John Panelli and his Bride Margaret Ann Petrass


“I’m sure I’ve seen you somewhere before.” Indeed he had. John Panelli had seen the stunning beauty six months before at the Oliver Hotel Ballroom at a function in South Bend. He was there with fellow Detroit Lion halfback Don Doll. They had attended the USC game at Notre Dame Stadium after playing together at the Detroit Lions Thanksgiving Game in 1949. Don and John had competed against one another twice just a year earlier as Don was the star running back with USC, and again playing for the “West” in the East-West All-Star game. With two black eyes and a broken nose, John chose not go across the room to introduce himself to the woman that had caught his eye. But he did tell Don that this was the girl he intended to marry. Six months later, back in law school at ND during the off-season, he saw her again at the Sunny Italy restaurant in South Bend (not remembering the sighting at the Oliver Hotel ). He told his dinner companion “if that's the kind of girl I think she is, that is the girl I'm going to marry”. He sent a note to her table and was introduced. A date followed with John proposing to her two hours after dinner and Margaret Petrass accepting. (The proposal Margaret received from another suitor one week earlier was promptly rejected).

“I had a vision for what I wanted in a wife—someone who was nice, smart, attractive, sophisticated, someone who could be a good mother, who could cook and who had money”, John remarked. “Margaret was all of those things, except she couldn’t cook and had no money.” John had already graduated and was attending law school at Notre Dame in the off season from the Lions. Margaret was a second year nursing student attending St. Mary’s. Margaret’s parents were Dr. Andrew Petrass, a prominent old school Hungarian physician and farmer in South Bend and his wife Velma. Shortly after they met, John’s rental house on Angela Street flooded and he was invited by the Petrass family to move across town into their house. (He just happened to have his bags packed and in the trunk when he was invited.) Velma, his future mother-in-law, helped run interference for John to modify Dr. Petrass’ expectations for a lengthy courtship. (John wanted to marry in 3 weeks and Dr. Petrass’ expectation was for a one year courtship). They were married at Sacred Heart church two and one-half months after their first date. They had four children—John, Andrew, Velma and Peter.

John had used his sign on bonus with the Detroit Lions for the downpayment on the house his parent’s were living in at # 3 Hazel Street in Morristown, New Jersey. They had moved eleven times when John was growing up and he did not want to see them have to move any more. John and Margaret went on their honeymoon with $300 in cash which at that time represented his net worth. They are still happily married after 55 years.