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'My sweetheart, goodbye': Iron Range man's death ends marriage of 77 years

Dan "Pinky" and Maree Skorich of Marble, Minn., pose together in 2012. Pinky died July 4, 2015. (2012 file photo / News Tribune)2 / 2

After more than 77 years of marriage, Maree Skorich was given a last chance to say farewell to her husband, Dan "Pinky" Skorich.

Their two sons and their daughter carried his body to her room in their tiny Marble home and lay him next to her.

"Dad is gone, Mom," daughter Michele Picchiotti told her, as her twin, Michael Skorich, and their younger brother, Dan Skorich, stood by.

When Maree, bedridden and blind, grasped the news, she spoke to the man she married in 1937: "Goodbye, sweetheart," she said. "My sweetheart, goodbye."

Dr. Dan Skorich, a Duluth ophthalmologist, told the story earlier this week about his father's death on the Fourth of July at age 98.

Born in an Iron Range mining camp north of Marble on March 23, 1917, Pinky Skorich married Maree Vranesh on Oct. 17, 1937, at St. Vasilije of Ostrog Serbian Eastern Orthodox Church in Chisholm, where he had been baptized and confirmed.

An organization called Worldwide Marriage Encounter declared their marriage to be Minnesota's most enduring in early 2012, when they had been married a mere 74 years.

A News Tribune story published on Valentine's Day that year told of their long-lasting love. In his later years, Pinky wrote poems, and Maree would mouth the words as he recited them. She sang him the same song she would sing when they were dating: "Goodnight, My Love." They worked crossword puzzles together — in ink, without a dictionary.

She tucked him into bed every night. "He never goes to bed without saying he loves me after all these years," Maree said in 2012.

Failing health kept them farther apart in recent months, Dan Skorich said, although they continued to share their home of the past 75 years. Pinky was bedridden for the past six months. Maree, who will be 99 on July 31, lost her eyesight and much of her hearing and also is bedridden. They were in separate rooms for the past several months.

Maree was depressed after going blind several months ago, Dan Skorich said. But at Pinky's 98th birthday celebration this year, Dan's sister Michele got their mother to start singing again.

"Now she sings," he said. "One of her favorite songs is 'I Wish I Didn't Love You So.' ... They had a deep, deep, deep, abiding love."

His dad was a man's man, Dan Skorich said, his powerful physique needed for years of working on the railroad.

"My dad was a larger-than-life kind of guy, and he was always happy and fun to be around," Dan Skorich said. "He was honest and true and hard-working. He didn't like to have people wait on him."

And so what made Dan Skorich proudest of his father, he said, was the grace with which Pinky Skorich handled those last months, when he could do nothing for himself.

His dad exhibited strength and gratitude, Dan Skorich said, telling family members and friends how much he loved them.

In the moments after Pinky Skorich's death, something Dan Skorich describes as a miracle occurred. His dad's room, suddenly and inexplicably, was filled with an overwhelming aroma of roses.

"My dad never smelled like a rose in his life," Dan Skorich said.

But the rose fragrance is deeply significant in the Eastern Orthodox faith, he said. He learned from the priest who officiated at his father's funeral that the aroma is considered symbolic of God's presence.

The same phenomenon occurred at the end of Pinky Skorich's funeral, he said, as the casket was being carried out.

"I never experienced anything like that," Dan Skorich said. "It was such a gift to us about the presence of God. ... It brought so much peace."

The family is just starting to come to terms with the reality of their patriarch's death, but they're "good with it," Dan Skorich said.

"He had a good life, and a beautiful death," he said. "He leaves a beautiful, beautiful legacy of family."