Liliane Allegretti had a wonderful life after she arrived in the United States from Switzerland in 1951. She got married and enjoyed 38 years of wedded bliss before her husband passed away in 1994. Despite this heartbreaking loss, she continues to thrive, throwing herself in to her art, her friends and her family.
Liliane grew up in Geneva, Switzerland and moved to Holyoke, Massachusetts with her parents when she was 18. She spoke no English and did a variety of odd jobs including housecleaning, pumping gas, and doing whatever she could while learning the language. In Switzerland she had been a hairdresser and so she cut hair in Holyoke, MA until a couple of show business folks spotted her singing in French with the United Service Organizations (USO), to soldiers at Westover Air Reserve Base.
They encouraged and sponsored her move to New York City where a brief career in the spotlight was launched. She continued singing in French as well as some modeling gigs, an occasional off Broadway performance role, dancing at the Copacabana and most notably, acting as a stand in double for Marilyn Monroe. Her stage name was Lili Lisande.
As exciting as that was, so was the man she was about to meet. While vacationing at Misquamicut Beach in Rhode Island in 1951, she met Frank Allegretti, bartending at the Andrea Hotel. She was 19 and he was 30. “I couldn’t talk to him, I thought,” said Liliane. “He was a bartender, had gray hair and was too old.” She got over it, learning that he was a school teacher at Waterford High School where he taught industrial arts, and bartending was a short term summer gig. She returned to New York and during another visit to Misquamicut in 1956, found him hanging out with his buddies on the beach.
“There he was, lying on the beach. Ooooooh, the electricity,” remembers Liliane. “That was the end of it, or the beginning. He was a nice fellow, kind of quiet and very good looking. He wanted nothing to do with me when I was in show business. ”
Three months later, on September 22 they were married at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich and New York became history. Frank had a big Italian family that outnumbered Liliane’s 300 to 11.
“It was tough. They didn’t accept me right away. You know, I was in show business and from Switzerland and didn’t have much family here.” It took a few years for his family to come around which left Frank devastated because his family was such a close knit group. “On his mother’s dying bed she finally said she loved me. We had a wonderful marriage anyway.”
The couple settled in Niantic, Conn. and had their first child in 1957 and another in 1958. They bought a house that year and everything was great. Jack and Michelle later gave them four grandchildren.
“Frank was gentle and nice,” said Liliane. “I loved him. Everybody did. I was very, very much in love with him.”
He proved his love for her when in 1971, while skiing at Powder Ridge Ski Area in Middlefield, Conn., Liliane broke both her legs. It took two years for her to recover and Frank did everything that needed to be done during that difficult time, including caring for the kids who were then 12 and 13 years old. With a hospital bed stationed in their living room and both legs in casts, Liliane needed him for everything. Her mom came to help but Frank took over when he arrived home from teaching by 3. He even constructing a ramp for her wheelchair so she could go out with her friends who would load her into the back of a station wagon. “Frank was fantastic,” said Liliane.
Frank continued teaching, and when she was literally back on her feet, she opened Liliane’s Salon De Coiffure in Niantic village which she ran for 15 years, making use of her cosmetology skills. Frank handled all the books and financial matters.
In the late 1980’s Frank began having signs of prostate cancer that he was reluctant to address and in 1994 he lost the battle. During that time it was Liliane’s chance to take care of him.
“He used to do everything for me,” said Liliane. “Then he got sick and I had to diaper him. One night I had to take him to the hospital at 3:00 a.m. He died 10 days later. We had a great, great marriage.”
What she cherishes most about their marriage was the honesty they shared. “Real honesty. Lots of good love. He was a nice guy and I loved him dearly.”
Liliane still lives in the house they shared together and she has long since sold her hair salon. She continues to “do hair” for friends and family in her home and Frank’s passing opened up new pathways in her life that she hadn’t pursued previously.
“It wasn’t too great but I pulled through,” says Liliane. “I’ve always been a doer. I didn’t even know how to write checks to pay the bills at first, but I took care of things. The kids guided me a bit.”
Somehow Liliane found herself over at the Lyme Art Association taking classes in pastels with award winning pastel artists Joann Ballinger. Seventeen years later she is still there, painting every Friday morning. Landscapes, still lifes, mountain scenes, memories of Switzerland and especially flowers pique her interest.
“I paint whatever catches my eye. That’s my therapy; in fact it’s cheaper than therapy. I love flowers, just love them. I’m in my own little world. I get a good feeling when I paint,” she says. “I’m just so fortunate.”
She has exhibited her work over the years in different venues but has no interest in doing that now, choosing to forgo the sometimes competitive nature of the art world. Liliane says she is the oldest in her class of about 15 students.
Her days that begin at 5 a.m. are filled with activity that always starts with walking 30 minutes, followed by breakfast and tending to any appointments she may have. She often participates in senior center trips, takes in a show at the Goodspeed Opera House or visits with friends. Liliane recognizes the importance of having a support network of friends and family when dealing with loss of a spouse. That was valuable to her when she needed it most. The years have passed and as fit as she is, she does admit to having to call on other help to tend to household maintenance and yard work. As helpful as sharing her life with someone might be these days, she chooses not to date and has no plan to sign up for membership on Match.com any time soon, quite comfortable being on her own.
“I turned 80 last January and I feel pretty good, I must say. I’m busy enough to be content by myself. It’s not selfish; I just don’t feel I need someone to watch TV with“, says Liliane. When a little loneliness sets in, she can pick up the phone and call a friend.