THE ABBATES WITH photos from their younger years, above, and pictures of great-grandchildren, below. (Kathleen Lamanna photos)

THE ABBATES WITH photos from their younger years, above, and pictures of great-grandchildren, below. (Kathleen Lamanna photos)
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Tony Abbate, 94, holds up a sepia-toned photo of a stunning woman with pincurls in her hair.

"She's still my sweetheart," he says of his wife, Sheela -- age 19 in the photo, 90 today.

The couple, parishioners of the Church of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Queensbury, met while Mr. Abbate was in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II. Stationed in England, he was a staff sergeant who repaired airplanes and their propellers.

Mrs. Abbate, who is originally from Ireland, was in England with her older sister, doing factory work for the war effort: "My parents wouldn't let her go alone, [and] I was ready for excitement."

Like a scene from a movie, the couple's paths crossed on New Year's night in 1944. "I went to the dance hall for the GIs in England," recalled Mr. Abbate. "As soon as I walked in, I saw this beautiful redhead. I was a good dancer, but I was too bashful [to ask her]. I had my buddy ask her."

"When he came over, I didn't realize he was shy. I thought there was something wrong with him," Mrs. Abbate confessed. "That was two weeks before my 19th birthday."

Immediately thereafter, Mr. Abbate had to travel to northern England to retrieve a plane with a broken propeller. "We arranged to meet in the dance hall when he got back," remembered Mrs. Abbate.

They did, and they were smitten. They started to see each other three or four times a week; Mr. Abbate would ride his bike into town to meet his new young girlfriend.

The couple got engaged in June of 1945. Because the war was still on, they planned the wedding with a priest on-call for whenever Mr. Abbate came back from continental Europe.

The groom's mother sent Mrs. Abbate a wedding dress from the States in two boxes: one containing the dress; the other, the veil and headdress. Unfortunately, only the dress arrived, forcing Mrs. Abbate to wear her First Communion veil for the wedding ceremony.

The couple married in England on June 21, 1945, just weeks after the war came to an official end in Europe. They had a three-tiered wedding cake made by Mrs. Abbate's landlord, who "had borrowed [ration] coupons from all of her friends to make it," said Mrs. Abbate, since war rationing was still in effect.

Mr. Abbate was discharged from the Army Air Force and came back to the U.S. in November 1945. He moved to his hometown of Oyster Bay, Long Island, first going back to work for Republic Aviation Cooperation, then working for the Long Island Lighting company.

Mrs. Abbate arrived in New York City on Easter Sunday 1946. She came over on the Queen Mary, the historic ship that transported thousands of war brides from Europe.

The couple lived on Long Island for 32 years, raising four children. The two eldest, Michael and William, now live in North Carolina. The younger two are in New York: Ellen, in Greenfield Center; Judy, around the corner from her parent's home in Queensbury.

There's quite an age span among that generation: "When Michael was going to college, Judy was going to kindergarten," said Mr. Abbate.

The couple has 13 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren, and a cat named Misty.

"Little did we think, that night we met, we'd have all these descendants," joked Mr. Abbate. His wife remarked that "if we have any more grandkids, we'll have to [build] an extension" on the house.

The couple's faith -- in each other and in God -- has helped them create a lasting relationship.

"We're both easygoing," said Mr. Abbate.

"We always got along," Mrs. Abbate added. "Our children were always the most important in our lives."

Mr. Abbate observed that the secret to a 70-year marriage is simple: "If the husband wants to play golf, let [him] go. She lets me do that three times a week."

The Abbates have done a bit of traveling, as well: For their 40th wedding anniversary, their children sent them on a vacation to Bermuda; for their 50th anniversary, they went to Italy.

"That was the best," said Mr. Abbate of the latter.

Before the trip, "he said it was the last place he wanted to go," Mrs. Abbate told The Evangelist.

The Abbates have also gone back to visit England and Ireland a few times throughout the years. For their 70th anniversary, they didn't take a trip; they had a party with all of their children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, friends and neighbors.

"We're getting old," explained Mr. Abbate, who noted that he plays golf to keep himself feeling young. "Your body gets old," said Mrs. Abbate. "Mentally, you don't."

But the couple still looks at each other the way they did the night they met. Although Mrs. Abbate says her feelings for her sweetheart grew gradually over time, Mr. Abbate firmly believes in love at first sight: "Mine was instant."

"That wasn't me" causing a spark, said Mrs. Abbate. "That was my red hair."