By Catherine Twing
Whether they’ve been married over 60 years or only a few months, eight local couples will all be “newlyweds” on February 11 when the Paramount Theater hosts Rutland’s version of the“Newly” wed Game.
The event will be a twist on the annual Pack the Paramount event, where in the past people packed the Paramount Theater with food items which were donated to local food shelves. This year, instead of Packing the Paramount with food, they will be packing it with people, an idea which Tom Donahue, CEO of the BROC Community Food Shelf, calls a “win-win.”
“You are going to have a guaranteed really fun night out, tickets are very affordable, and you get to go and address the needs of the community,” Donahue said. “I can’t wait for the event myself.”
The programming director at the Paramount, Eric Mallette, first suggested the idea last summer, and it was an instant hit, Donahue explained. Just like the classic game show, the couples will be asked questions about their partners to determine the winning “newly”wed couple.
The couples involved are well-known local residents, ranging in age and years of marriage.
Jess and Rich Cowden were approached by Steve Costello from Green Mountain Power about being a part of the event, while tailgating at Castleton University last fall. Both Cowdens work at the university, where Rich serves as director of the fine arts center and professor of theater arts, and Jess is the Soundings program coordinator and a professor of communication.
The Cowdens moved to the area from Colorado a few years ago, and live in Castleton with three of their four children.
Jess, being seven years younger than her husband, saw Rich in a college theater production when she was young. That performance sparked her desire to be a stage actress. The couple got to know each other years later when Jess interviewed Rich for a class she took at what was then Mason State College and now Colorado Mason University.
“The universe just kind of stepped in,” Jess said, explaining that they were each in other relationships when they met, but with some help from their previous partners, got together.
The pair was married in Colorado at Green Shoe Theater Company, where they both worked, and have been married for 14 years. Being friends with so many people in the arts, they were able to have an affordable, relaxed wedding, which Rich said was “just like us.”
Almost 50 years earlier, another participating couple was falling in love under unlikely circumstances. Angelo and Bessie Centini met in Jackson Heights, New York when Bessie’s family moved next door to Angelo. Having immigrated from Italy, Angelo spoke little English when they met, but was a skilled tailor.
Their first date was to see the original Titanic movie, and it only took two more dates before Angelo proposed, to which Bessie said no, because she was only 18 and wanted to continue being single. Eventually she agreed, and this summer they will celebrate 62 years of marriage.
Angelo explained that while in Rutland a few months ago, Terry Jaye from WJJR stopped them and told them about the “Newly”wed Game. The couple laughed and said they were asked to participate because the event needed old couples.
The Centinis previously owned a tailoring and dry cleaning business in Westport, Connecticut, where Bessie handled the business side and Angelo did the tailoring. After traveling the country seeking a place to retire, they decided on Vermont.
All throughout their Mount Holly home, where they’ve lived for “19 or 20 years,” are hidden butterflies, and in the springtime their three-acre property is covered in flower and vegetable gardens, a passion of Bessie’s.
These days they are active in the community as ushers at the Weston Playhouse, members of Annunciation Catholic Church in Ludlow, and annual participants in the Mount Holly calendar contest. They have two daughters and four grandchildren, all of whom have graduated college, don’t smoke and are good-natured, Bessie said proudly.
“We spoil ‘em rotten, isn’t that right?” she said, directing the question at her grandson Vincent Guerrera, who was visiting his grandparents from down the road, where he lives with his mother.
After the planning meeting last week, the Centinis are even more excited to participate.
“Everyone is saying we’ll win because we’ve been married the longest,” she said. “But it’s more important to raise money for a good cause.”
While one goal is to be entertaining, the other is to raise funds for the Rutland Community Cupboard, BROC Community Food Shelf and The Salvation Army. The three organizations have two other annual events: the postal-carrier collection in the summer, and the Stuff-A-Bus event around the holidays.
This event will help supporters’ dollars go further and give them an enjoyable experience in the process.
“All the prior years it was filling the seats of the Paramount with food, which is amazing and generous, but you don’t always get the food that you need to distribute to families,” Donahue said.
BROC works with the Vermont Food Bank based out of Barre, where they can purchase food wholesale and use the funds to purchase items based on their needs. Last year, the organization fed 10,300, he said.
“With the funds, you can determine what your needs are and you can purchase them with Vermont Food Bank at wholesale price. Their donation will be able to go further to feed more people,” he said.
BROC also offers help with job training, fuel assistance, health care, and in many other areas.
“We help people get on their feet and moving forward, so they aren’t stuck in that situation for any longer than they need to be,” Donahue said.
Close to 100 percent of the proceeds from ticket sales will go to the organizations, minus a few production costs. They have already received over $20,000 from their sponsors, including Carpenter and Costin, Vermont Country Store, WJJR and Green Mountain Power, a founding sponsor since Pack the Paramount began almost a decade ago.
In addition to the main show, there will also be a diamond raffle donated by Diamonds and More on Center Street, as well as an arch where Reverend Hannah Rogers of the Rutland United Methodist Church will be on hand to renew vows.
Tickets are $20 and $25 and available at paramountvt.org.