings known.

“Don’t be afraid to show emotion and affection for your family,” Mike said. “I firmly believe that whenever you leave, the last thing you do is tell your family you love them.”

Tom, engaged to be married to Kristina Avery, plans to apply those lessons in his own family.

“The biggest lesson is family comes first regardless of what’s going on,” he said. “They’ll be with you through thick and thin. Love of family 's stronger than anything else.”

Tom learned how to handle adversity from his parents.

“Nothing is easy – they taught me that,” he said. “My life is a tribute to them. They gave me the tools to be successful – I’m on my way there. If not for them, where would I be?”

As long as you have a solid marriage, you can get through anything, Joe said.

“My parents are great people,” he said. “They’re very committed to each other. They taught us right from wrong, all three of us, things we’ll follow until the day we die.”

“I want to be like that when I get married,” Gina said. “They’re so lovey, they really are.”

Mike, 57, was born on the east side of Detroit – the west side for Renee, 54. Assigned to different departments of the same company in 1983, they met at work. Mike liked Renee immediately – not so much for her, though.

“I didn’t like him right away,” Renee said. “He was too serious. I was all about fun.”

“I was all business at work,” Mike agreed.

She got to know him better at get-togethers after work at the bowling alley.

“I saw a lot that I liked, the real him,” Renee said. “I found out he makes me laugh. He’s very sensitive and caring, a big family man – everything I was looking for.”

“She’s beautiful and funny, a fantastic personality,” Mike said. “I’m extremely fortunate to find someone who loves me as much as I love her.”

When they first started going out, they had to keep it on the down low – office romances were frowned upon.

“People kind of found out,” Renee said. “We’d go to dances with groups of friends and see each other there. Friends said we danced so well, it looked like we practiced. We had.”

When Mike had the opportunity to advance his career with a new job, he took it.

“I wanted to keep dating her,” he said. “I know a good thing when I see it. It was a whole lot easier to date, no more pressure not to date where we work.”

They were married July 1985 in Livonia. It was the second marriage for both.

“I learned so much from my first marriage,” Renee said. “The divorce was devastating – I try harder because of that.”

They moved to Clarkston in 1993.

“I love Clarkston,” Renee said. “It’s a great place.”

“We’ve made so many friends here, it’s phenomenal,” Mike said.

Joe and Tom graduated from Clarkston schools, with Gina attending ninth grade, all three active in school sports, clubs, and activities. Mike and Renee were always there to cheer them on.

“We go to football games – we still know everyone there,” Mike said. “Even after Gina graduates, we’ll still go.”

For Mike and Renee, tips to keep marriage strong also include listening, give and take, and paying attention to each other.

“Renee is beautiful, she has beautiful eyes,” Mike said. “I want the whole world to know that.”

“He tells me almost every day,” Renee said.

Family night is important, with dancing, games, going out bowling.

“That’s where it all started,” Renee said. “We’ll never stop doing that.”

Both remember lessons their parents taught them.

“We raised our kids how we were raised,” Renee said.

“If I did half the job my dad did raising me, I’d be a fantastic father,” Mike said.

Also, honesty, trust, respect for everyone, and keeping a sense of humor.

“We make it fun, we laugh all the time,” Mike said.

“We’re young at heart. My bones creak, but in my mind, I’m 18,” Renee said. “Find humor in things, even the heart attack – you have to.”

Mike has a number-one rule for a happy family:

“A happy wife is a happy life,” he said. “If Momma’s not happy, nobody’s happy.”

“I happen to agree,” Renee said.