Waiting for things to happen was never Mary Ann Moran's style. She first laid eyes on Jack Hession in 1956 — nearly a year after they both graduated from high school — and she did her best to get his attention.
"I was with a group of girlfriends at the Lantern Club in Saint Sabina's," Mary Ann recalls, "and I saw Jack across the room and I kept zeroing in on him."
Unfortunately, Jack didn't get the hint. He figured he would eventually muster the courage to talk to her.
"Then you went home," he says now, defending himself.
"You could have come over and said 'hi.'"
"I was shy."
"He never talked," Mary Ann agrees.
Still, her attentions from afar hit the intended target. After he went back to Loras College in Iowa, Jack often thought of her. And as luck would have it, John Moran, Mary Ann's brother, also went to Loras. He suggested Jack call his sister.
Too shy to follow through by telephone, Jack decided to write Mary Ann a letter instead.
"I sent it on a Wednesday, got home on that Friday," Jack says. "I finally got the nerve to call her up because I figured she'd gotten the letter and I asked if she was free that night, and she said, 'I'm going out,' and I'm thinking she meant she was going out with me so I said, 'So who's the lucky guy?' And she said Joe Somebody!"
"Well you didn't give me any notice," Mary Ann says. "I was busy!"
"I guess I should have called earlier," he admitted.
Jack was reluctant to risk losing out to "Joe" or any other potential suitor, so he made sure to make a date with her during his next visit home, at Easter.
They continued to see each other while Jack finished college, both making frequent trips between Chicago and Dubuque.
What sealed the deal for Jack was a unique birthday present. "She gave me a missal, which is kind of like a small bible or prayer book," he says. "I was sitting with my buddy in Dubuque and telling him about it and I'd never gotten anything like this before. And he said, 'Then you better grab her!' And I knew ... that she was a keeper."
Mary Ann was feeling that way about Jack too, but the same could not be said for her mom.
"I think my mother was still hoping I'd pick out some guy from the country club because Jack had no job and she was worried it would be a struggle for us," Mary Ann says. "But I said, 'You picked out your husband and I picked out mine.'"
"Her mom was tough to corral," Jack agrees.
So while Mary Ann continued to work for IBM, where she had been employed since graduating high school, Jack signed up for officer candidate school in Newport, R.I. He was later reassigned to Great Lakes Naval Station in North Chicago. They bought a car together and then got engaged. (Yes, in that order.) They married in 1961.
Now, after 51 years, four children and four grandchildren, and despite her mother's doubts, Mary Ann knows she "picked" the right guy.
"You have to be in charge of yourself and figure out what you want," she says. "And whether it's the right decision or the wrong decision it has to be your decision."
That "take charge" attitude has served Mary Ann well — even helping the Hessions buy their first home.
"Jack was in the hospital getting back surgery, so I went to look at this house that was for sale," she says. "It was '(for sale) by owner' and they had to move to Arizona because of their son's health. … I really liked it and they wanted out. So they said, 'Would you give us a down payment for this? How much do you have?' And I said, 'Four dollars.' This was 1964. So I gave them four dollars and that was that. I went to the hospital that night and said 'I got a house' and he's flat on his back and he says, 'What?' The next day the doctor came in and said, 'What did you do to him? He's so happy!'"
"She picked a good house," Jack adds. "We lived there for 36 years."
Trust and a sense of humor are the glue that keeps their marriage strong, they both agree. Being able to laugh has been mandatory too, considering the health challenges that have come their way. Jack faced back injuries brought on by the spina bifida he had as an infant and Mary Ann beat Stage IV breast cancer 20 years ago, all to have her cancer return in the uterus in 2009. But her positive outlook is unwavering.
"After I got diagnosed the first time with the breast cancer, I would volunteer for others who have breast cancer," she says. "There are so many people who are fighting this by themselves — they just don't have the support system that you need to get through this. I get chemotherapy now so I may be cranky at times, but I am so lucky because I have this incredible support system of family and friends."
Both Jack and Mary Ann say being retired has helped them discover new passions, especially with their grandchildren.
"After I stopped working, I baby-sat for my grandson and I lost 17 pounds chasing him around," Jack says. "Then she retires, and takes my job as baby sitter, and I put that 17 pounds back on."
These days, when the Tinley Park couple aren't attached at the hip, Jack golfs on Wednesdays (weather permitting) and Mary Ann spends as much time as possible with family and friends or reading books.
"And we're 75 now. Well, I'll be 75 in November," he says.
"I'm already 75," Mary Ann says.
"She's my cougar!"
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