In a voice cracking with emotion, Phil Magalnick stood before a justice of the peace, professing his deep love and neverending gratitude for his bride, when he was interrupted.
“Attention Amtrak passengers! Arriving next on track four, Amtrak Northeast regional train eighty-eight to Boston South Station!”
Magalnick paused only a second before continuing with his vow.
“Will you, Honorata Kazmierczak, take me for your husband?” he asked.
The couple was unfazed by the sounds of loudspeaker announcements, trains arriving and departing, passengers wheeling luggage across platforms, and traffic on Washington Boulevard.
It’s what to expect if you get married at the top of the steps leading to the northbound entrance to the Stamford train station.
“It’s a little crazy,” Magalnick’s father, Walter Magalnick of Stamford, said as Saturday’s ceremony was getting underway. “But it’s what they wanted.”
“This is where they met,” said his wife, Marlene Magalnick. “So it’s important to them.”
The couple’s train-station meeting illustrates the grit and humor that drew them together seven years ago.
Both were members of a Facebook page for people with retinitis pigmentosa, a set of rare genetic eye diseases that cause cells in the retina to slowly break down over time.
“In October 2016 I got notification that I was approved to get a guide dog, and I posted it on the Facebook page,” said Magalnick, a Stamford native and former 911 dispatcher. “She wrote back, ‘I’m interested in getting a dog. How does it work?’ We were on the phone for an hour.”
They decided to meet.
“She made it to the Stamford train station from where she lived in Southington. It was dark and we were both night blind and using canes,” Magalnick said. “We were on cell phones talking. I was flashing my light and blowing the whistle on my cane. I thought I was on the sidewalk but I was actually up in the station. Next thing I knew, my cane went flying out from under me and I went flying down the stairs. I fell into her arms.”
They made their way to Remo’s restaurant on Bedford Street downtown, where Magalnick lived and was well known. He’d been pushing the city for years to improve sidewalk and building access for persons with blindness and other conditions, advocating for compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“When we were in the restaurant, all these people were saying, ‘Hey, Phil.’ She thought it was a set-up because everyone knew me,” Magalnick said.
On the trip back to the train station, “she walked into a pole, a garbage bin, a sign. It was hysterical,” Magalnick said. “I told my family I was going to marry her.”
Kazmierczak, a former teacher whose family is from Poland, said she was impressed by Magalnick’s deftness with the cane.
“I still had a little bit of eyesight, and a lot to learn. He was amazing at navigating Stamford. He knew every crevice in the sidewalk. He knew every turn that was coming. That was blowing my mind,” Kazmierczak said. “We were talking about blindness and guide dogs and figuring out how to walk together with canes. I learned so much in just a few hours.”
Their lives had several parallels. Magalnick began losing his vision at 13; Kazmierczak when she was 26. Both had been married. Each has two daughters in their 20s.
“He was a dispatcher, so he had to know where everybody was all the time. He is a helicopter parent over his daughters – he texts them every morning to say, ‘I love you,’” Kazmierczak said. “Phil’s parents are warm-hearted and welcoming and family-oriented, like mine.”
And she appreciated something else, said the attractive Kazmierczak.
“He couldn’t see me, so he wasn’t going to be one of those people who only want me for my looks,” she said. “It was very refreshing that Phil just liked me for who I am, without the visual. That was really cool.”
By the third time they met at the train station, Kazmierczak said, “I knew he was the one.”
Magalnick proposed in front of all four of their daughters, who helped set up the surprise.
“Our daughters sought each other out. They were communicating with each other,” Kazmierczak said. “It was really nice.”
One of Phil’s daughters offered to make the wedding invitation. Kazmierczak wanted it to say, “We’re better when we’re together.” Magalnick wanted it to say, “Love at worst sight.”
They left it to the daughters to choose. They picked the first one.
“Good thing!” Kazmierczak said.
During their ceremony on Saturday, the couple’s Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation German shepherds wore collars made of pink flowers with white baby’s breath. Magalnick has had his dog, Chloe, since 2018. Kazmierczak just got her girl, Kerry.
“Chloe is amazingly accepting and caring for Kerry, so they are making a really good team,” Kazmierczak said.
So are she and Magalnick, now both legally blind. Magalnick said there is much to do to secure the civil rights spelled out by the Americans with Disabilities Act, designed to ensure access at polling places, public buildings, parking areas, sidewalks and more.
The couple has spoken out about unshoveled sidewalks in winter, outdoor dining furniture that blocks sidewalks in summer, inaccessible restrooms in city hall, and other violations.
Private entities, such as ride-share companies, need improvement, too, Magalnick said.
“We’ve been denied rides because of our dogs. They are not supposed to deny you with service dogs; it’s part of the law. But people still do,” he said.
Kazmierczak at first was not interested in advocacy “but I dragged her to a meeting, she got to meet people in the mayor’s office, she joined the committee and now she is a certified ADA coordinator,” Magalnick said.
“When we were on dates we would have conversations about how to educate ourselves. We went to conferences and webinars and we learned to quote the law,” Kazmierczak said. “It was a pretty intense process. It was self-driven learning and research.”
During the train-station nuptials, Magalnick’s mother, Marlene, said she is excited to have a “lovely and very sweet” new daughter-in-law, and she’s happy for her son.
“Who better to understand what you’re going through than someone who’s like you?” she said.