Staying together, after finally getting together

Written by Peter G. Sánchez

For Diane and Frank Sinatra, it was a summer night in Margate. For Judy and Russell Baji, it was a video dating service in Cherry Hill.

Different paths, but the same result: wedded bliss.

These two couples’ loving and faithful witness, along with many others like them, was on display last week at Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, Glassboro, for the annual diocesan Wedding Anniversary Mass.

“I went home and told my parents I found the girl I was going to marry,” Frank Sinatra said, on recalling his first encounter with Diane Wiedemer in Margate in 1965. “We hit it off. She was pleasant and attractive,” he continued.

Both realized they were from Philadelphia: he, 25 years old, from South Philly, and she, 21, from the Northeast.

A planned meetup the next day never materialized because, as Frank admits, he was late, and by the time he arrived at the planned destination, Diane had gone.

Realizing his mistake, he wasn’t about to give up on her. However, another obstacle remained: he didn’t have her phone number, nor did he remember her name.

Frank and Diane Sinatra stand with Bishop Dennis Sullivan and one of their children, Father Robert Sinatra, pastor of Saint Padre Pio Parish, Vineland, after the annual Wedding Anniversary Mass June 18 at Mary, Mother of Mercy Parish, Glassboro. “I found the girl I was going to marry,” Frank told his parents after meeting Diane. Photos by James A. McBride

“I knew she had a German last name that started with a W, and that she lived in the Northeast, so I searched through the yellow pages to track her down.”

When he found a name he recognized, “Wiedemer,” he dialed the digits, but it wasn’t who he was looking for.

“It was Diane’s cousin,” Frank says.

“I told her who I was looking for, describing the girl I met at Margate, though, and the cousin got me in touch with Diane.”

Together again at last, the two had dinner at the Newtown Squire, where Frank “wined and dined” her. Their relationship blossomed and, on Jan. 21, 1967, they became husband and wife.

“In 1969, we moved to Pennsauken and became parishioners at Saint Peter’s in Merchantville,” the church they continue to attend every Sunday, Frank said.

Along the way, they raised three children, now all adults: Kathy, and twins Frank and Robert, the latter a priest for the Diocese of Camden, who concelebrated the anniversary Mass with Bishop Sullivan.

The two celebrated their 50th anniversary earlier this year, and again on Sunday.

Their marriage “just feels natural,” he said.

“We raised children, we worked, we retired, we’ve lived a nice life together. We’re planning a trip to Avalon this summer, and hopefully in the fall or spring, a trip to Sicily,” Frank added.

The key to their long-lasting union?

“Communication. We never go to bed angry.”

When 25-year-old Judy Augustin first walked into the video dating service in Cherry Hill, she had “Great Expectations” for making a match. That was the name of the place, after all. “In this store, you made videos, took pictures, and created a profile of yourself,” she says.

Courtships that began with late dates and Great Expectations

Bishop Dennis Sullivan poses for a photo with Russell and Judy Baji of Holy Child Parish, Runnemede, who have been married 25 years. Below, couples renew their vows.

“When people went in and looked at your profile, you were notified, and if you looked at theirs and liked it, they would put you both in contact with each other.”

That’s how Judy met Russell Baji. Their first date was Deptford’s Adelphia, and the spark was immediately felt. She found him “generous, thoughtful, with a sense of humor.”

“Four weeks later, I asked him to marry me, and a week after that, he said yes,” Judy remembers.

They were married on May 2, 1992, at Holy Rosary in Cherry Hill.

She acknowledges that the past 25 years has been “quite an adventure,” but is happy she and Russell are doing it together.

The two have raised four sons: Christian (23 years old), Alex (22), Ryan (18), and Noah (17).

Christian and Alex have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. At three and a half months, Ryan was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, a type of cancer, from which he recovered, but at the age of 3 was diagnosed with autism. “Our family’s trials have strengthened us. With every trial, every decision, we’ve had God and each other,” Judy said.

A joyful moment for them was when Russell converted to Catholicism in 2005.

“Now, he’s able to experience what I experience,” she says.

Twenty-five years later, what advice would she give to newly-married, or engaged couples?

“For us, it’s been a lot of prayer. We take things as they come, and with God’s help, we move on.”

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