Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Ralph Wisniewski and Grace Lesinski had a crush
on each other when they were in middle school and reunite after 71 years.
Ralph Wisniewski and Grace Lesinski reminisce about the teenage crush they shared back in grade school. Their lives grew apart after
that and they married different people. The two, now widowed, reunited recently when
Ralph moved into the apartment building where Grace lives. For most of us, our teen crushes live on only as bittersweet
memories . For Grace Lesinski, hers showed up recently on the list of new residents
at the New Berlin, Wisconsin, senior apartment complex where she lives. “I saw the
name and thought, ‘Oh, it can’t be. I mean, how many Ralph Wisniewskis are there?
she said. So she knocked on his door. A man much older than the handsome 14-year-old
she remembered swung it open. He looked at the gray-haired lady standing there. “And
I said are you the Ralph that graduated from St. Mary Magdalen, and he said yes.
I said I’m Grace. He was indeed the Ralph Wisniewski she fell for in their years
together at the south side Milwaukee Catholic school. He also lived across the street
from her near 19th and Arthur in a Polish neighborhood. Ralph was her first kiss.
It says so right there in the memory book that Grace filled out about her life and
gave to her youngest daughter, JoAnn Ley. Grace checked the box describing the kiss
as “awkward” but added, “got better. After grade school graduation, they went to different high schools. Their innocent romance flickered
out. They both married, she for 60 years to John, he for 54 years to Elizabeth. They
had children and grandchildren, and in recent years were widowed. Now, 71 years after
that crazy mutual crush, they have been tossed back together by chance, fate, divine
intervention or however you want to see it. They’re in no hurry to label what they
have now. “It’s difficult to explain. You just like it,” Ralph, 85, said when I sat
down with him and Grace, 84, at Regency Senior Communities where they live two floors
apart. A photo of Grace Lesinski, then Grace Nowakowski, in her graduating class
at St. Mary Magdalen School in 1947. (Photo: Tyger Williams/Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
“We get together once in a while and visit back and forth,” Grace said. “Monday night
bingo he’s been coming, and we’ve had dinner a few times here. They were playful
together as they sat side by side on Ralph’s couch and told me their story. JoAnn
was there and she said her mom seems more buoyant these days. And Ralph told Grace
he likes her giggle. It didn’t take much to roll back the years. They finished at
St. Mary Magdalen in 1947. “There were times when you gave me a ride on your bike.
You know the boys had that extra bar and I’d sit on there,” said Grace, whose last
name was Nowakowski back then. “We went cruising down those alleys,” Ralph said.
“I remember going to the ice skating rink, too. “I considered him my first boyfriend. Now you’re hearing all this,”
Grace said, looking sheepishly toward Chris Vedbraaten, Ralph’s youngest daughter
who also joined us for the interview. “I had a crush,” Ralph said, and it didn’t
hurt that Grace also helped him with his school work. Grace still has an autograph
book from 1945 that Ralph signed: “Dear Grace, when you get married and have a hubby,
I hope he is a little chubby. His signature includes his nickname, Wisz, and boasts,
“The best in the world. A photo of Ralph Wisniewski in his graduating class at St.
Mary Magdalen School in Milwaukee in 1947. Grace hoped back then that their romance would continue into high school,
but Ralph didn’t ask her out. He said he became busy with his new school friends
and sports. Grace met John when she was a senior in high school and they married
in 1955. Along came four daughters, Barbara, Doreen, Carolyn and JoAnn. The couple
built their longtime home in New Berlin and moved into the Regency in 2013. John
died in 2016. Ralph, after a few years in the Air Force, met Elizabeth when he asked
her to dance at a neighborhood bar. They married in 1958. Along came five children,
Mark, Kathy, John, Jeanne and Chris. They lived most of their married life in Muskego,
Wisc., and Ralph worked 40 years at Allen-Bradley. Elizabeth, “Liz,” died in 2012.
When Ralph moved to the Regency earlier this year, he had no idea Grace was there.
They had not been in touch over the years. He said she has helped the new place feel
more like home. Sweet surprises can happen at any age. Grace and Ralph, even as they
both still wear the wedding rings from their long marriages, are now enjoying each
other’s company again and reminiscing all these years after their crush cooled. “I
don’t know if it cooled,” Ralph slyly corrected me.
news section, White Plains Journal 6-9-2018