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A few weeks back, LIFE received an email from a woman in Arizona, mentioning that relatives of hers had appeared in some pictures in LIFE magazine many years ago, and asking if there was any way to perhaps get copies of the few photos from that long-ago issue. This request, in and of itself, was not unusual: people frequently contact LIFE to ask if they might buy old copies of the magazine in which they, or someone they knew, once appeared. (The answer, by the way, is yes — but not from us. One can always find old issues at flea markets, garage sales and, of course, online, via eBay and other sites.)
What made this particular correspondence stand out, however, was that the photographs in question were made by William Vandivert — one of LIFE’s most celebrated photographers, who would go on to do extraordinary work during World War II; that the article in which the pictures appeared was an early installment of a popular, long-running series in the old magazine, “Life Goes to a ______” (a prom; a college joust; a school for Santas; you name it); and that the event portrayed was, as LIFE put it, “a Polish wedding with all the trimmings” on Chicago’s South Side. The email came from Mrs. Karen Watt — born Karen Krzystofczyk — and the bride and groom in that June 21, 1937, issue of LIFE were none other than her own mom and dad, Irene Kaluza and Boleslaus “Benny” Krzystofczyk.
Taking all of those points into consideration, we decided that we would not only republish some of the wedding photos that ran in LIFE more than three-quarters of a century ago, but we’d also post a few of Vandivert’s pictures that didn’t appear in the original story.
Karen Watt and her brother, Andy, were kind enough to supply LIFE.com with some information about their parents’ life together. Here are some highlights:
Irene and Benny lived in Illinois until the early 1960s, before moving their family to California (it was “love at first sight” with the Golden State during a family vacation in 1960) and, finally, to Arizona. They had eight children: Helen, Robert, Ron, Theresa, Elaine, George, Karen and Andy. All of their kids are still around (with the exception of Robert, who died in 2011, at the age of 72) — as are 23 grandchildren and 25 great-grandchildren.
Ben retired from the brokerage and securities firm Shearson Hayden Stone in the late 1970s, and both he and Irene — who had also worked for a good part of her early adult life, before taking on the colossal job of raising eight kids — enjoyed their retirement “babysitting their grandkids,” Karen says, “and escaping the summer heat in a cabin among the cool pines of Flagstaff, Arizona.”
Finally, Karen told LIFE.com that Irene “is now 98 years old. She still lives in the Phoenix home she shared with Ben, along with a daughter and a son-in-law. During the day she plays games on the computer, she plays Scrabble in the evening and joins the seniors at her church for a weekly Bingo game.”
When Karen and her siblings got together recently to show their mom this gallery, “everyone had a great time viewing the photos from the wedding,” she told LIFE.com. “My mom was very touched to see them. Her eyes did well up with tears, and she just kept staring at the photos over and over as I cycled through them — several times.”
And to think that William Vandivert was there with his camera at the very beginning of Irene’s and Ben’s long, winding journey together. It makes one wonder: What other family stories out there saw their beginnings — or their middles, or their ends — in the pages of LIFE?