But they packed a whole lot of loving and living into those 20 years, and that is what Polvere will be remembering this Valentine’s Day.
Earlier this month, Polvere said he had pretty much given up on love before he met De Fina. He had decided to change the direction of his life, and he made a move in January 1993 from New York to Flagstaff, Ariz., where he would seek a bachelor’s degree in journalism and photography in addition to the two degrees he already had earned.
Finding an affordable place to live proved problematic until he found a rented room on the second floor of a sewing shop where the owner, a Romanian woman, lived with her son on the ground floor.
His was one of four rooms the woman rented out to older, nontraditional students, with the four renters all sharing a kitchen. It was there Polvere met De Fina, who also was renting a room.
“Helena was coming into her own as far as growing into a human being and as a woman,” Anthony said. “Interestingly enough, I think we both swore off relationships prior to meeting due to previous relationships.”
The little sewing shop “was a magical place,” Polvere said, and it worked its magic on them.
“We immediately hit it off,” he said, thanks in part to both having Italian roots. “Despite our protestations, we fell in love after about four months. It started as a wonderful friendship and blossomed into romance.
“By the fall, Helena had graduated ... and our relationship had grown to the point where we decided to get married.”
That November, he took her to New York, where they celebrated his mother’s 70th birthday. While there, they also went to dinner and attended a performance of the Metropolitan Opera. During intermission, he proposed to her in front of the fountain there, having previously gotten her father’s permission to ask for her hand in marriage.
“She kind of just giggled, right before saying yes,” Polvere said. “I think she was quite nervous.”
But it was such a natural thing for him that he said he didn’t feel at all nervous, before or after the proposal.
“We were going to wait to do a big something the following summer, but we realized we could save a whole semester of tuition, so we gathered at the courthouse in Flagstaff,” Polvere recalled. “Helena’s parents came up, and we were surrounded by 40 people when we got married. The judge said he had never seen this many people at a wedding (there).”
Not to be shortchanged, “my big Italian Catholic family in New York, feeling left out, decided we needed to return to New York, where, six months and one day later ... we got the big church wedding.
“We had two anniversaries, and we celebrated both every year ... Dec. 3 and June 4.”
Through the years, their love grew and flourished.
During De Fina’s memorial at Northwest College last month, Rob Stothart spoke of the love between the couple that “spilled out of the room and over their yard and onto their quiet street,” embracing others as well.
“Once,” Stothart said, “I stood with Anthony at the snack bar in the DeWitt Student Center. He spoke excitedly about being able to get the Metropolitan Opera 24/7 over Sirius Radio, when suddenly, he broke off his sentence and rushed to the door, turned back and announced over his shoulder, ‘I’m going to kiss a beautiful woman!’
“He took the unsuspecting Helena in his arms, wrapping her tightly in playful bliss. This was no joke, no one embarrassed. It was the most exquisite love.”
Shared values — and a kidnapping
Polvere spoke recently about the things he most appreciated about De Fina.
“There were so many facets to her,” he said. “The things for me that were most attractive were her intelligence, her compassion and kindness, and her ability to forgive, both myself and people who affronted her.
“Like any human being, she’d get mad at something, but yoga helped her a lot, and she knew how to let it go, and she knew there were reasons why someone might be behaving in a less than admirable way,” Polvere said.
“She knew how to find that common ground with people that she might have diametrically opposed ideas about certain things,” he said. “She understood where people came from and she tried to walk in their shoes. ... I think that was what made her so successful in our community.
“We both shared really deep values about helping in the world, doing good to help those who are less fortunate than us, Polvere said. “We felt very blessed here in Powell, with the friendships we’ve made and people we’ve encountered.”
He said his wife “never asked for anything, which made giving to her so much easier.”
During De Fina’s memorial, Burt Bradley told of the surprise trip to Portugal that Polvere had planned for De Fina in 2005.
“He planned a romantic getaway without telling her, and he set it up,” Bradley said.
Polvere had set a card on her chest while she was sleeping, Bradley said. When she woke up and found it there, she read:
“To the love of my life,
“It is amazing how a spontaneous act can change one’s day, or even one’s life in a mere moment. a spontaneous act of stupidity can make for a lifetime of regrets, or a spontaneous act of judgment can result in a rift that may take years to end.
“Today, and for the next nine days and eight nights, you will be the recipient of a spontaneous act of love ... author Anatol Franz once wrote, it is by acts, and not by ideas that people live. And so shall we, on this day, live by the spontaneous act that is being perpetrated on you by your loving husband.
“What am I saying? You are probably perplexed at this moment. All will be revealed in due time, but for now, you have approximately two hours to pack the suitcase that you see at the foot of the bed for nine days, including today, where just the two of us will be together. Plan on temperatures between 50-65 degrees, bring comfortable shoes and clothing to walk around in. Do not worry about money, just bring your driver’s license and a back-up credit card for purchases in case something happens to mine.
“What about work? All has been arranged with Dawn (De Fina’s supervisor), and you are not expected to be back in the office until Monday, March 14. The mail? It has been stopped. Yukon (De Fina’s dog)? As you are reading this, I am on my way to take him to Christy’s kennel. As for your plants, I have scheduled for our favorite elves to come over and take care of things.
“You can call your mom at some point during our travels, but don’t bother now, because you will get no more answers out of me. In essence, my dear, you are being kidnapped by the man who loves you more than anything in the world, and who has worked very hard to arrange this spontaneous moment and keep it a secret these past two months.
“I’ll give you time to digest all this and get packing. I’ll be home in a few minutes to help you in any way I can. Don’t stress about forgetting anything, because we can buy what we forgot when we get to where we are going. I love you. Now hurry, we leave promptly at 10 a.m.”
‘SHE’S STILL WITH ME’
No relationship is perfect, Polvere said earlier this month.
“We certainly had our differences, but I think the key to our success was we both agreed that there was nothing greater than the love that we shared,” he said. “Even after an argument, the two of us would rush back to see who could apologize first.
“The two of us realized that we might have hurt someone we really cared about.”
During De Fina’s memorial, Kristen Fields held her infant son while speaking through a combination of smiles and tears. Fields and her father, Randy Fields, both former students of Anthony’s, drove from Boise to attend the memorial.
“We were so blessed, all of us students here who had Anthony, because we didn’t just get Anthony. We got Helena too,” Kristen Fields said. “She would come over with Anthony and we would all hug and talk, and she was such a fantastic person.
“But beyond that, she and Anthony showed us all what true love was, and at such a pivotal point in our lives, when we’re hoping and looking for that. Knowing that it’s out there, and to not settle for anything less, made us all reach for the stars in our own relationships in love and life, and want the absolute best. And because of that example that they showed us, I think we all have that now.”
Anthony said he is thankful he was married to De Fina for the time they had together.
Their love continues even after her death, Polvere said, and “she’s still with me,” he said.
“We had 20 wonderful years. You just always want more.”