Seventy shared years of love, laughter and learning
by Andrew Alonzo
To say they have accomplished most of life’s ambitions would be an understatement. Their love story spans 70 years of marriage, nine European countries, two college-educated daughters, six dogs, 13 cats, and over six decades of high school and college students attending the classes they taught.
Lifelong partners and retired educators Lillian Sergio, 91, and Louis Sergio, 92, have lived in Claremont for 57 years, watching the community prosper, while teaching new generations of youth year after year.
Bonding over their shared public transit routes and courses while at the University of California, Los Angeles, they attained similar degrees as English and education majors and French minors.
“We had no form of transportation when we were teenagers, which pretty much meant we carried on in public transport,” Mr. Sergio explained. “We just happened to be taking the same bus from downtown to school and back home.”
When they were not riding the bus or in class together, the young couple practiced French and other languages while watching any and all foreign movies playing at the theater.
“We loved going to the movies and we saw every foreign movie,” Ms. Sergio said. “We saw every French movie, every Italian movie, we knew all the directors, everything.”
Finally, at ages 21 and 22, the couple married on February 4, 1951. They both started their careers as high school teachers, utilizing their English and French proficiency.
Beginning that year, Mr. Sergio taught English and French at his alma mater, Mark Keppel High School, before moving to the West Covina School District in 1961.
Ms. Sergio began teaching in 1955 at San Gabriel High School before moving to other schools in the surrounding area.
After they saved up enough from teaching jobs over the years, the couple settled in Claremont in 1964, when housing developments were first being completed and sold.
“Claremont was just a wonderful place. We used to come here from Covina just to see the movies that were in the theater,” Ms. Sergio said. “And so we could have an Orange Julius,” she added.
Mr. Sergio attended the Claremont Colleges shortly after the move and earned his Ph.D. in English education in 1977.
After taking some time off to care for their first child, Tana, Ms. Sergio found herself back in the classroom years later as a French teacher at Chaffey High School in Ontario in 1970. After spending over 10 years at Chaffey, she concluded her final three years of education at Ontario High School. She left the classroom in 1986 to retire, raise her family and pursue other interests including furniture making and restoration, and weaving.
Mr. Sergio taught in West Covina for 32 years before taking a semester off from teaching to contemplate retirement with his wife. But after concluding retiring was not yet for him, he returned to teach as an adjunct professor at Mt. San Antonio College in 1994 before retiring in 2017.
“Louis loved teaching,” Ms. Sergio said. “Teaching was his life and he preferred that to anything.”
With longevity in the community and the classroom, Mr. Sergio pointed out that teens and young adults today are actually not so different from the ones he taught for over 45 years.
“I do not believe that they’re basically any different,” Mr. Sergio said. “They have different interests of course and different talents,” but teenagers and adults of today share “the same fears, same desires—if not the same tastes” as their generational counterparts.
“I think teenagers are basically the same and the young people I taught at Mt. SAC after 45 years were pretty much the same,” he said. “Occasionally you got the goofoff, but [I taught] both the very intelligent kids and the hard-working ‘married-with-children’ kids.”
Having been educators their entire lives, it’s no surprise that both of the Sergio daughters, Tana Tharalson and Christina Sergio, followed in their parents’ footsteps and earned B.A. degrees. Ms. Tharalson also earned a master’s degree in business administration.
“They were lovely. They were beautiful,” Ms. Sergio shared. “And they were easy,” she added, right before they both burst out laughing.
The couple spoke with pride when talking about their daughters—and the countless waves of students taught by them each semester over the years. The COURIER asked them about the secret to successful parenting.
“Accept people for what they are,” Mr. Sergio said. “If you accept people for what they are and go from there, they will be more amenable to any advice you might want to give later.”
He explained that one of the worst examples one can set for others, especially students, is being a hypocrite and not following through on one’s word.
“I say to all parents ‘set a good example,’ you know, no matter what you say, it’s what you do that young people observe,” Mr. Sergio said. “Be a good, decent, fun-loving human being by your actions.”
Ms. Sergio agreed and when asked if she would like to add anything more, she giggled and said, “How could I?”
The Sergios gave just a standard ‘yes’ and snickered when asked if they still heard echoes of their parents’ voices giving them life advice at times—confirming that as much as you try to, you never truly escape your parents.
Despite the limitations of life during a pandemic and precautions such as mask wearing and social distancing, the Sergios remain positive that their married life will continue to be successful and lively for years to come.
When asked about life’s greatest adventure, Ms. Sergio said, “that’s a tough one,” before she eventually replied that the clear answer was her “fun life” with Louis.
“She’s a beautiful person, both inside and out,” Mr. Sergio said of his wife. “We were interested in the same things and we laughed at all the same things.”
If you would like to learn more about the Sergios, their memoirs, “The House on Isabel Street,” by Lillian Sergio, and “The Little Bull and I,” by Louis Sergio, were published by their youngest daughter, Christina Sergio, and can be purchased online at Barnes and Noble or on Amazon.