Time-tested love reinforced by faith
By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer
By Catherine E. Toth
Their paths had crossed before, yet it took nearly two decades for Joy Bartoloth and Marcello Vercelli to finally get together.
The first time the two met was back in the early '80s in Playa del Rey, Calif. She worked at a sandwich shop; he was a grom who surfed the break nearby.
Over the years, they kept running into each other on the beach or at parties. Bartoloth even wound up dating one of Vercelli's best friends.
They nearly got together once back in 1984 when Vercelli "accidentally" forgot his keys at her house and came back to retrieve them. But Bartoloth just left his keys outside and didn't bother inviting him in.
"It would've been bad timing anyway," said Vercelli, 40, a surfboard shaper who lives in Kahala. "We were too young and immature."
After that night, the two went their separate ways.
She worked as a dental assistant, and he started shaping surfboards.
But a series of deaths in Bartoloth's family turned her life upside down. In 1987, her younger brother died in a car accident. Ten years later, her father died from a heart attack. And in 2000, her sister died at 32.
Bartoloth was on the brink of a breakdown.
Vercelli "literally saved my life," said Bartoloth, 42.
The two friends reunited in February 2001 when Bartoloth asked him to shape a board for her roommate.
He came over with a bottle of wine — and never left.
"I totally needed someone at that point," Bartoloth admitted. "And I (had) had the biggest crush on him."
At that time, Vercelli was in the process of moving to Hawai'i. He figured it would be a good idea for Bartoloth to move, too, and get away from all the pain and hurt she was feeling.
Only dating for weeks, the two decided to make the move together. They packed up their belongings, stashed them in storage and started looking for a place to live on O'ahu.
"It was really immediate," Bartoloth said.
Neither felt they were rushing into a relationship too quickly. They had known each other for years. They knew the same people, loved the same music and grew up in the same era. Now, both in their mid-30s, they felt they were ready for that long-term commitment.
"We grew up," Vercelli said. "We started to change and understand. When I turned 30, I started to figure out life more and the path I was taking ... Since we got together, it's really about getting to that next level in life."
In July 2001, the couple moved into a rental in Kahala and adopted the neighborhood cat, Loki Lani.
The change of environment was soothing for Bartoloth, who went to work landscaping their yard.
"It was like a rebirth for me," she said. "It was incredible. I felt God everywhere."
Soon after they moved here, the couple started going to New Hope Christian Fellowship, renewing their faith to strengthen their relationship.
In the meantime, Bartoloth got a job working as a dental assistant, while Vercelli focused on building his shaping business.
It didn't take long for Bartoloth to realize dental offices weren't for her. She quit her job and became a nanny.
"I didn't come to Hawai'i to work in an office all day," she said.
But something else didn't feel right, either.
Though they had been living together for years, the couple decided they needed to confirm their commitment to each other.
"It came to the point where we wanted God in our relationship," Bartoloth said.
Last August they made their commitment — and their faith — official.
On Aug. 20, instead of a bachelor party, the two were baptized in the waters off Kahala. The next day, they were married at the Elks Honolulu Lodge in Waikiki in front of about 100 guests. Tomorrow is their first anniversary.
As for being married?
"It's been so peaceful and great," Bartoloth.
They both realize that marriage is a responsibility that they shouldn't take lightly.
"It's instant respect," Vercelli said. "There's no reason to argue anymore."
At their wedding, Fernando Castillo, a New Hope pastor, talked about three secrets to a successful marriage: Don't let respect diminish, always be givers, and fall in love with the same person every day.
Bartoloth and Vercelli have made that their motto for married life.
"We're late bloomers to get married," Vercelli said, smiling, "but we're enjoying life right now."
Reach Catherine E. Toth at email@example.com.