Long ago, Marty and Cheryl Conboy got married. Not once, not twice, but three times — to each other.

Their first was at 16, a personal-commitment ceremony when they were juniors in Catholic high schools.

Then again at 17 in front of a judge in Missouri, legally that time, just before their senior year.

After graduation, they married again, this time in a church on a Thursday morning with family and friends.

“The story is a little crazy, 16-year-olds getting married,” said Marty, 60, who retired in 2012 as Omaha’s longtime city prosecutor. “We were very fortunate at that age that we each found the right person.”

Today, Valentine’s Day, they celebrate a life adventure unlike hardly anyone else’s. And they can look back happily on, oh, around 43 or 44 years of marriage, depending on which wedding you count.

Seriously, three weddings?

“Having parents with three anniversaries is challenging,” quipped daughter Erin Wilcox, “especially if you can never remember which one they celebrate.”

It’s a crazy story, all right, and it includes being elected king and queen of the Creighton Prep senior prom in 1973 when they were already married and parents of their first child.

But it has worked out. They’re not only still together, having spent the past autumn on an adventure in China, but — with four grown children and seven grandchildren — they’re going strong and closer than ever.

***

Cheryl Mancuso and Marty Conboy met in 1970 as members of a religious sodality. He attended Prep, and she, the old Paul VI High School.

They would hang out, but their first planned date was in 1971 to the Santa Lucia Festival. Since then, they haven’t missed the annual event honoring Italian heritage.

“We both dated a little before,” Marty said, “but we were together so early, it was very little.”

Neither came from a wealthy family. He was one of seven siblings; her parents divorced before she was 2, and she was raised by her mother.

Talk of marriage began when they were sophomores — the word “sophomore” is derived from the Greek, meaning “wise fool” — and the couple consulted with an attorney. Two priests tried to talk them out of marriage.

They went ahead with it. Cheryl arranged “a little altar” at her home near 15th and Dorcas Streets, where she lived with her mother. The couple committed to each other in a private ceremony — no witnesses — on Nov. 16, 1971, the fall of their junior year.

Their parents had been dismayed at their plan but didn’t know about the self-styled commitment ceremony until after it happened. Why did the couple go ahead with it in spite of all the advice to the contrary?

“We were young and in love,” Marty recalled. “Marriage seemed like an inevitability.”

That wedding had no legal effect. Marty continued living with his family during the week but spent weekends with Cheryl.

She soon became pregnant. The next summer, seven and a half weeks before childbirth, the couple drove to Rock Port, Missouri, a state where it was legal for the male to marry at 17 with parental permission. His dad and her mom witnessed that “second wedding” on Aug. 7, 1972.

Erin was born in Omaha on Sept. 30, 1972, and friends visited the old St. Joseph Hospital on South 10th Street. Cheryl had dropped out of Paul VI, and Marty was early in his senior year at Prep, where he’d been elected a class officer.

Although many classmates knew his situation, Marty said school officials told him only that they had heard rumors and hoped there was nothing that would embarrass the school.

Classmate John Fitzgibbons — now the Rev. John Fitzgibbons, S.J., a Jesuit priest and president of Regis University in Denver — said friends all knew that Marty and Cheryl had married.

“There was a rule that you couldn’t be married and attend Prep,” the priest said. “We all kept it under wraps.”

Marty served as a cheerleader, and a yearbook photo caption said: “Marty Conboy’s energy ignites Prep fans.”

Energy is something he would need a lot of in his senior year. He worked as a hospital janitor, studying when he could. The school year moved on, and then came a highlight in the spring — election as prom king and queen.

The yearbook caption didn’t identify Cheryl by name: “Prom king Marty Conboy and his queen lead the traditional slow dance following the procession and coronation.”

Fitzgibbons, a member of the prom court, said he and many others had voted for them and considered their marriage “a sacred secret.”

After graduation, on May 31, 1973, the king marched with his queen once more — down the aisle after their third-time-is-the-charm wedding at Holy Family Catholic Church north of downtown.

She wore a simple white dress, which she had made. He wore a white jacket, dark slacks, a yellow shirt and a maroon bow tie. On the church steps that sunny day, about 20 friends posed with the 18-year-old not-so-newlyweds.

Three weddings in 19 months had stamped them as a couple. High school was over, and it was time for the Conboys and their 8-month-old baby to get on with life.

***

Cheryl had graduated with a GED, and Marty enrolled at Creighton University. He wore his hair long and played guitar in a rock band, but she had confidence that he would attain his goal of becoming an attorney.

Meanwhile, she said, “We were dirt-poor.”

Marty worked during college for UPS, and Cheryl worked as a nurse’s aide and secretary. At 19, they bought their first house near 45th Street and Woolworth Avenue, with payments of $160 a month, and decorated it with furniture from garage sales. A second child was born, and later a third.

Marty graduated from Creighton in 1977 and was admitted to the CU Law School.

“When my dad was in law school,” daughter Erin said, “my parents both worked off-hours so we didn’t have to go to a sitter. My dad would make us dinner, which consisted of Beanee Weenees, Steak-umms or peanut butter-and-bacon sandwiches. It was as horrible as it sounds.”

By 1980, Marty was an attorney, and he joined the city prosecutor’s staff in 1981, the year their fourth child arrived — when they were only 26.

The children were growing up, and in 1994 Martin J. “Marty” Conboy III was named Omaha city prosecutor, appointed from among five finalists.

Erin said her parents were strict, “and I attribute it to their having children so young. Whenever I tried to push the envelope, my dad would cross-examine me like we were in court.”

In actual courts, Marty and his office prosecuted misdemeanors and traffic violations. He was a vocal proponent of increased drunken-driving penalties.

His most unusual court case was in 2000, when he prosecuted the owner of Dr. John’s adult video and novelties shop on a charge of distributing obscene material.

Attorneys for the owner called as a witness Marty’s older brother, for whom the prosecutor had served as best man at his wedding. The brother said he was a friend and customer of the owner, and was testifying on behalf of the First Amendment.

Marty cross-examined his sibling, and told the jury that his court appearance was designed to distract and frustrate. The jury returned a guilty verdict.

In 2012, Conboy retired at 57 as city prosecutor, having led a staff of 10 attorneys, six clerks and a few other staffers.

His goal, he said, had been “purposeful prosecution.” In child neglect, for example, parents should be educated and monitored so that their children could live in a clean and safe environment.

“Just to punish them for punishment’s sake is not sufficient,” he said. “It should be purposeful.”

***

While still a prosecutor, Marty began teaching classes part time. He has continued to do so at Bellevue University and the University of Nebraska at Omaha, as well as for others online.

He also has assisted the Boys Town police department with legal issues, and volunteered on civic boards.

Last May, after Officer Kerrie Orozco was shot and killed, Marty and Cheryl volunteered in another way — they joined others in unfurling large white sheets to shield mourners at the officer’s funeral from protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas.

The church is known for condemning homosexuality and contending that natural disasters, terrorist attacks and the deaths of U.S. soldiers and others are the result of God’s wrath over the United States’ acceptance of homosexuality.

Over the summer, a different opportunity arose: teaching American law and the U.S. Constitution in China. Marty accepted, and Cheryl agreed to go with him on Aug. 30, a trip scheduled to end in mid-December.

Erin Wilcox said she and her three brothers playfully bet on how long it would take for their mother — not one to try new foods — to bail on the trip and return home. How long did they think she would stay?

“Thirty days was the longest,” Erin said. “Our dad is more outgoing, but mom is more cautious. Four months in another country where no one speaks their language seemed like a recipe for disaster.”

Cheryl’s Facebook posts indicated that for these Omaha visitors, life in the city of Ningbo (3.5 million people in the city proper) wasn’t easy. Folks snorted and spat in the streets, a canal was dirty, taxi rides were scary.

But she helped out at the school, even setting up social times where students could practice English. She lasted longer than her offspring predicted, departing only a month before Marty.

Before she left, the couple traveled China, visiting Shanghai, Honjo, Beijing and Hong Kong.

“It was the experience of a lifetime,” Cheryl said. “We saw the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. You can read about them, but there’s nothing like seeing the breathtaking views in person.”

Chinese people were fascinated with American culture, Marty said, and students were dedicated to their studies. Older people seemed surprised there would be any tension between the U.S. and China.

The language barrier was difficult, but there was a charming moment. Inflection is key to the meaning of words, and a Chinese man on a crowded bus was instructing Marty, who took several tries before saying a word just right — and bus-riders broke into smiles and applause.

***

None of the Conboys’ children married younger than age 23, and none is divorced.

Erin, 43, is a Cox Communications vice president for sales in Edmond, Oklahoma, and the mother of two.

Marty (Martin J. Conboy IV), 41, is a deputy Douglas County attorney in Omaha, the father of three, including Martin J. Conboy V, age 8.

Joe Conboy, 37, is a UPS driver in Arizona and has two children.

Matt Conboy, 34, is single and a widely traveled member of the Air National Guard. On Jan. 30 he received his master’s degree in organizational performance from Bellevue University.

Marty and Cheryl are spending the winter at their home west of Phoenix, but returned for the graduation — Marty wearing academic garb onstage because he is on the faculty. The Conboys will be back home in Omaha in the spring.

Many years ago, Cheryl suggested a move to California, but Marty insisted on staying, and they are both glad they did. They have many friends, and Marty still plays with old buddies in a rock band, the Clockstoppers. (He has sold off much of his guitar collection, which once numbered about 100.)

Erin recalls her parents long ago driving the kids around Omaha, pointing out places that were special to them. “They love the city.”

The Conboys’ main anniversary is the second wedding, the legal one in August before their senior year. But they note the dates of the others, too.

“They always celebrate the August date,” Erin said, “but my mom is disappointed when I forget the November or May dates.”

Like millions of other couples, they will celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers, chocolates and dinner. But their relationship has been unlike that of most couples, starting so early and against their elders’ advice.

Father Fitzgibbons recalled the young Marty as “an incessant teaser, very clever and funny,” but “around Cheryl he was more quiet and focused.”

As for their teen marriage? “I was a little scared for them,” the priest said, “but they were wonderfully devoted to each other and in love, and always have been. It’s a cliche, but I think their marriage was made in heaven.”

As their first-born says, Marty and Cheryl Conboy bucked the odds and succeeded at their one and only marriage — even if it started very young with three weddings.

If Erin could do one thing for them, she said, it would be to give them a fourth wedding with a large reception.

"Their other weddings all meant something special,” she said, “but they deserve a celebration.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1132, michael.kelly@owh.com

Metro columnist

Michael Kelly has covered police, courts and City Hall, and spent a decade as sports editor and sports columnist. He has written a metro column since 1991. With his wife, Barb, he has four children and 10 grandchildren. Phone: 402-444-1132.

Commenting is limited to Omaha World-Herald subscribers. To sign up, click here.

If you're already a subscriber and need to activate your access or log in, click here.

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Please keep it clean, turn off CAPS LOCK and don't threaten anyone. Be truthful, nice and proactive. And share with us - we love to hear eyewitness accounts.

You must be a digital subscriber to view this article.