How have the outspoken Bay Gardener and his sweetly strong-willed Clara managed to reach the milestone of 50 years of marriage? Indeed, how does any of us meet our mate, choose the right one and make the miraculous partnership of marriage endure?
To answer that question, I challenged Bay Weekly writers to find and interview couples celebrating marital milestones. Facebook mod Diana Beechener also posted the question. As you read our Love Stories, remember: It could have been you.
Still can be: Post your love story through Wednesday Feb. 15 on Facebook (www.facebook.com/bayweekly) or our website (bayweekly.com), where you no longer have to register to post a comment.
–Sandra Olivetti Martin
One Month and Counting:
Yvonne Lee and Michael Orr
Yvonne Lee, Taipei-born owner of China Harbor restaurant in Solomons, long ignored Michael Orr, a lanky man who frequently dined there, because he liked the unusually wholesome food. “I don’t remember him sitting here,” she admits.
“I do.” Michael says.
When they did talk, they found shared interest in Chinese herbs, natural foods and nutrition. Perhaps this qualified as a first date? He also needed a room while he worked at Patuxent River Naval Air Station. They gradually slid into companionable cohabitation.
“I met a very nice guy,” she told her family.
“You don’t know him yet,” came the reply.
Her family seems to know her well, “On the surface I am outgoing, but inside shy. I need to watch and calculate,” Yvonne says. Married “too young,” at 171⁄2, she was in no hurry to remarry.
“I am shy on the surface,” Michael says, “but a volcano inside.”
Michael proposed early in their friendship. Yvonne is 55; Michael 43. She wanted him to have the option of a younger woman.
“I was happy with her,” he says.
Five years in, Yvonne’s father, Yu-Min Lee, 90, urged her, “to go on with your new life.” Heeding paternal admonitions, she said yes to Michael’s proposal.
They married December 30, 2011, in Plantation, Florida. On Valentine’s Day, they embark on a wedding trip to Hawaii, where Michael was born to a Navy officer.
Michael is one-eighth Cherokee, the tribe that walked the Trail of Tears. Yvonne’s mother, then a young woman, walked 1,000 miles from northern to southern China, fleeing the communists. In Taiwan, her parents began their life with a dirt floor and a plastic sheet for a roof.
“Although we come from different cultures,” Michael says, “we see life in a similar way. We are different stairways. Mine made of wood, Yvonne’s of marble, but both arrive at the same point in each other’s heart, mind, body and soul.”
Yvonne agrees. “I have never met a person as compatible as Michael,” she says. “According to the Chinese calendar, we are both monkeys.”
The Power of 10:
Dana and Chuck Kline
“We met at work as civilian employees for the Department of Defense at Ft. Meade in our mid-20s,” explains Dana Kline, of Severn. “My young 20s; he’s four years older. Within minutes I knew he was the one. He was super shy. It took him seven months to ask me out.
“We dated for 10 months, were engaged for 10 months and, just over 10 months after our wedding, our first daughter, Logan, was born. Our third daughter, our little artist Raegan, is 10 this year.”
But Raegan gets us ahead of ourselves. For the crux of the Klines’ love story is Camden, the second daughter.
Camden became, Chuck says, “a test of our love and commitment and one of the strands of fiber that has held us together.”
As Dana tells it, “Our second child was born with a genetic syndrome so rare that only about 300 children worldwide share it. She was born two months early …”
“On November 28, 1998, at 32 weeks gestation,” Chuck continues. “Cami was rushed to the NICU. Thus began the longest 80 days of our lives.”
“We were prepared by the doctors — most of whom had never seen a child like her — that she was never going to come home,” Dana says. “All the times I was told — your child won’t do this, be that, walk/play/eat/live — my husband, was there, right beside me, holding my hand and holding me up.
“He is truly my better half. He is the reason I am the person I am today, and the reason that our daughters are …”
Chuck takes his turn: “are the beautiful young ladies they are growing into.”
“Camden turned 13 in November,” Dana says. “She learned to walk when she was seven, almost eight. She doesn’t talk, but she communicates with us. She doesn’t eat, but she’s thriving and growing.”
“Together,” says Chuck, “we can meet and beat any challenge.”
14: Francis and Gladys Jones
“We met through his friend, my jazzercise instructor, who knew I was looking for a man,” says Gladys, director of Administrative Services for the College of Southern Maryland in Prince Frederick.
Francis, an operations supervisor for the Calvert County Department of Public Works, picks up the story: “I called her on a Friday night at 10pm and we stayed on the phone until 2am. After that long conversation, I knew her.”
Gladys cocks an eyebrow, “At least enough to go out on a first date.”
“A lunch date at …”
“Red Lobster” she continues.
“In Waldorf. She was working at the LaPlata Campus. We’ve been dating every since. I asked her to marry me …”
“And we’re still dating,” Gladys chimes in. The couple settled in Port Republic.
The dealmaker for Gladys was his attention to his young daughter. “He played baseball for the Owings Eagles every Sunday, and he invited me to come to his baseball games. His daughter was with him. When I saw the father-daughter relationship, then I knew that was it.”
“What really sprung it for me,” says Francis, a church-going man, “was when I found she was a godly person.
“When I came up to her house to take her on a date, I always had my suit on, and her father thought I was a preacher,” he adds.
And, recalls Gladys, “his cologne smelled so good. He blended right in with my family, and I blended into his. I mean our families love each other. We were both married before. I had one; he had two, so now we have,”— Francis joins to say in unison — “his, mine and ours.”
Ours, the son of two extroverts, is, Gladys says, “a double extrovert.”
No second thoughts in this second marriage: “She’s a wonderful woman, wife and mother,” says Francis. She cares about everybody.”
After 14 years, Gladys says, “You grow to know each other. You grow more and more fond of each other.”
“That’s not going to end.” Francis adds. “We’re going to love one another and cherish one another while we’re here on God’s earth.”
20 (or thereabouts):
Eric and Mickey Lund
Back in 1991, Eric Lund, a volunteer at Colonial Players Inc., stopped by the theater to check on the show, Red Hot and Cole. In the tech booth, Mickey Handwerger was working the lights.
Looking back, Eric and Mickey peg that moment as the one they realized they would be more than two people who volunteered together.
“We hit it right off,” says Eric.
They talked as if they were old friends.
They never had a first date, for it took months before they came out to each other. Prelude to a Kiss did it. After working on the romantic fantasy, both wanted to go dancing. The only place either knew was an inclusive bar in Baltimore. Both knew it, and that was a sign.
The first months of their relationship were not without flubbed lines. Nervous Mickey decided to break it off.
“I was a 24-year-old stupid person,” he says.
But they worked together on A Christmas Carol, Eric directing. By Christmas Day, after Mickey sent an elaborate apology letter and Eric accepted, they moved in together.
“He’s the only guy I’ve ever dated,” Eric says.
To their families, they were roommates. The sudden, tragic death of Eric’s parents postponed their revelation.
Then, on what Mickey says was the hottest day of 1995, family and friends joined them on the Eastern Shore as they wed in a ceremony blending Jewish, Catholic, Native American and Buddhist readings and rites.
They married again, officially, in San Francisco in 2008, with two friends from Los Angeles serving as witnesses. The couple hired a professional photographer and spent a week touring the city.
When they married, Mickey took Eric’s name. “That’s the only legal way in Maryland for us to be recognized as the family we are,” Mickey says.
Life together hasn’t always been stellar. Seven years in, they stumbled: “Do we go on or make changes?” That was the choice, Mickey says.
When counseling came up. Mickey admitted that, “We don’t need to go into therapy. I need to go into therapy.
“Eric stuck by me through that whole process,” Mickey says.
“I don’t just want you to be my spouse in life. I want you to be my partner in crime, to go through the downs, not just the ups,” Eric adds.
After that rough patch, the Arnold couple believed they could make it through anything.
They take social judgments as opportunities to strengthen their relationship. “You get these little swatches of fabric,” says Eric. “A domestic partnership at your job, a marriage in another state, a name change. We are stitching together our own quilt. It keeps us constantly nurturing our relationship.”
30: Scott and Betsy Deacon
Betsy Walden grew up in the tiny high-dessert town of Springerville, Arizona. Fresh out of college, she joined the Air Force to see the world. And got sent “just down the road to Williams Air Force Base.”
She was in pilot training, soloing in jets, when she met Scott Deacon in the Officers’ Club. That was January 4, 1982. By the second date, she knew, “This is the man I will marry.”
It took longer to convince Scott, who calls himself “a hard-head.” When the Air Force transferred Betsy to California, he was moved by the “fortune in air fares and phone bills.”
She left the Air Force for Scott. They married August 28, 1982.
“We were different people,” Scott explains.
With a Bachelors in Administration of Justice and a Masters of Forensic Science, Scott rose to the rank of commander in the Air Force Office of Special Investigations and traveled throughout Europe as a forensic consultant.
In his counter-narcotics work, Scott depended on a hard shell as well as a hard head. He’d come on tough, push people to see how they’d react.
“I calmed him down,” Betsy says.
“She made me a much better man,” Scott says.
With Scott, Betsy had her chance to see the world. Both their children, Sarah and Matthew, were born while they were stationed in Germany. As a military wife, she also learned to manage independently.
In 2000 Scott went to the Arabian Peninsula for a year, leaving the family in a rented house in Alabama.
Through their travels, Betsy continued her career, working for the IRS, Social Security, the Department of Defense Schools in England and the Air Force a couple more times, currently as an adjudicator. She also volunteered with church activities.
Scott retired as an Air Force colonel after 29 years 11 days of active service — only to be hired back as a civilian for another three years. He now volunteers for Calvert Library as a fundraiser and for Calvert Community Church in Huntingtown, where they have settled.
“We share a belief in service to our country and to our community, and we have the same moral compass,” Scott says, assessing their 30 years. “So many times in life I’ve known I made the right choice.”
40: Charlotte and Jim Robinson
Jim Robinson’s meeting with Charlotte Leisenring was set up by friends who invited him to a crab feast at Charlotte’s place in Eastport. Soon, they were talking like old friends. Jim loved to tell stories; Charlotte loved to listen. He stayed three hours after their friends left. Their ease laid the ground for a lifelong friendship. Her cooking, especially her fried chicken, made her Jim’s girl.
The crab fest wasn’t the first time Jim, eight and a half years older than Charlotte, had seen her. He followed a four-year tour with the Marines in Japan with college and law school, eventually becoming a divorce lawyer. He remembered Charlotte as “a cute girl” he’d noticed in the composing room at The Capital, where he worked his way through college.
For their first date, Jim took Charlotte to see The Graduate. These Robinsons still get a lot of ribbing about the other Mrs. Robinson.
It was only natural that they’d wed. There was little formality about decision or deed. On a Monday night, they said, Let’s get married. By Saturday, the deed was done, and they took off on a camping trip/honeymoon out the panhandle of Florida, down the west coast and up the east. That was 1971.
“Charlotte came along at just the right time,” says Jim.
“If you didn’t get married by 25 [back then], people thought that something was wrong with you,” says Charlotte.
Two children, a girl, Mary, and a boy, Daniel, joined the Annapolis family in two years.
Jim switched to the federal government after divorce law became tiresome. But he applied the lessons from his first career to his marriage.
As a divorce lawyer, he’d seen how problems escalate: “They can’t say, I was wrong. They can’t say, I’m sorry.”
“You don’t hold grudges and resentments,” he says. He and Charlotte “never go to bed mad.”
A health crisis confirmed Jim’s choice. Two weeks after Daniel was born, Charlotte returned for a checkup — only to be hospitalized for monitoring.
“Her white blood cell count was way high,” says Jim. “It scared the hell out of me. That’s when I realized how much I loved her and how much I’d miss her, and we’d only been married a couple of years.”
Charlotte was fine, just worn out from babies. Her red and white blood cell counts equalized.
Charlotte knew all along she’d made the right choice. “I’d never want to leave him,” she says, “because I’d miss hearing his stories.”
50: Francis and Clara Gouin
“She fell for me,” says Bay Gardener Francis Gouin.
“And saw stars,” finishes Clara.
The couple, who celebrate 50 married years in September, met on the opening night of the University of New Hampshire ice skating rink’s 1960 season.
“He was skating so confidently,” she says. “He came over, and we skated together.”
Until a kid clipped her from behind.
“I made a one-point landing on the end of my spine, and I knew why they say you saw stars. I saw stars bursting like fireworks,” she recalls.
That night in 1960, Clara Olesniewitz accepted Frank Gouin’s offer of a ride home in his unheated ’51 Ford pickup. Her girlfriend made it home on her own, as they agreed to do if either “met a nice young man to walk us back to the dorm.”
She declined his offer to take her to the infirmary. Her girlfriend took her, and Clara spent that night sitting on a bag of ice.
For their official first date, Clara relates, “he asked me to go snowshoeing. I had always wanted to and never had, though I grew up in New Hampshire. I thought what an adventure! We went to a farm and walked over snow three feet deep, with the tops of the fences sticking out a foot or so. It was so beautiful!”
After walking in the snow, she was in deep.
“I always had one criterion,” Clara says. “Whoever I married would have to be someone who liked to walk in the woods, as I did with my dad.”
Frank passed Clara’s No. 1 test. He was also kind, gentle, hard working and a serious student.
“I was living with a doctor and his wife,” says Frank, “and I used to feed animals when they went away for a weekend and man the phone when they when out to dinner ...”
“Many of those nights we would study together in the kitchen,” Frank continues.
Their courtship lasted two years.
Frank followed his advisor’s counsel and enrolled in the first graduate program that accepted him, the University of Maryland. He earned his PhD in horticulture and worked there as a researcher and professor for 30 years and department head for five.
Clara was the first person to earn a master’s in Art History at the University of Maryland. Later, when their two girls were in high school, she earned a second masters, in landscape architecture, at Morgan State. A park planner, she designs parks, trails, and historic sites in Howard County.
“We’re both professionals, and we respect each other’s abilities,” says Frank.
“Any relationship is like paddling a canoe,” says Clara. “You both work in sync, at least some of time, and agree on where you’re going. Rock the boat too hard, and it will capsize.”