John Kwiecien courted Carol Watson from the middle of the Pacific Ocean during World War II by writing letters daily for more than a year, peppered with poetry and anecdotes about his life as a Marine on Guam.
The 18-year-old Marine had seen a photo of 16-year-old Carol aboard a ship that nearly deployed to the Japanese island of Iwo Jima during weeks of bloody battle. He was friends with her older brother, who, as a joke, obliged John's request for Carol's mailing address.
But they quickly became enamored of each other, so John, the Pennsylvania-born son of a coal miner father and baker mother, flew out to Minnesota as soon as his service ended in 1946.
Carol, the Minneapolis-born daughter of a plumber and homemaker, was in love. But she wasn't ready.
"I was only 18 at the time," she said. "I told him I was too young to get married."
They would be separated again — he studied at the University of Pittsburgh and she worked at her father's plumbing business — before they married on June 30, 1950, and raised four boys in Minneapolis.
John A. Kwiecien died on Oct. 28 of a stroke. He was 93 and had been living with Carol, 90, in St. Anthony for about the last six years.
"He was a wonderful husband," Carol said. "He had so much interest in the boys. It was wonderful, and they looked to their dad for everything."
John Kwiecien was born in Mollenauer, Pa., the youngest of three children to Polish immigrant parents.
As a child, he and his brother, Joseph, walked the railroad tracks hunting for pieces of coal that fell off the train to heat their home. He graduated high school in Carnegie, Pa., and joined the Marines.
Aboard a ship pointed toward Iwo Jima, Carol's brother had been showing off his fiancée in a family photo when John spotted Carol in the frame.
"He pointed to me and said, 'Is that your fiancée?' " Carol recalled. "My brother said, 'God no, that's my sister. The good-looking one is my fiancée.' And [John] said, 'Well, can I have [Carol's] address?' "
At first it took a couple of weeks for their letters to reach each other using regular mail service. As their exchange intensified, they began using airmail, receiving letters about every two days.
In Minnesota, John worked as an accountant for a bakery, a manager at Warner Hardware in downtown Minneapolis and as a deputy assessor for the city of Minneapolis for the last 27 years of his career.
He was active with the Minnesota Button Society, serving as president at one time, and donated 9 gallons of blood over several years after starting a successful donation program with Carol at their church.
When their oldest son, Stanley, wanted to join the Cub Scouts, Carol and John began a 30-year-long volunteer career with the Boy Scouts of America.
All of their boys — Stanley, John, Lloyd and Paul Kwiecien — would become Eagle Scouts.
John was as patient as he was giving, said his family. A teenage Stanley wanted to surprise his father one fall by installing two snow tires on his car. But Stanley placed the car jack on the wrong part of the vehicle and bent the fender on either side.
John "saw it and he said, 'You know, Stan, I'll show you how to put the jack under the car,' " Carol said. "He didn't get mad. He realized that his son was trying to do something for him."
Years later, Lloyd was driving the very same car home from prom when the muffler fell off. He tried to put it back together the next morning.
"Dad woke up and said, 'Oh, I knew it was coming off anyway,' " he recalled.
John Kwiecien was preceded in death by his son, John Vernon. He is survived by his wife, three sons and 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Services have been held.