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Accordion brings couple together after decades

Art and JoAnne Mackay in their Joliet home. (Mary Owen/Tribune)

Art and JoAnne Mackay in their Joliet home. (Mary Owen/Tribune)

For the decade after his first wife’s death, Art Mackay’s main squeeze was his accordion.

Until he met JoAnne.

On August 17, 2000, Mackay, 84, a retired teacher and principal, was giving an accordion lesson to a man who lived on Hosmer Street in Joliet. The man’s wife was so inspired by the music she called over some of her friends to have an impromptu polka party.

“I was expecting a short, fat Italian man,” said JoAnne, 82, then a widow living across the street, whose Italian father had encouraged her to take accordion lessons as a young girl.

While the other ladies were dancing and being charmed by the outgoing and flirtatious music man, a more reserved and skeptical JoAnne stood at the side.

But when Art learned the demure JoAnne had studied accordion for 14 years before she married and had children, he became intrigued. By 4 p.m. that day, he was wooing her with the tune “Let me call you sweetheart.” He got his foot in the door with an offer to fix the sticky “base hand” on JoAnne’s broken accordion.

They were married 11 months later.

Next month the couple will celebrate their 11th wedding anniversary. Over the years, the couple has played the accordion together at events, senior citizen homes, schools and other venues. While JoAnne’s finger agility has waned with arthritis, Art is still a regular at weddings and parties. He even has done a funeral.

(PHOTOS: Accordion couple.)

Their advice for a successful marriage — you have to have something in common.

“Our love is more than physical attraction,” said Art. “It’s musical attraction.”

And like a marriage, an accordion brings different elements together. The instrument has keys, valves and reeds. The piano-like keys play the melody and the buttons control the rhythm.

While they dated, Art pulled JoAnne into his busy social life of bowling, dancing and accordion gigs.

Despite JoAnne’s hesitation to marry again, she finally agreed — after the third proposal. The couple were married at Grace United Methodist Church in March 2001.

JoAnne said her son asked, “Why so soon?” She replied, “Look, at our age, why wait?”

Before they even met, Art and JoAnne traveled in the same circles. They both attended Joliet Central High School in the 1940s. They had the same family doctor, eye doctor, foot doctor and dentist. They married a year apart, both had two children about the same ages and their spouses passed away at about the same time.

They also had the same accordion teacher when they were young.

The couple has chronicled their love in scrapbooks with titles such as “Our musical journey,” which features not only recent photos of them performing at schools, but also side-by-side old black-and-white photos of them holding accordions as youths.

Art said JoAnne is a better accordion player because of her ability to play complex classic scores. However, Art’s enthusiasm for the instrument is unsurpassed.

But at the interview, Art sets down his squeezebox and says: “I like the accordi0n, but I love her.”

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