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Couple fetes 50th anniversary at Jamaica LIRR station

Fifty-seven years after crossing paths at the Jamaica Long Island Rail Road station, Robert and Joan Newman of Pittsburgh, Pa. returned to the place where a chance encounter set in motion the forces that ultimately led to their 50-year marriage.

Standing on the Jamaica platform waiting for a train one day in 1946, Robert said he was "struck by lightning" when he spotted Joan, a grammar school classmate whom he had no contact with in many years but who had turned into "the most beautiful girl" he had ever seen.

The couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary Friday by re-enacting the meeting with their 11 children, 31 grandchildren and hoards of reporters and cameramen looking on.

"It's crazy, but we always have a good time," the couple's daughter, Patty Hanh, said of their large-scale family reunion. "This was fun to have a real occasion to give them attention. They've been great parents."

Humorous and outgoing, Robert Newman, 73, addressed the large crowd with aplomb and ease, relating all the details that led up to the couple's marriage seven years after they crossed paths on the railroad platform and naming all 31 of his grandchildren as reporters cheered and shouted.

"Do you want birth dates, too?" he joked.

The couple began their courtship five years after the chance meeting on the platform and in 1953 they were married in the same Queens Village Church, Our Lady of Lourdes, where they had attended elementary school.

Shortly after the wedding they headed to Pittsburgh, where Robert worked as a food broker and Joan stayed home and attended to the needs of the couple's 11 children.

Robert Newman said that after the event, the family was heading to a celebration at Our Lady of Lourdes and then to Braddock Park, where they would relax while munching on large quantities of peanut butter sandwiches.

He added that both he and his wife were glad to be back in New York, their place of birth, and that he was especially grateful to the Long Island Rail Road, which halted construction on a portion of a train platform in order for the re-enactment to take place.

"What the Long Island Rail Road has done for us is incomprehensible, and we thank them for it," Robert Newman said.

The Newmans' children and grandchildren said the patriarch's sense of humor had been the secret to the couple's continually strong marriage, noting that he had written a humorous book about his life including a large account of his railroad platform encounter.

Joan Newman, also 73, however, recalled the meeting that took place in church five years later as the real beginning of the relationship, but her husband's theatrical instincts placed more importance on the dramatic train station encounter.

"I think this is way overblown," granddaughter Becky Hahn said of the frenzy surrounding the re-enactment. "This is just a small family thing, but my grandfather loves it. He tries to get all this attention and now it's paying off."

Reach Reporter Dan Trudeau by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 173.

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