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Iris Romeo

Mother of four, Iris Romeo and her husband, Orlando, lost their daughter, Ann Marie, in a car crash as she was returning to college. JOHN BIONDO PHOTO

BY DEBRA MAGRANN

What is a dime worth? For one Port St. Lucie mother, a dime is the reminder of a life that keeps on giving, even after death.

Iris Romeo lost her college-age daughter, Ann Marie, in an auto crash. She and three friends were returning home to Waterbury, Conn., from a trip to a seminar and stopped at the caverns in Virginia. Ann Marie took a dime from her pocket to phone home saying they were running late.

On the way home, they hit black ice on Interstate 81 in Scranton, Pa. The driver and front-seat passenger survived the crash but unfortunately for Ann Marie and her friend in the back (the girls had unbuckled their seat belts to rest more comfortably), the car was rear-ended and they were ejected from the vehicle.

Four cars were involved in the pileup. On Nov. 12, 1990, at 3 a.m., Iris and her husband, Orlando, received the phone call that no parent ever wants to get. She was told her daughter was in an accident and was in serious condition at Mercy Hospital. A close friend of Orlando rushed over to drive them there. Four hours later, they arrived at the hospital. Within two hours, Ann Marie was gone.

“Still, after 23 years, she is with us,” Iris says.

A social worker gave her Ann Marie’s clothes and personal effects. Iris placed them in Ann Marie’s bedroom but gave a leather jacket to her close friend, Michelle O’Malley. There was a dime still in the pocket. Ann Marie was known for having extra dimes to make phone calls, giving them out if needed.

“It was very symbolic to me that the only thing in the snapped pocket of the jacket she wore to her death was a dime,” O’Malley recollects.

O’Malley had an assignment for her college art appreciation class and decided to sketch an outstretched hand offering a dime in memory of Ann Marie. The drawing was entered in an exhibition.

Iris taught hairdressing at a vocational school in Waterbury. The family lived next door to St. Michael’s Catholic Church. She was the first female lector and was well-known in the community. The outpouring at the memorial was astonishing. The Romeos knew there wouldn’t be a place big enough for all the attendees afterward, so the pastor decided they would be the first to use the church’s basement to accommodate all the guests.

In the two weeks following the funeral, the Romeo home was filled with visitors and well-wishers: family, coworkers, neighbors. Ann Marie’s friends brought dinners, flowers, memorials and Mass cards. Many of them returned two weeks later to acknowledge the outpouring of love; they wrote 850 thank you cards.

Trying to settle back to a sense of normalcy with their three other children, dimes began to appear.

At 10 minutes to midnight one night, the phone rang. It jolted Iris. O’Malley was weeping uncontrollably. Calming down, she explained that earlier that evening she found a dime in her apartment. Thinking nothing of it, she found another one. Perhaps, she thought, it was her roommates leaving a reminder of Ann Marie, but that was not the case.

Then there was the time she and her roommates went to a local restaurant for a drink. After returning from a trip to the restroom, O’Malley sat down at the bar and found a dime under her elbow. Was it a message or a mean trick? Iris consoled her, advising her to embrace what happened for whatever it meant.

Three days later, Iris found a shiny Canadian dime under a glass tea cart. The room had just been spotlessly cleaned by the housekeeper. Coincidence? When Orlando came home from his first day back at work, Iris shared her find. He picked it up and held it — then they both cried.

Getting ready for Mass that evening, Iris was stunned to find another Canadian dime on the bedroom carpet. Crying out that there couldn’t be two of the same dimes in the house, she insisted that Orlando had taken the dime, put it in his pocket and it fell out. When they went to the dining room table, there sat the other dime.

“Let be what will be,” she states in her book. “…there have been so many dimes found…that none of us question where, why or how. We put our trust in God and accept.”

These events and more are chronicled in the book Iris wrote, In God We Trust. It is a compilation of stories from family members, friends, acquaintances and Ann Marie’s childhood and college friends. In God We Trust is an on-demand print book available on Amazon.com.



IRIS ROMEO

Age: 73
Hometown: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Retired hairdressing teacher.
Family: Husband, Orlando; son, Carmen Romeo; daughter-in-law, Louise; daughter, Christine and son-in-law Jack Duer; daughter, Angela and son-in-law Rohn Heidgerd; eight grandchildren: John and Megan Duer, twins Anna and Marie Duer, Lauren and Matthew Romeo, Lily and Tyler Heidgerd.
Education: Bachelor degree, Central Connecticut State College
Hobbies: Playing golf, bocce ball, mahjong and weekly workouts at the gym.
Who/what inspires me: “My faith.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “That I have quiet times.”