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Love forever

76 Diner owner Athena Loupessis has witnessed scores of Valentine’s Day engagements, including her own

Athena and Alex Loupessis built the Latham 76 Diner from scratch 40 years ago and were married for 43 years. Alex proposed on Valentine's Day.

Athena and Alex Loupessis built the Latham 76 Diner from scratch 40 years ago and were married for 43 years. Alex proposed on Valentine's Day. Submitted Photo

— “It’s heartbreaking. I grew up with him, built a life with him,” Athena said of their 43 years of marriage. “I never got to say ‘goodbye’ or ‘I love you.’”

Now, Athena works in her late husband’s memory. Their dream home was finished, and she added in those 45 fruit trees he wanted. But it’s more of a vacation home than a place to retire. Today, Athena Loupessis is still as hardworking as ever, running the Latham 76 Diner.

As the holiday of love draws near, Loupessis said each Valentine’s Day is difficult. She prepares by keeping busy and having a smile on her face. But the couples that fill the diner’s tables on Valentine’s Day year in and year out still bring Athena happiness. She’s seen many Valentine’s Day engagements throughout the past 40 years and appreciates when couples still act “old-fashioned” with one another.

“Valentine’s Day is, of course, for the lovers. To love somebody, you have to feel it here,” she said, pointing to her heart. “Before you make a commitment, you have to be honest. And think about the good things. A few bad things happen in a way, but forgive and forget, because nobody’s perfect.”

Athena works every day, unless she’s on vacation, and many customers call her “Mama.” She runs the restaurant with her son, Anthony. When her husband died, Athena said there were more than 750 cards and emails sent to her in his honor. Many people believe Alex is watching over the restaurant, and his framed photo hangs on the wall.

“He was a brilliant, very hardworking businessman. And a good husband,” she said. “He was never afraid to fight for his belief.”

Vivid memories of the couples’ first Valentine’s Day still stay strong in Athena’s mind.

“It should be Valentine’s Day for the couple every day of the year. They should be thanking the Lord they have somebody,” she said. “When you lose somebody to divorce or death, then you realize what you’re missing. I love my husband. It was forever. And still forever.”

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