Love, marriage fit in with Villages lifestyle

Ray and Trini Leggiero, of the Village of Country Club Hills, hold hands and smile at each other as they walk through Paradise Park. They have been married for 61 years.

Janet Maloney-Brobst had a checklist for her Mr. Right. At the top of that list was that her chosen mate had to be golf cart-accessible. She wanted someone who could enjoy and share in all the activities the community offered. “I wanted someone who lived in The Villages,” she said. The Village Santo Domingo resident got her wish when she met her husband, Bernie Brobst. Now, the two golf together, go to the town squares and partake in as many activities as they can. This Valentine’s Day, many couples like Janet and Bernie are celebrating their love in the marriage capital of the country. The Villages metropolitan statistical area is first in the nation for percentage of those who are married among MSAs with more than 10,000 people, according to the five-year American Community Survey released by the Census Bureau in December. The MSA leads all metro areas in percentage of residents over the age of 15 who are married at 64.2%. Coming in second is St. George, Utah, at 61%. The Villages MSA is defined by the federal government as all of Sumter County, both inside and outside The Villages, but not the parts of The Villages in Lake and Marion counties.

Newlyweds Jo Cool and Bill Phillips, of the Village of Amelia, are thankful for the lifestyle and claim they met as a result of it.

“We would not have met if we weren’t living in The Villages,” Cool said. “We were both out and about and doing things, and a mutual friend brought us together.”

Both Cool and Phillips had lost their former spouses.

“One thing that struck us was that we were both married previously for exactly 46 years,” Phillips said.

The couple makes sure to spend quality time together. They enjoy golfing, going to nightly entertainment on the squares and learning new things.

And couples such as Cool and Phillips, who are committed to one another and having an active lifestyle, may have advantages.

Experts have long studied the health and social benefits of marriage. Although these studies do not conclude that marriage is a direct factor in having good mental and physical health, some find that having stable relationships has positive effects on overall health.

Frank Fincham, director of Florida State University’s Family Institute, said a good partner can serve as a valuable source of social support as one ages.

“A good quality relationship is associated with numerous mental and physical health benefits, lower levels of depression, better health habits, such as eating better, stronger immune system functioning and living longer,” he said.

Staying socially active is important, too, he said. There is evidence to show that loneliness can be as bad for health as obesity or smoking.

“A real danger as one ages is the risk of becoming socially isolated and lonely,” Fincham said. “Loneliness has been associated with poorer functioning of the immune system and premature death as compared to persons with healthy relationships.”

Recently, Cool and Phillips learned the two-step in a dance class and took in a cardio drumming event at Lake Sumter Landing Market Square.

“There are so many activities here that, if you want to meet someone, there’s an abundance of opportunities,” Phillips said. “You don’t have to be alone here unless you choose to be.”

 Joe and Patty Sidoti, of the Village of Fenney, have been married for 27 years.

They moved to the community nine years ago and enjoy walking the trails, exercising and playing golf every weekend with friends.

“I feel like we’re dating all the time because there is so much to do,” Patty said.

“We appreciate each other every day,” Joe said.

Staff writer Laura Sikes can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5307, or