Gold, silver and black balloons, gold cardboard wedding bells, a posterboard adorned with old and new photos and a white-iced anniversary cake recently filled part of the dining hall at Villa Maria Care Center.

A special occasion was brewing.

Residents Dominic Bruno, 90, and Theda Bruno, 88, celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on April 12. The couple lives together in an assisted-living apartment at the care center, 4310 E. Grant Road.

More than three dozen residents, friends, family and staff members gathered and waited for the couple to make their grand entrance for the surprise party. As nurses pushed the couple's wheelchairs into the dining area, they grabbed one another other's hands and cried.

A pianist playing big-band music welcomed them as Dominic wiped away tears with a crumpled tissue, mouthing the words "thank you."

Four Bruno generations were at the party to celebrate this long journey of love in their family.

"This happens so seldom," said Villa Maria worker Eileen Muñoz.

Dominic explained that being married 70 years "feels no different than seven years."

"She's beautiful," he added. "I look at her and say she's a doll."

The couple, their sons, daughters, granddaughter and great-granddaughter sat at a white-clothed table where they enjoyed cake, read greeting cards and reminisced about their life together.

Theda said she doesn't have a favorite thing about her husband because she loves "everything" about him.

The pair met at a dance at Summit Beach, Ohio. Dominic's friend asked him to drive Theda home. When he did, Dominic recalled, "I asked: 'You wanna go out?' and she said, 'Yeah.' "

They had been together for about nine months when they married in Cumberland, Md. He was 20 and she was 18 when they were married by a justice of the peace in 1943. They had to travel to a different state, since marriage at 18 was illegal in Ohio. Only five people, including the priest, were at the courthouse.

"We didn't have no big ceremony," Dominic said.

A year later, the couple had their marriage blessed at St. Martha's Church in Akron, Ohio.

They ended up having two sons and two daughters.

"It's been a very happy, long relationship," Dominic's son, Rick Bruno, 60, said. "They guided us, but never forced us to do anything."

Rick and his wife have been married for 38 years while the oldest son, Joseph Bruno, 66, has been married for 43 years.

Daughters are Karen Brandon, 58; and Janet Johnson, 54, both of Tucson.

The anniversary celebration took a month of planning by fellow residents and staff at the care center.

Muñoz has been working at the care center for about 14 years and has known the Brunos since they moved in about a year and a half ago.

"They're just so connected," Muñoz said. "They're like a little piece of a puzzle."

Ashley Powell is a University of Arizona student who is an apprentice at the Star. Contact her at 573-4117 or