Friday, Aug. 31, 2007

Friends reunited to marry after half a century

Michael and Marian met in an Ulster school in 1956. Now, after living separate lives for 50 years, they’ve found each other again

Over half a century ago, Michael Spathaky and Marian Mitchell, as she was called then, were teenaged sweethearts at Portadown College.

Now the couple, in their early 60s, are planning a romantic wedding in Australia, on board a river cruiser on the River Napier in Penrith, near Sydney.

It isn’t a case of a long engagement, but of two people who, widowed and lonely, made contact through the Friends Reunited website, and found happiness for a second time.

Five children and nine grandchildren later, the couple have announced their upcoming nuptials.

Their notice says: “The wedding will take place in Sydney on July 28, followed by a blessing in Oadby, Leicestershire, UK, on October 6.”

And between 1956 (they were in Form 3A) and 2007, there lies two lifetimes of love and heartache, with both losing their spouses to brain tumours.

Michael and Marian (now Marian Chambers) were in the same forms at the college from 1953 to 1956 and were boyfriend and girlfriend during that final year.

Michael’s dad was Ron Spathaky – an Englishman and French teacher at the college – and the family decided to return to England.

“We corresponded for a while, but then lost touch and went our separate ways,” said Michael.

Marian left Portadown College in 1959 to pursue a career in the Civil Service and married local man Sammie Chambers in 1962. They went on to have three children. The couple moved to England and, in 1981, emigrated to Sydney, where Sammie died in 1998.

Meanwhile, Michael went to Norwich University where he graduated in physics, spent most of his working life as a teacher and plumped for early retirement in 1997.

He married Diana Jones in 1964. They lived in Oadby, Leicestershire, where they brought up their two children.

In 2001, while Marian was visiting the UK, she spotted Michael’s name on the Portadown College list of Friends Reunited. She made contact, and visited Michael and Diana – who were now running an IT business from home.

A year later, Diana died – also of a brain tumour – after which Michael sold the business and retired.

He spent some time in Sydney, looked up Marian, the days at Portadown College were rekindled and they decided to marry.

“In order to keep in touch with both families, we plan to spend half our lives in Australia and half in the UK,” Marian said.

“We’re looking forward to our life together and we have many relations in both countries.”

Former students of Portadown College will be delighted to know that Michael’s father, Ron Spathaky, now 92, is still very much alive and residing in England with his wife, Kath. They will soon be celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary.

“It’s been quite a journey,” said Michael. “Who’d have thought that young sweethearts in Portadown College would end up getting married more than half a century later?”

Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2007

The Story of Us – Reunited after 9 years

My parents, Lynne and John Newman of Chambersburg, Pa., spend part of the year here in Rochester. This year they will be celebrating their 35th anniversary with us on July 7. My mother tells this story about how they met:

“My husband and I had known each other in high school, but just in passing as we shared some classes together. Then, in 1963, we went on our senior trip to Washington, D.C., about two hours from our homes in Chambersburg, Pa. While traveling together during the three-day trip, we became better friends as we found we had so much in common.

“On the last day in Washington, our class took a cruise on a steamboat to an amusement park. We hung around together while traveling on the boat and at the amusement park. It had been known for years that kids who were ‘going together’ would go up to the top deck of the ship on the way back from the park and sit in the lounges and ‘neck.’ So of course, up we went and like every other kid on that deck, we necked.

“After the trip I was on my way to college and he was on his way to live with his father in Washington, D.C., where he joined the U.S. Navy. In 1971 he returned to Chambersburg to live with his mother and get a job. I had been living and working in Philadelphia when I was in an automobile accident and had to come home to recuperate.

“Both my husband and I (individually) decided to join the community theater, he as an actor and I as a crew and construction member. While working together on a play called Who Was That Lady, we met again. Normally, cast and crew did not hang out together, with the cast often going out with each other after rehearsals and the crew doing the same. But as we began to get to know each other again, we seemed always to end up going out together.

“Three months later, on July 7, 1972, we were married. There was never a proposal; it was just something that we assumed would happen. My husband has always said we dated during the last days of high school, fell in love and then went away from each other for nine years to see if it was real. I can honestly say the happiest years of my life have been the 35 years I have spent with my husband.”

Friday, Jul. 13, 2007

After 50 years, couple remembers only the good

The Midtown house that Yoneko and Wilbur St. John share with their daughter and son-in-law is filled with homemade quilts, old photographs, keepsakes made by grandchildren and Yoneko’s graduation certificate from a sewing school in Japan.

This hangs proudly on the wall of her sewing room. Toward the corners are floor-to-ceiling glass shelves stuffed with hundreds of Beanie Babies, their little yellow and blue and green paws pressed against the sides.

“She started collecting those years ago,” said Wilbur, 75, peering at the case. “One is different, what, the wrong color or something?”

“Oh,” said Yoneko, 78, waving it all off with a laugh, “there are many. So many!”

The couple have been married “so many” years, 50 to be exact. They met in 1954 when Wilbur was stationed in Yokohama, Japan, with the Army fire department.

They first noticed each other at a summer beach party.

“She saw me, and I saw her seeing me,” Wilbur said.

He asked her out.

“I said no way,” Yoneko said. “He looks like he’s 40.”

So Wilbur pulled out his ID card, and Yoneko found out she was actually a few years older.

“Remember that?” she asked.

“Oh yeah, I remember,” Wilbur said.

Things went well until New Year’s Eve, when Wilbur received emergency orders to return to Missouri, where his father was seriously ill.

“I just knew that she was the woman for me,” Wilbur said. “I just knew. If you have to question, then it probably isn’t.”

“Oh my goodness,” Yoneko said. “Before he left, we both knew we were going to marry.”

Wilbur was restationed at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Yoneko attended a two-year dressmaker school in Japan, and the couple wrote letters. Two years later, Wilbur, recently out of the Army, returned to Japan for Yoneko.

They married at the American Consulate, and as time went by, and Wilbur was unable to find a decent job, he re-enlisted. They left soon after on a military boat bound for the United States.

“In October 1958 is the first time I stepped in this country,” Yoneko said.

They moved around military bases during Wilbur’s 20 years of service, which included two tours in Korea and one in Vietnam. In the early 1960s, they arrived at Fort Wainwright in Fairbanks. Yoneko worked as a tailor for J.C. Penney. That, they said, was a very good time.

“It was exciting,” Yoneko said. “We were up here for the flood and the earthquake.”

When what Wilbur terms “the oil people” started coming up, they returned to Missouri, where they concentrated on raising their children, Denise and Debra. But they missed Alaska, and as soon as the kids were out of the house they returned, this time to Delta Junction.

“Oh, we are so happy then,” Yoneko said. “We love Alaska.”

Wilbur worked as fire chief and safety manager, and Yoneko opened up her own tailor shop. They fished, traveled and collected a stash of Alaska toys, including a four-wheeler.

“Yeah, I get out the monster, put the wife on the back and off we go,” Wilbur said.

The secret of their long-term marriage, they said, is staying close to family, which includes four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“We laugh together,” Yoneko said.

“We work things out,” Wilbur added. “We got with the flow.”

Then he got serious.

“Listen,” he said. “You know how they say marriage is 50/50? Nah, that doesn’t work. Sometimes I give 100 percent, and other times she gives 100 percent.”

“We are also always honest with each other,” Yoneko said.

They ask each other for advice, they said. They share things. They listen to each other.

“When she wants to do certain things, I drive along,” Wilbur said. “I might not like the activity, but I’m there. Then when I want to do something, she goes along with me.”

“We help each other that way,” Yoneko said. “We look for the best. We don’t worry …”

“… about the downside,” Wilbur finished for her. “See, she starts a sentence, and I just know what she’s going to say. That’s what I mean. We stay with the good.

“After a while, you look back, and the bad times, the unpleasant times fade away. You realize how little they meant. You only remember the good.”

Tuesday, Jul. 10, 2007

What’s a few miles – or years – among old friends

Stan Ernst, 78, left his home in Nova Scotia first thing on Saturday morning.

Alone, and without a cell phone, only a promise to update his daughter when he stopped for gas, he drove through New Brunswick into Maine, where he overnighted in a motel. He set off again early on Sunday. After nearly getting lost outside of Worcester, he finally reached Zambarano Hospital in Burrillville a few minutes past noon. He’d traveled some 750 miles.

A woman in an office told him that he might find the person he sought on the second floor. But the person wasn’t there. A nurse called the operator to have him paged. Ernst, a spry man with sparkling bespectacled eyes, took a seat in the hall.

A short while later, Frank Beazley emerged from the elevator. He’d been downstairs, playing cribbage.

“Stan!” Beazley said.

“Hi, Frank!”

Ernst hugged Beazley, and Beazley cried. He’d been expecting Ernst sometime this spring — but his last letter, about a month ago, indicated only that he might arrive in “the latter part of May.”

Ernst and Beazley, who are the same age, were boyhood friends in their native Halifax, a Canadian seaport. The precise date is lost forever, but it had been at least 54 years — and perhaps 60 or more — since they last saw each other. Beazley moved to America in 1953, but by then, he’d already drifted from Ernst and their teenaged buddies who hung out in wartime Nova Scotia, when American Westerns dominated the Saturday-afternoon matinees and fish and chips was the favored Saturday supper.

“He disappeared,” Ernst said. “No one knew where he went.”

He went to America to seek his fortune, but a fall down a flight of stairs in 1967 left him a quadriplegic and, eventually, a resident of Zambarano, now a unit of the state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital. Beazley has since become Rhode Island’s foremost advocate for the disabled, and a celebrated artist and poet.

Ernst, meanwhile, spent 45 years working in a Halifax dockyard. He married and had two children, a boy and a girl — and, never suspecting his long-lost buddy was so close, periodically visited friends who lived in Pawtucket. Ernst’s wife died of Alzheimer’s a few years ago, and now, retired, he spends much of his time volunteering at a children’s hospital and in the company of the person he calls, with a wink, his “lady friend.”

Beazley returned to Halifax in 1998, to fulfill his dream of visiting his native soil before he died — and with his uncanny knack for winding up in newspapers, he was featured in a Halifax Chronicle-Herald column. Ernst read it after Beazley had returned to Rhode Island, and he wrote his old friend. Beazley wrote back. A regular correspondence ensued, but they never spoke on the phone. Ernst had it in his mind that he’d like to visit, and when he read the story of Beazley’s life, “TheGrowing Season,” published last fall in The Providence Journal, he decided it was time. Not wanting to travel in winter, he vowed to make it this spring.

“My daughter said, ‘Dad, you’re crazy to go all that way by yourself,’ but I said, ‘I’ve made him a promise. And I’m keeping it.’ ”

Beazley’s tears dried and the two set off on a tour of the hospital, Beazley’s home for 40 years. Beazley showed Ernst some of his art, which decorates walls. He introduced Ernst to hospital staff, patients and visiting family members.

“He’s from Nova Scotia,” Beazley said. “We chummed around 54 years ago.”


Ernst warmed to the occasion. “I always say I live in the best province in the best country in the world. That’s how I feel about Nova Scotia. She’s a great place!”

The two friends went to the first floor, to the main waiting room, a darkly paneled space, where Beazley sat while Ernst went to his car. He was carrying a small package when he returned. He opened it.

“Here’s a Nova Scotia flag for you.”

“Look at that! That’s beautiful! You know something? I have a Canadian dollar which I’ll show you that I gave to my girlfriend — she was from Nova Scotia — I was engaged to be married to her …”

They fell back into memories then, as the first sun of a dreary weekend lit up the room. Yesterday, Ernst returned for a second visit before heading back north in the afternoon.

“It’s a dream,” Beazley said. “A dream come true.”

“It makes me feel wonderful that I mean that much to him,” Ernst said.

Friday, Apr. 27, 2007

We married 35 years after we split up

The course of true love never did run smooth – and that’s certainly true of one couple who have just celebrated their first wedding anniversary, 36 years after they split up.

Nigel Postle and Diana Gascoigne fell in love in 1969 when they worked at May & Baker in Norwich.

The relationship did not work out and they married other people -but three decades after they split, they made contact through popular website Friends Reunited and fell in love all over again.

Now they have just celebrated their first wedding anniversary and looking forward to returning to their home city to build a new life.

Nigel said: “I am so looking forward to coming home. Over the 34 years we were apart, there was hardly a time when I didn’t think of her, wonder where she was or what she was doing.”

When the pair met, former Thorpe Grammar School pupil Nigel was 19, and Diana, who grew up in Heacham, was 17.

The couple lived happily together for two years in Cyprus Street, until a row shortly after Nigel’s 21st birthday saw them split up. Nigel went to London to study law while Diana trained as a PE teacher in Leicester. Both married and had children – but neither was happy. Diana and her husband split up and she brought up her daughters as a single parent, while father-of-two Nigel had two unsuccessful marriages.

Nigel, 55, said: “Breaking up with Diana was the most painful experience I have ever endured and I never really got over her. The pain subsided but the memory and love for her carried on.”

The feeling was mutual and in 2002, Diana, who had moved to Yorkshire, put her details on Friends Reunited in the hope Nigel might get in touch.

Diana, 54, said: “I was on there for a year and I hadn’t heard anything from him so I stopped looking. In 2004, my mother died and I went on there again because I needed to get in touch with some cousins.

“Nigel’s email was sat there and had been for 18 months. We talked and arranged to meet each other in Norwich in 2005.

“I realised that the man I had loved was still there and he said I was the same girl he had known back then. We got engaged in September 2005 and were married in March the following year. I really have found the perfect husband.”

The couple, who live in Leeds, have now found a home in Knowsley Road, Norwich, and will move in next month.

A date in 1969

· Dance to Sugar Sugar by The Archies, Get Back by The Beatles or Je T’aime … Moi Mon Plus by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg at the Samson and Hercules

· Enjoy a beer and a Babycham at The Talk.

· Visit the London Steakhouse in Tombland for prawn cocktail, steak and black forest gateaux.

· See Paul Newman and Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid at the Gaumont cinema, now Mecca bingo opposite John Lewis.

A date in 2007

· Catch a hot new band such as The Sunshine Underground or the Maccabees at The Waterfront.

· Go to Mercy or Lava/Ignite for the latest club hits.

· Relax with a Budweiser or vodka and Red Bull.

· Eat at Pizza Express in The Forum.

· Head for the cinema to watch Hot Fuzz or Ghost Rider.

Tuesday, Apr. 10, 2007

Marine marries his pen-pal

Steve Belgum wasn’t expecting much.

For two months, he had been corresponding with a Minnesota woman while serving as a captain in the Marine Corps during Operation Desert Storm.

Lynda Severson, 27, had written to him out of the blue to thank him for serving.

The two continued to write after Steve, 30, returned to Camp Pendleton. They exchanged pictures.

In a photo Lynda sent him, most of her body was covered in heavy winter clothing as she posed with snowshoes.

In a photo Steve sent her, he was mostly obscured in full desert combat gear as he stood in the Saudi Arabian desert, 8,000 miles away.

Now, six months after becoming pen pals, it was time to meet.

Steve called Lynda a few days before he flew out to Minnesota in July 1991. Lynda heard him describe himself as “short and bald.”

Lynda pulled up to the airport in her maroon Buick Regal.

“Steve?” she asked in astonishment.

Steve looked at her – also surprised.



One of Lynda’s friends, a flight attendant, had urged her to write to a Marine in Saudi Arabia. Lynda got a list of 12 names.

She picked Steve, then distributed the 11 other names to co-workers and friends at Bible study.

Lynda pulled out a piece of hot-pink paper.

I want to tell you how much we all appreciate what you’re doing in the Persian Gulf, she wrote in her first letter on Jan. 27, 1991.

Hopefully, you all will be back to America soon! May God bless you and keep you in His care!

In Friendship, Lynda (Severson)

Steve soon replied – on Valentine’s Day – in a letter typed on white paper:

I am 29 but soon to be 30 years old. Ouch, that sounds old, doesn’t it? Just kidding. I plan on being in shape to run triathlons in my 60s. …

Could you send me a picture? Thanks.

Take care, Steve

It went this way, back and forth, girl and boy, sharing their lives.

The two had several things in common, including Midwestern roots, tight families and a strong faith in God.

The product of a strong marriage between his father and mother that ended in divorce after 22 years, Steve knew that he wanted to get married and have children, but he was cautious.

Lynda also wanted a family, but was a busy human resources professional for Daytons, a large retailer.

Then Lynda met Steve.


In Minnesota, Lynda took Steve to a party for Desert Storm veterans. The two went walking, swimming and inline skating.

Steve immediately wrote to Lynda after his trip:

Dear Lynda (bucket of sunshine),

I’m missing you already! … What a whirlwind weekend! … What a great way to start off our friendship. … amazing … .

As little as I know you, I like you and want to get to know you better.

Warmly, Steve

Two months later, Lynda visited Steve in San Diego. They drove along the coast and went to a concert on the waterfront. On her way back to Minnesota, Lynda wrote:

Dearest Steve,

Wow! What a fabulous time in S.D.! …

I’m very impressed with your home, neighbors, brother, friends … and your honesty, intellect, closeness to your family, athletic abilities, interest in travel, high self-esteem, great body, handsome face – I could go on and on … .

Things were getting serious.

In a letter Lynda sent in October, she had an internal dialogue with herself:

It would be nice to be married – Steve says he wants to be married, he doesn’t know to who – wouldn’t it be nice if it was me!

… Be realistic! You’ve spent very few days of your lives together. … Forever is a long time. …

I won’t make vows I can’t keep! … I pray that the Lord wants us together.

In reply, Steve wrote:

Selfishly, I want you to move out here sooner so I can be with you more. … I don’t want to sound harsh but I committed myself to a minimum 12-month period of solid dating. Do you think that is unrealistic?

… I care for you very much. I can’t bring myself to use the word “love,” at least not yet! Although I would like to use that word.

Lynda moved to California in January 1992, a year after she first wrote to Steve.

Then he was deployed to Okinawa, Japan, from May through November.

Then things really got serious.


On Nov. 11, 1992 – Veterans Day – Steve took Lynda to a Marine Corps Birthday Ball at the San Diego Marriott.

“Let’s start Christmas a little early this year,” he said.

He handed her a square box containing a marquis-cut diamond engagement ring.

Lynda teared up.

Steve proposed to her.

The two married on May 29, 1993 – Memorial Day weekend – in Lynda’s hometown of Hutchinson, Minn. Steve wore his blue dress uniform.

The story of the Belgums’ courtship is told in a new book, “Grace Under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War,” a collection of letters and e-mails by U.S. troops and their families from the American Revolution through the war in Iraq.

The Belgums represent the chapter on the Persian Gulf War.

Editor Andrew Carroll sifted through more than 75,000 pieces of wartime correspondence to capture themes of faith, determination, hope, patriotism and fighting for something greater than one’s self.

Photo albums and boxes of letters and cards that chronicle the Belgums’ relationship fill a wooden cabinet in the living room of their Irvine home.

Sons Mark, 9, and Zachary, 7, have their parents’ bright blue eyes – and have chosen to wear their father’s military haircut.

They joyfully romp through the house.

“God brought us together,” says Steve, now 46 and a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Reserve who works as a supply-chain manager in Long Beach. “How else can you explain it? We met through a divine appointment. We couldn’t have possibly planned this.”

Lynda, 42, has saved all their letters, all their photos.


“Writing to each other forced us to get to know each other the old-fashioned way,” she said.

She recalls the tall (6-foot-3-inch) handsome Marine she first laid eyes on all those years ago at the airport in Minneapolis.

“I thought, `I won the lottery,'” she said.

In the fading late-afternoon sun, Steve’s yellow-gold wedding band gleamed.

He took it off and showed a visitor the inscription inside.

Pen Pals Forever.

From Grace Under Fire: Letters of Faith in Times of War

Monday, Feb. 26, 2007

Older and wiser, couple reunited after nearly 10 years apart

When Frederick Thrower saw Charlonda Mathis at a San Antonio military-base hangout, he decided he needed a plan to get her to notice him.

He’d certainly noticed her: “I remember she had on a white dress, and her hair was cut in a short bob,” says Frederick, now 37, of that night in 1992. “I started acting a little goofy to break the ice. She wasn’t too into me.”

That’s because she translated “goofy” into “tipsy.”

“Military men could drink a lot, so I thought, ‘He’s drunk,’ ” says Charlonda, now 35 and a transplant social worker at Medical City Dallas Hospital and a part-time Mary Kay consultant.

Fortunately for him, the two continued running into each other during the following weeks.

“One night, we were all playing cards, and here he comes again,” she says. “All of the sudden, I thought, ‘You know what? He’s kind of handsome.’ ”

By that time, she’d learned that he was divorced and had two young sons. And the goofiness? “That’s just his personality. Fun, exciting, silly.”

The two began dating, and soon things got serious. Fast-forward to 1995, when everything was still going smoothly. In Charlonda’s mind, anyway.

But Frederick had an announcement: He was going back to his ex-wife.

“I had two sons at that time,” recalls Frederick, who works as a logistics specialist with Total Transportation. “As a father, there was a point when I made a decision that I needed to be there for them.”

“So he basically wanted to be a better man,” Charlonda adds. “He said, ‘I have to go back.’ At that time, he also found religion, but he broke my heart in the process.”

It took her a long time to recover. Besides work and graduate school, “I did not go out of the house for nine months,” she says. “I wouldn’t date; I couldn’t look at another man. I was so devastated.”

Frederick stayed with his wife for nine years and fathered two more sons. But, in the end, their problems outweighed the good he was trying to do by staying, he says, pointing to verbal abuse as one of their issues.

“We decided we need to do something; the kids don’t need to see all of this,” he says. “It was better for me to go.”

Over the years, Frederick had often thought of Charlonda, “but it was in the sense of, ‘I had a good girl, and it’s over,’ ” he recalls. He’d heard that she was in a relationship and had a son, but he still felt the need to apologize for abruptly ending their romance.

In 2003, he gave her a call.

“I also let her know that the love she gave me made me a better person,” he says. “I said, ‘You made me feel like a stronger man, better, like I could do anything. You always had my back and were always there for me.’ I just appreciated the way she made me feel.”

“I wasn’t hearing it,” Charlonda says. “It was kind of, ‘Oh, OK, yeah. Whatever.’ ”

In 2005, he called again, this time to wish her a happy birthday. At that point, Charlonda had grown to view Frederick’s breakup from a parental perspective.

“His sons were in another state, and he’d told me, ‘I miss my sons,’ ” she says. “I didn’t know what a parent went through at that time. In 2005, I told him I didn’t blame him.”

Then Frederick told her that, by the way, he was divorcing his wife again. “I had to get off the phone,” Charlonda says. “I felt this flood of emotions I didn’t know I had.”

That call led to many e-mails, which led to a decision to meet.

Before the reunion, “he sent me a picture and he said, ‘I’ve gained weight,’ ” Charlonda recalls.

“I said, ‘I’ve gained weight. Who hasn’t? None of us look like we did in high school.’ ”

Frederick, who was living in Dallas, flew to San Antonio. When they met at the airport, “my heart was beating so fast and he was so nervous,” she says. “I felt bad for him.”

Still, “it was like everything I thought it would be,” he says. “She was looking beautiful, I’m nervous, but I’m wondering, ‘Could this actually be real? Is this real?’ ”

It was so real that they began dating immediately. Not that they didn’t have a few issues; Charlonda, for one, didn’t want history to repeat itself.

“I think I did a lot of testing of him,” she says.

“I’d make little comments: ‘If you don’t like the way I wear my hair, are you going to leave me?’ I was distrusting in the beginning. Because of the bad relationship I was in [with her son’s father], I’d lost a lot of trust, period.”

After they ironed out their doubts, it was time to discuss the wedding.

“We’d waited this long, so there was no ‘Let’s see if this will work out,’ ” Charlonda says. “We’re soul mates.”

They planned a big ceremony in San Antonio on March 4, 2006, but because Frederick’s father, a minister, couldn’t be there that day, he married them in a separate ceremony on Jan. 13 of that year.

“I tell her, ‘I love you so much I married you twice already,’ ” Frederick says, adding that his wife “encourages me to be a team. I can’t imagine not having her.”

Now living in Dallas, the couple is raising Charlonda’s 8-year-old son, and they see Frederick’s boys, ages 18, 14, 10 and 7, as often as they can.

The kids soon will have another sibling; Charlonda recently learned that she’s pregnant.

“We’d like a girl,” she says with a laugh, “but as long as the baby is healthy and beautiful, that’s all we care about.”

Looking back on their nine-year breakup, “I’ve thought, ‘Oh, we lost so much time,’ ” Charlonda says.

“But we’ve both matured. Now, we know how to appreciate each another. Time and experience have taught us that.”

Friday, Feb. 23, 2007

The question in bright lights

Jonathan had told me a couple from his church had made reservations for us at Cattail’s Restaurant (on top of Mudcats Stadium) at six o’clock that Friday night. This was supposedly given to us a Christmas present and for Jonathan getting his new job as a firefighter for the city of Wilson. Little did I know what was in store for me!

The restaurant was very nice and fancy, might I add. We had a great view from our table. The restaurant is surrounded with big glass windows so you can see the stadium lights shining down on the field; it was beautiful.

After we ate dinner, Jonathan and I were talking and all of a sudden the lights outside got really bright, so I turned and looked and could not believe what I was seeing. The big screen above the scoreboard was lit up with, “Brooke, Will you marry me?”

I was in such shock; I couldn’t speak right at first. There are not enough words to even begin to describe how I felt. It was just as I had always dreamed and more. By the time I turned and looked at Jonathan he was crying and down on one knee. Reality then set in that this was really happening to me!

By this point all I could do was cry tears of joy and say “YES, YES, YES!”

As soon as he asked me to marry him, our waitress brought over a bouquet of flowers he had for me. I can remember thinking this can’t get any better, but it did! The next thing I know my family and his family came walking in the restaurant. They were all there the entire time, and I had no clue!

We finally left the restaurant and got in the car to head home, and Jonathan told me he had one more thing for me. He reached to turn up the volume, and a song starts to play, a Christmas song, called “The Gift” by 98 Degrees. The words from that song were so perfect for our special night I will never forget!

The reason Jonathan asked me at the Mudcats’ stadium was because that is where things started for us. I went to the game that night with my work group at the time, and he happened to be there too. I can remember being so excited that he was there because I hadn’t seen him in a while. We talked a lot that night, and about two months later we started hanging out with friends.

On July 7, 2004, he took me out on our first date, and the rest is history! We went to high school together and were always good friends, but I have to say there was always something special about him that just brought a smile to my face whenever he was around. … and he still does.

All I have to say is that I am one lucky girl, and God has truly blessed me with someone so special! We are so excited about our future together and planning for a wedding in June 2008.

Thursday, Feb. 22, 2007

Santa has special gift: marriage

Each year around the 4th of July, he stops trimming his full beard. Tom plays the role of Santa Claus for his church’s youth group fund raiser: “Breakfast with Santa,” and an outreach program: “Dinner With Santa” for underprivileged children of the community.

The children get to have a good breakfast (or dinner), sit on Santa’s lap and tell him all their wishes, have their picture taken with Santa and have their faces painted if desired.

This year, on Dec. 9, Santa came to town with a very special gift for a very special lady: Lady Linda, from Bailey, N.C. She was helping out in the kitchen along with Santa’s 23-year-old son, Robert, and others.

Following breakfast, after all the children had an opportunity to visit Santa, Robert told Lady Linda she needed to go sit on Santa’s lap and tell him what she wanted for Christmas. Resisting at first, and after some encouragement, she relented and went and sat on Santa’s lap. Santa asked her, “and what do you want for Christmas, little girl?” to which she responded with a whisper in Santa’s ear, “I’d like to spend the rest of my life with you.”

Santa then replied with a hardy laugh, “I think I have something here that just might help make that happen.” Santa turned slightly to his right and plucked a candy cane from the decorated tree beside him. He handed her the candy cane, to which was attached a beautiful diamond engagement ring, saying, “Will you marry me?” She replied through tears of joy, “Yes, oh yes!” A wedding date has been set for March 31.

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2007

Mismatched flip-flops were first step toward romance

A step off a curb can result in the discovery of the love of a lifetime.

For a Marshfield couple, fate and flip-flops brought them together.

As Wal-Mart employees, Nicholas W. Inman and Sarah Cheek met at work. Cheek, who had spent most of her life here and moved to Hawaii with her family at the age of 15, then transferred back when the new Supercenter opened, after having worked at a Wal-Mart in Hawaii for a couple of years.

After two months of Cheek being back in the area, the pair finally met.

Cheek admits to noticing Inman at work.

“The first time I saw him, he was in his sweater vest Wal-Mart smock and I had no idea who he was and I knew then that he was the guy I was going to marry,” she said. “And I was speechless.”

However, they avoided each other, agreeing that they knew there was plenty of chemistry.

“I knew that if I stopped to talk, I’d fall crazy,” said Cheek.

A gal with flare, Cheek had two different colors of flip-flop shoes on when Inman first noticed her. “That’s how I strike up a conversation with people,” she said.

Inman agreed it worked, because he asked her if she realized her shoes didn’t match.

Instead of just a conversation, the two eventually had their first date at Subway on a Friday night in October 2006. And since that first date, the pair haven’t missed a Friday night date at Subway yet. (While Cheek was away for three weeks in Hawaii, Inman went and sat in their special booth, called her and continued their weekly routine.)

And the couple agrees that in each other, they’ve found that special something.

Inman said of Cheek, “She was the first person I ever went to dinner with that talked about history and was fascinating.”

She jokes that she was the “beam of light” for Inman.

“I felt like I was in eighth grade every time I was around him,” she said. “It was a knot in my stomach. It was the certainty. There was never a question if he’d be there in my future.”

And it’s not just history after all, the couple have found that they can talk for hours about things that they agree are quirky and only they would find interesting. “People couldn’t understand how we could talk so long,” he said.

And their phone bills showed that love for gabbing with the one they love, when they racked up hundreds of dollars in talk time.

After just a few months of dating, Inman gave Cheek a promise ring as an early Christmas present before she left for Hawaii to visit her parents.

“Her being in Hawaii was the longest time in history. I went stir crazy,” he said.

And during the Christmas break, after a few months of dating, Inman traveled halfway across the Pacific Ocean to meet the family and ask Cheek’s family for her hand in marriage.

“I wouldn’t want my daughter to be serious with someone I’ve never met,” he said.

The family gave their blessing and well wishes.

Inman admits that he spent a lot of time practicing the proposal in the mirror and was nervous.

“I was scared to death,” he said. “My palms were sweating, but I hoped she’d say yes.”

On a balcony overlooking the ocean, he asked Cheek to be his forever, telling her that he had missed her over the weeks she’d been gone and then got down on his knee.

“I about hyperventilated,” she said.

Both agree it was very emotional for them and, for a bit, Cheek didn’t answer. But eventually the answer was yes.

“The first time we went to dinner, I was captivated by her. I got a feeling in my stomach that’s indescribable,” Inman said. “When she’d walk into the room, I’d get red.”

After those feelings surfaced for the 24-year-old Inman, he knew she was the one to marry, never questioning his feelings.

“I just knew she was the one I wanted to roll over and look at in the morning,” he said. “I had prayed to God that he’d send someone to me and I found Sarah. God sends people into my life for a reason.”

Another deal sealer for the all-involved Inman, who has served on numerous community committees and steered several events, was when he found that Cheek liked the Jewels, a group of 20 or so local gals he has adopted as his extended family. And they liked her.

“She wanted to hang together,” he said. “That was really the ultimate test.”

Though, ironically, Cheek’s parents run a business in which they perform weddings on the Hawaiian beach, Cheek and Inman plan to unite in marriage on July 14 in Missouri, in what they agree will be the wedding of the century.

With this as their first Valentine’s Day together, Cheek knows something special is probably in store for her.

“He doesn’t cook, but he once made me a candlelight dinner complete with music and tulips,” she said. “He’s very romantic.”

And she also added that people approach them to ask them how they’re so happy, wanting advice for their own relationships.

The couple agree they’re still learning, but know everything about each other.

When the young couple marries, they will have known each other less than a year. However, they discussed waiting and couldn’t think of a good reason why.

“I can’t see waiting that long,” Cheek said.

Friday, Feb. 16, 2007

After amnesia, couple falls in love again

Jeff Ingram hunches over the countertop and peers at the Betty Crocker cookbook.

One-and-a-half cups of egg whites.

He should know this. He shoots a puzzled glance at Penny Hansen.

“I haven’t shown you yet how to separate an egg,” she says as she cracks the egg and demonstrates.

Jeff is 40, and this, in a way, is his first angel-food cake.

He used to bake so much that he had a special cake platter to display his creations. But now he moves about the kitchen a bit unsure of where ingredients are kept.

He and Penny brush by each other. They exchange flirtatious smiles, like a couple in the first bloom of romance.

To Jeff, she is as new in his life as angel-food cake. But Penny knew Jeff in another life — before he went missing and wound up on a downtown Denver street with no memory.

“Dissociative fugue,” doctors called it, a rare form of amnesia caused by stress or trauma that can influence people to travel far away from their homes.

Jeff was found, but he had no idea who he was, much less who Penny was.

If they were going to stay together, they would have to get to know each other all over again. For Jeff, there was no past.

But what about the future?

Is it possible to find the same love twice in a lifetime?

Jeff Ingram and Penny Hansen were about to find out.

An instant connection

When Jeff and Penny met for the first time in 2005, the connection was instant. Jeff joked that he should just kiss Penny immediately and get it out of the way. They had talked on the phone every other night in the year since they connected on an Internet game site.

Never mind that he lived in Canada, where he worked in a mill, and that she lived in Olympia, where she worked as a state transportation and policy analyst. The 988 miles were little hindrance, and finally Jeff moved to join her.

Relationships hadn’t worked out for either in the past. But now, at 40, they were in love.

She did not blanch when he told her he had once suffered amnesia in 1995 — that he had turned up in Seattle, nine months after disappearing from his home in Slave Lake, Alberta. Where had he been? How did he get there? He did not know, and he never regained memories of his life before he vanished.

It was just a medical condition, she thought, a small matter compared with all of Jeff’s fine qualities: his kind and gentle way, his sense of humility, his nurturing soul.

Last summer, Jeff proposed, and Penny accepted.

Then, on Sept. 6, 2006, Jeff said goodbye and walked out of their tidy green house. It was 7:30 a.m., and Penny was crying. She wouldn’t see him again for a month.

Jeff planned to drive to Canada to visit a dying friend in the hospital. He had been meticulous in his planning, lining up a job there and renewing his driver’s license.

“This isn’t a goodbye,” she told him. “If you miss me, I’ll be right here,” and she touched her heart.

But Jeff never called. He never answered his cellphone. He never made it to Canada.

Something horrible had happened, she was certain.

Penny didn’t know it, but Jeff did surface four days later.

Only it wasn’t Jeff — it was someone so confused he didn’t know who he was. He remembers picking himself off the street in downtown Denver, a place he had never been before, and somehow finding his way to a hospital.

He didn’t have a name, so a hospital worker wrote “Alpha 74″ on his chart.

Jeff underwent a battery of tests. He was hypnotized, given an IQ test, fingerprinted and had spinal fluid drawn. He was tested for drugs and scanned until it was determined he was the healthiest person in the hospital.

He was sent to live at a transitional housing facility. He spent time going to church and visiting with some Denver police officers he had come to know; they suggested a plea on national television, and on Oct. 22, his face appeared on news stations all over the country.

“If anybody recognizes me, knows who I am, please let somebody know,” he said.

In that vast television audience, someone did recognize him: Penny’s brother. And though Jeff had shaved off his mustache and goatee and was wearing different glasses and a hat she had never seen, Penny knew him instantly.

Jeff was waiting in a room at the Denver police station when a detective walked in and tossed some pictures down in front of him.

“This is Penny,” the detective said, as Jeff stared at her picture.

Beautiful, he thought. Absolutely beautiful.

Penny was pacing and crying at the airport.

Forty-six days had gone by since Jeff had left their home. She had been searching the sides of highways, checking hospitals.

And now they would see each other again.

To him, it would be for the first time.

To her, it was a homecoming for the man she loved.

“Welcome home,” she whispered in his ear.

That night, Penny showed him where his clothes went and then offered to sleep on the couch. She didn’t want to force the relationship.

But Jeff said no.

He needed her. He needed to know he was loved and missed.

They lay in bed and held each other. And they cried.

But he didn’t know her any better than he knew a stranger. He didn’t even know who he was. What would become of them? Could they fall in love again?

Jeff was home again, but nothing felt quite right. It was just the beginning of his struggle to find out who he was. Penny became his guide.

But missing was their history. Did they ever have a fight? Did he truly like the person? How close were they really?

Jeff Ingram was home, but he really was just an observer to his own life.

“I want to be who I was,” he said. “That’s what I think about every waking moment. I want it all back.”

He has a constant, throbbing headache that won’t go away.

“He is the same person,” Penny said optimistically. “He just can’t remember he is.”

She mostly keeps her feelings to herself. She doesn’t want to burden him with her struggle. She is hurting, too. Their relationship as she knew it is no more. He politely smiles and nods when she talks about holidays they celebrated, places they went.

The old Jeff hated green peppers and turnips. The new Jeff loves them. His likes now are based largely on food he ate in the hospital. He used to build with Legos but now isn’t quite sure what to do with them.

He still smokes, though, just as much as he did before. Penny jokes that she wishes she could have told him he never smoked.

Experts say there are three types of memory: emotional, motor and intellectual, which includes long-term memory. Jeff’s motor memory, the ability to know things automatically, such as a burner being hot, was intact.

But not much is known about this rare form of amnesia. It is usually triggered by a stressful or traumatic event. Jeff believes that his friend’s cancer in combination with his sensitivity to the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks most likely caused it. There is no way of knowing when, or if, he will get his memory back.

Penny, fun-loving and constantly smiling, has been his teacher and comfort, always reminding him of who he was and how much she cares. She took time off work to be with him.

Weeks after his return, Penny was walking through their house when Jeff blurted out: “You know what? I love you.”

She started crying.

He still was getting to know Penny, but his heart knew.

“There’s a reason we’re together. It’s bigger than us,” Penny said. “Even though he doesn’t know me.”

Will he disappear again?

On Dec. 31, 2006, a few friends and family gathered at the home of Penny’s brother as the sun beamed in through the windows.

Inside, the couple, smiling and holding hands, recited their vows.

“You never gave up on me when others might have,” Jeff told his bride. “We were meant to be together forever.”

Their lives are not untroubled. Jeff is working on regaining memories that may never come, and both are afraid that he will disappear again.

But for now they are newlyweds, laughing at the same jokes, settling into a comfortable routine. And every Dec. 31, as the world celebrates the new year, they will celebrate their anniversary and the chance they were given to fall in love all over again.

They picked that day, they say, so they would never forget.

Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2007

Lifetime of happiness after chance reunion

Fate reunited childhood friends in marriage, giving two Portsmouth teachers special reason to celebrate St Valentine’s Day.

Brian and Sue Sheldrick used to play swingball and have snowball fights as children living opposite each other in Hereford.

But when Sue was nine she and her family moved to Somerset and the pair lost contact for nine years until a quirk of fate reunited them at Bishop Otter College, in Chichester.

Mr Sheldrick, 49, said: ‘I was looking for a pub in Chichester and I saw this girl outside a telephone box. She was lovely and I asked her for directions.

‘Then the next day we were on a treasure hunt arranged by the college and it was the same girl. We got talking and our jaws dropped open when we realised we used to live opposite each other as children. I told Sue it was fate that brought us together.’

Mrs Sheldrick, 47, said: ‘I used to go back to Hereford to visit my gran but I never saw Brian after we moved. It was a complete coincidence us meeting again.’

The pair were soon engaged and were married four years later. In August they’ll be celebrating their 26th wedding anniversary.

The pair both work at Portsmouth Grammar School’s Junior School and have two daughters Victoria, 23, and Sarah, 21.

Married couples are heroes

The true heroes of America are the men and women who quietly overcome all obstacles to remain together as husband and wife. They are the cornerstone of civilization and deserve to be honored. When marriage fails, society crumbles.

As a 20-year police officer, I saw the devastating results of divorce: Prisons are filled with young men who never knew the love or guidance of fathers; drugs, alcohol, depression and suicide are rampant in people from broken homes; schools are filled with kids from broken homes; single moms, stuck in poverty, raise kids who will likely raise their kids in poverty.

My New Year resolution for 2007 is to honor these brave men and women who remain married. Thank you, married couples, for staying the course. America owes you a debt of gratitude.

Take a stand for marriage; renew your wedding vows this year. Stand up in public and declare your determination to finish the journey together.

Men, surprise your wife with a new ring and a new wedding. Give your children courage and confidence for life by showing them that Mom and Dad will always be together for them.

Bill Finlay, chaplain,
Red Feather Lakes

Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2007

A love story that spans decades

The two met as children at the roller skating rink in Marietta when January Adams was 12 years old and Randy Hines was 15.

“For me, it was love at first sight,” Adams (now Hines) said. “For him, he thought I was too young. We were just friends for a long time.”

In the decades since, there have been countless twists and turns of life for this couple. First friends, then best friends. They dated when she was 16, then became a couple, then separated. He moved from Marietta to Florida for college. Both married others and later, both divorced. She is the mother of two daughters, he is a the father of one.

“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at, change,” January Hines said.

Finally, the couple, who both grew up in Marietta and knew one another for many years, re-connected.

“Truthfully, you know the true love of your life,” she said. “He’s still my best friend.”

Randy Hines and January Adams, both originally of Marietta and now of Albuquerque, New Mexico, married Jan. 29, 2006, and at long last, are looking forward to “happily ever after.”

“We have such a good thing going, it’s almost unreal,” Hines said recently. “We work together, play together, and enjoy one another’s company.”

Cheryl Sauls, January’s mother, couldn’t be happier.

“I really miss her, but they belong together,” Sauls, of Marietta, said. “She has always been my heart.”

Her daughter never lost track of Randy Hines, Sauls said.

“She stayed close to his mom, and their friendship never seemed to diminish,” she said. “He treats her like a princess on a pillow.”

When they were teenagers, the telephone was the cord between Adams and Hines.

“We’d be on the phone for hours,” January said. “I watched him work on his car and he was interested in talking about it. We talked about the car, school, and about life.”

When she was 18 years old, the two were a couple for over two years, but later broke up.

“At the time I didn’t know that we both had some living and growing to do,” January Hines said.

After he moved to Florida, she remained close to his mother, visiting often, especially at Christmas and Mother’s Day.

“Those two were just meant to be together,” Donna (Hines) Rowley, of Marietta, said. “It started for them many years ago. Now they seem so happy. They are as much in love now as when they were kids.”

Hines, who remarried after her first husband died, has four sons, and stayed close to January when Randy moved first to Florida, then to Albuquerque, N.M.

“In fact, I went to her wedding and bought her first set of pots and pans,” she said. “At the wedding I told her that she was supposed to have been my daughter-in-law.”

It would be almost 20 years later before that happened.

Today January Hines is 41, Randy Hines, 44.

“They went their separate ways,” Donna Hines said. “He would come home for Christmas and January would come over to see us and say hello. She always kept in touch.”

January Hines trains horses and has found her perfect life in New Mexico with Hines and her two daughters, Essence Lael and Ivory Noel. Randy’s daughter, Hailey, lives with her mother but visits the family often, she said.

Over the years, Hines said he thought of January often.

“When I first met her, I thought she was cute. She’s still cute, but she’s also beautiful,” he said. “For us, this was the right time.”

Hines believes their love was always meant to be.

“The first one is the right one,” he said. “Look back into your past and see if something hasn’t been closed. See if something is still there, waiting.”

Friday, Jan. 26, 2007

Husband rescued: Wife fights off mountain lion with a pen

Nell Hamm first saw the mountain lion when it had her husband’s head in its jaws.

The lion pounced on Jim Hamm at the tail end of the Hamm’s 10-mile hike in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park Wednesday. The 70-year-old man was trailing behind Nell when the big cat attacked, pinning him face down on the trail.

His 65-year-old wife did all the right things. She approached and screamed at the lion. Then she grabbed a branch and began beating it on its back.

“It wouldn’t let go, no matter how hard I hit it,” Nell said in an interview at Mad River Community Hospital Thursday, where her husband was in intensive care recovering from surgery.

Jim, who was trying to tear at the face of the cat, told Nell to grab a pen from his pocket and stab the cat in the eyes. She did, but the pen broke.

“That lion never flinched,” Nell said. “I just knew it was going to kill him.”

Nell picked up the branch again and this time slammed it butt-end into the cat’s snout.

The lion had ignored Nell until then. Finally, she had its attention. The cat stepped back, pinning his ears at her.

“I thought he was going to attack me,” Nell said.

Instead, the cat slipped into the ferns and disappeared.

Terrified that the cat might come back, Nell told her husband that he had to get up and try to walk from the Brown Creek Trail to the Newton B. Drury Parkway parallel to U.S. Highway 101 to find help. He was losing blood quickly. It was about 3 p.m.

“Somehow we made it out of there,” Nell said.

About a quarter-mile away, they came upon an inmate work crew with the California Department of Forestry. The four men went for help.

The California Department of Forestry dispatched an ambulance from Arcata, which took the couple to the hospital. Jim underwent surgery for serious lacerations to his scalp, mouth, ear, legs, arms and hands.

While that was happening, wardens with the California Department of Fish and Game, Redwood National and state park rangers closed the parkway and evacuated visitors from the area.

A warden showed up and spotted a pair of lions just off the parkway. He shot and wounded one, but the cats ran off. Blue Millsap and Jace Comfort with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services division showed up with lion hounds and began the chase.

At about 9 p.m., the hounds chased a lion up a tree. The female cat was shot dead with a rifle, then packaged up to be sent to Fish and Game’s Rancho Cordova wildlife lab.

The next morning, Millsap and Comfort let the dogs loose again, and at about 8:30 a.m. they treed another lion. The male cat was also killed, and it was discovered to be the one that was shot the night before. Both animals were sent by plane to the lab.

Nell and Jim are healthy, athletic people. They play sports, they scuba dive, they run. They’ve dived in shark-infested waters, but never had a run-in with an aggressive shark. But they learned from an expert to always respect the ocean.

Since they moved here from Camarillo two years ago, they have hiked the trails in Humboldt County, logging about 6 to 12 miles two to three times a week.

Neither of them is large, both under 5 feet 6 inches. But they had talked about what to do if a mountain lion ever were to attack: Scream, look big, fight back. And never hike alone.

“All the emergency people told me that Jim would not be alive if he were alone,” Nell said.

That much is almost certain. Nell said that Jim — who was conscious throughout and after the attack — described the animal as incredibly strong. He said he could feel her smashing the cat with the branch, but the cat never shuddered.

Jim still faces a struggle. Cat bites and scratches can lead to serious infections, and doctors are giving him intravenous antibiotics. He is stitched up all over. And physicians also have started him on a series of rabies shots in case the lion was rabid.

Nell was overwhelmingly thankful to the emergency personnel, rangers, wardens, doctors and nurses who helped them through the ordeal.

Despite their long history of hiking, it was too early for Nell to say if they’d ever venture out again.

“It’s not like Jim and I are saying, `Don’t go in the forest’,” Nell said. “Go in the forest like you’d go scuba diving in the ocean. Respect where you are.”

Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2007

Orphans’ incredible bond never broke

IT was all in the smile. And a bond that had begun in a bleak orphanage 50 years ago would blossom again in a busy shopping centre.

Alan Brogan had heard someone call his name, spun on his heels – to come face to face with Irene Kinnair, the woman he had loved for ever.

Alan says: “I know it sounds strange, but I just knew it was her, I could never forget that smile. And she was exactly the same… she said she knew it was me the minute she saw me standing in the street.”

Irene says: “I think the whole of Sunderland heard me shout! He just held me in his arms and I thought he was never going to let go. He told the friend I was with, ‘I’ve loved this lady all my life.'”

Not all – but most of it…

Their amazing story, which will end in marriage in May, began in 1959 when they were thrown together in the same children’s home following the death of their mothers.

Kindred spirits, aged just seven and nine, they quickly formed a bond and became the best of friends.

Alan was just four when his mother Eileen died of cervical cancer. Split up from his three brothers, he had already lived in two care homes before arriving at the Rennie Road orphanage in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear at the age of seven.

When Irene’s mum Greta died of TB, relatives took her three older sisters in, but as the youngest she was sent to the children’s home.

“It was a very old fashioned system and they just assumed that the father couldn’t look after the children once the mother had gone,” explains Alan.

“I know my dad tried to get us back, but it didn’t work.

WHEN Irene and me saw each other for the first time we felt like we knew each other, there was an instant connection. From that day we were inseparable.”

Irene, now 56 and a fitness instructor, adds: “I had nobody. So when Alan came along, we clung on to each other. We weren’t alone anymore. He looked out for me and made me feel safe.

“We’d sit by the stream or run through the woods. Whatever we were doing we wanted to be together.”

“She was indescribable, still is,” says Alan, now 54. “We think like each other, we finish each other’s sentences, there’s an unbreakable bond. Something inside me glows whenever I look at her. And it’s always been like that with us.”

But their friendship infuriated staff at the ultra-strict Rennie Road home which forbade the boys from mixing with the girls. Alan was soon packed away to another home and never even got to say goodbye.

Knowing that fraternising with the opposite sex, no matter how innocent, was not allowed, they had tried to keep their friendship under wraps. However, at the home’s annual holiday to Whitby, their cover was blown.

Alan says: “We were playing and having fun, chasing each other round the camp. We ended up rolling around on the ground. One of the staff came out of her hut and blew her top. She screamed at us to get inside.

“We were just a couple of kids playing, but it wasn’t the done thing. Irene got a belt round the lug and told to be more ladylike and I was told I’d be dealt with later, but to expect big trouble.” Alan weekly chores increased. He could never have predicted what actually happened.

On returning to Sunderland, he was stopped from leaving the home to go to school. He was kept in the playroom until a big black car pulled up and he was bundled inside.

Heartbroken and terrified, he was taken to another children’s home on the other side of Sunderland.

“Irene was my only friend in the world and they’d taken me away from her,” he remembers. “The one person I felt close to.

“I had watched her walk off down the road to school. That was the last time I would see her for more than 40 years. I never had a chance to say goodbye. I’ll never forgive them for that. The anger stayed with me for many years.”

His unsuccessful attempts at running away to be reunited with Irene eventually led to Alan being sent to a school for disruptive children in Stanhope, Co Durham where he stayed until he was 15.

“It was ferocious,” remembers Alan. “There was a very strict military discipline and brutal corporal punishment. I felt desperately lonely there. To this day I find it difficult to connect with people.”

Over the years he regularly ran away in a desperate bid to find Rennie Road and Irene again.

One time, he heroically trekked for miles in the snow before finally stumbling across the old air raid shelter next door to the home.

Shivering with the cold, he crawled through a gap in the shelter and snuggled down to sleep, planning on meeting up with Irene as she walked to school the next morning.

But it wasn’t to be. The police caught up with him and dragged him back before he even had a chance to see Irene.

As punishment he was moved a further 40 miles away, with no chance of being reunited.

Forced apart the pair had no choice but to get on with their own lives and married. But they never forgot each other.

His time at the orphanage over, Alan returned to Sunderland where he found work as an apprentice roofer and upholsterer. He would later enrol at college and work his way up to a management position at a printing firm.

He married in 1980, but divorced seven years later. Irene had married and divorced in 1975 and had struggled to find happiness elsewhere, all the while desperate for Alan

Told he had been moved to Whitby as a child, she even holidayed in the North Yorkshire fishing village in the hope of bumping into him.

ONCE, in the 40 years, they recognised each other as adults, but in those brief minutes with their respective partners, the moment was lost.

Little did they realise they were actually living just streets apart in Sunderland, visiting the same shops, drinking in the same pubs, walking the same roads.

Over the years they would search, visiting old haunts in the hope of bumping into each other.

But it was that chance meeting in Sunderland city centre two years ago that finally brought them back together.

“It was crazy, staring back at me was the little boy I used to know,” recalls Irene. “I saw the tank top and the grey shorts down to his knees.You could feel the bond between us.”

The following evening Irene went round to Alan’s flat where he had prepared a candlelit dinner. From that night, they’ve barely been apart. Alan proposed on holiday later that year and the couple plan to wed in May.

Irene says: “It’s frustrating to think of the years we’ve missed out on, but we’re concentrating on what’s to come. Alan treats my daughter like his own and we love spending time with my grandchildren.”

“It’s like a second childhood,” says Alan. “Neither of us had much of one the first time, so we’re making up for it.

“We sing at the tops of our voices, we giggle all the time. Life’s worth living again.”

Irene was my only friend in the world and they had taken me away from her for ever

Friday, Jan. 12, 2007

The Free Hug movement in Malaga

Passers-by would have been forgiven for believing that this was an attempt to make it to one of the more ludicrous entries in the Guinness Book of Records, but they would have been mistaken. This was, in fact, an entirely new phenomenon that is sweeping through the Internet, called Free Hugs.

It originated in Down Under a few years ago, usually with young people heading out on the streets of big cities and hugging all who cross their paths, free of charge. The key to its world-wide popularity is due to the fact that the hugs are videoed and then placed on the Internet, for people to see everywhere in the world.

In Malaga last week, the huggers were a group of three students from the Las Viñas secondary school in Mollina, and Guinness not withstanding, they most certainly hold the record for the number of hugs given in the streets of Malaga city. It was an unforgettable experience for both them and the people they hugged. “We had not expected people to be so willing to be hugged,” says 16-year-old Juan Carlos Reyes, one of the three huggers.

The Malaga video, made on calle Larios, was placed on the Internet on New Year’s Eve, and has since attracted approximately 50,000 hits, which is the population of Mollina multiplied by ten.

“I was very excited when I saw a Free Hug video for the first time, and I decided there and then it would be a great idea for some of the pupils to do,” says ángel Rueda, the computer science teacher in the secondary school.

It was he who actually taped the hugging sessions in the streets, and who edited the final film. Many people from all over Spain have since called to congratulate him on his initiative, saying they were deeply touched by the Internet video showing the reactions of the recipients of the hugs.

His pupils were also delighted to see themselves and their friends on the video, especially because of the great reception given to the three pupils in the streets and the enthusiasm with which passers-by agreed to be hugged. “many of them took photographs and videoed us hugging, all saying how nice it was to see such affection from total strangers.

It was a wonderful success,” says Yamila García. He hugged people of all ages: men, women and children, old and young, including firemen, waiters, street cleaners, cyclists and postmen. “There was one old woman who was so touched by what we did that she gave us a lottery ticket and a bar of chocolate,” says Yamila.

A sense of values

The third hugger, Rocío Rojas, admitted she was somewhat shy at first about hugging strangers in the street, but she soon got over it.

“Many people asked us why we were doing it, and we told them it was an expression of our desire for peace in the world.” ángel Rueda tells us he was more influenced by the values of solidarity and affection of the Free Hug movement.

“I believe it is important to motivate the pupils by showing them another side of the educational process, especially now, with all the bullying in schools all over Spain.”

Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007

Forgotten keepsakes returned: Couple receive anniversary surprise

Mouse droppings and rats’ nests covered a trunk Bob Kincheloe discovered in McLouth this past week.

Kincheloe didn’t think much of the trunk he found in an old barn that he was dismantling for his friend Melody Barnes.

On Saturday, Barnes and Kincheloe decided to open the trunk. As they scraped away the layers of muck, they discovered a treasure trove. Inside were photos, letters, stock certificates and a marriage license.

The papers were makings of the story of a couple’s life together.

Kincheloe and Barnes found two last names on documents in the trunk and headed toward the local phone book. When they got to Bud and Betty Lukens, of Lawrence, they’d found the owners.

Kincheloe and Barnes made a trip to Lawrence to return what they had found. That was Sunday, two days before the Lukens were to celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary.

Appropriately, among the papers that were found was the letter Bud had written to Betty’s parents, informing them of his intention to marry their daughter. Their marriage certificate also was in the trunk.

The trunk had been lost when, two years ago, the Lukens sold their farm, which included the barn, because Bud’s eyesight had deteriorated to the point that he could hardly see the road to make the drive from his home in Lawrence. Macular degeneration has degraded Bud’s sight to the point that he can’t even read the long-lost letter he wrote to his wife’s parents.

Monday night, as Betty, 84, read the letter aloud, she couldn’t help but get emotional at the words her husband, now 86, wrote. She thought the letter was lost to time.

“I’m sure your greatest concern is essentially mine: her future happiness,” she read. She paused and insisted she couldn’t read any more, but she pressed on.

The letter, which covered the front and back of two pages, was written on Dec. 7, 1941. Bud was sure the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor meant he’d be in the Army soon. He wanted to marry Betty before that happened. They married Jan. 9, 1942, in California.

Bud served in the Army from 1945 to 1947, and afterward the couple returned to Kansas. They bought the farm and lived in McLouth until moving to Lawrence so their two daughters could go to high school here. Bud, however, made the daily half-hour drive to McLouth to take care of his livelihood.

By the time Bud sold the farm, he couldn’t see well enough to make sure they’d taken everything they wanted.

The Lukens sold the farm “as is.” From the clothes to the cattle, if it was at the farm, the Lukens left it behind. They didn’t realize they’d left those keepsakes there, too.

Barnes bought the barn from the person who purchased — and still owns — the farm from the Lukens. When Barnes and Kincheloe discovered what was in the box, they knew someone would want to get the items back.

“We organized it for them. We were just so happy to get their family history back to them,” Barnes said.

“We figured their grandkids would want these photos and letters. It seemed like the right thing to do,” Kincheloe said.

The Lukens have four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

The photos and letters and other memories couldn’t have been returned at a better time. Though they sold the barn only two years ago, the trunk had been in the barn, and unseen, much longer.

As the couple celebrated their anniversary, the two couldn’t quite agree on why their marriage had been so successful.

Bud, with a laugh, said their time apart made their time together better.

Betty, however, had a more romantic opinion.

“We’re terribly attracted to each other, and we always have been,” Betty said. “That’s what’s kept us together.”

Monday, Nov. 6, 2006

Teen hailed as a hero for teddy bear project

Since the fourth grade, Taylor Crabtree’s nonprofit has raised more than $100,000 to purchase teddy bears for 23,000 young cancer patients at 300 hospitals throughout the nation.

This week, the Rancho Buena Vista High School junior was honored for her good deeds through her TayBear Co., when People magazine named her one of its top five heroes of 2006. She was featured on “The Early Show” on CBS and has been contacted by “The Oprah Winfrey Show.”

Taylor’s nonprofit raises money by recruiting youth volunteers to paint hair clips. Taylor then sells the clips and uses the profits to pay for the bears. She has been doing this since age 7, when she was inspired after her grandmother was diagnosed with colon cancer, from which she recovered.

Taylor, 16, said she’s unsure whether she’s deserving of the hero title, but is excited about the recognition.

“TayBear has just become a part of who I am,” she said. “If I didn’t have TayBear I’d feel like I was letting our society down. Starting at a young age has made me less self-centered, and I think it would be great if everyone was a little more that way.”

Taylor has recruited about 1,300 young volunteers during the years from churches, schools and youth groups such as the Girl Scouts. They paint the hair clips, put the TayBear tags on the stuffed animals and give each bear a hug.

During the years, Taylor has sold the hair clips online, in front of supermarkets and at school for $2.50 a pair. Today, she sells them after giving speeches about her organization to churches and community groups. She has spoken twice before the Million Dollar Round Table, an international association of financial professionals. Taylor also accepts donations online.

“TayBear is so much a part of who she is, it’s almost like honoring her for walking,” said her mother, Tricia Crabtree.

According to People magazine, the heroes selected were ordinary citizens who donated their time to charitable causes. On “The Morning Show” on CBS, those who knew Taylor praised how long she had stuck with her cause. This was no passing hobby or summer project.

At school, Taylor earns A’s and B’s and has a schedule packed with advanced placement and honors classes. She is also passionate about volleyball and plays on her school’s varsity girls team and for a selective Southern California girls team, on which she has been nationally ranked.

Joanne Pastula, president and CEO of Junior Achievement of San Diego, in which Taylor was active when she was younger, said Taylor is a role model for other children.

“They learn from her that anything’s possible,” Pastula said. “If they have something they want to do, they can do it as long as they have a goal and drive.”

The biggest challenge with TayBear is raising money for shipping costs, which are paid for through cash gifts and business donations. Taylor has about 2,500 bears in her home office, which is the garage, waiting to be shipped out, but doesn’t have the money to send them.

Monday, Sep. 11, 2006

Lottery win will help fund woman’s wedding

A Clinton County woman now has enough money to pay for a good portion of her upcoming wedding.

Tonya Doescher, 33, of Camanche, won $15,000 playing the “On A Roll” instant scratch ticket. Her girlfriends gave her several such tickets as a gift at a recent engagement party.

“I always play scratch-offs. So (my girlfriends) bought me a couple of tickets as their gift to me because they know I’m a freak about scratch-offs!” Doescher told lottery officials. “I told them (now) they don’t have to buy me a wedding gift!”

Doescher’s friends purchased her winning ticket at North Bridge Self Serve, 119 19th Ave. N. , Clinton.

“I didn’t (scratch it) until after the party. I was so excited. I started crying because I couldn’t believe it. It still hasn’t hit me yet.”

Doescher claimed her prize at the Iowa Lottery’s regional office in Cedar Rapids.

The money “will probably disappear once I pay all the people for my wedding next year,” she said with a laugh.

Doescher and her fiancé, Casey, have been looking into a Las Vegas dream wedding on Super Bowl Sunday this winter.

“We may actually be able to do that now,” she said.

On A Roll is a $2 scratch game. If “your roll” beats “their roll,” you win the prize shown for that roll. If a player uncovers a “money bag” symbol, they win that prize instantly.

Tuesday, Sep. 5, 2006

Man rescued by ferry gets married on vessel a year later

A man who was plucked from the waters of Lake Michigan onto the Lake Express ferry got married over the weekend on the same vessel.

Tom Drewek was clinging to a seat cushion in the lake for 24 hours after his boat capsized in August 2005. Someone on the Lake Express ferry spotted him on its way from Milwaukee to Muskegon, Mich. and rescued him.

“If it weren’t for the Lake Express, I wouldn’t be here. Cut and dry. Just plain and simple,” Tom Drewek said.

He and Sherry Thurston exchanged vows Saturday morning in Milwaukee. They then took the ferry to Muskegon for a reception.

It was Drewek’s first trip on the ferry since his rescue.

Thurston and Drewek met online.

“I don’t even live in the state of Wisconsin, and for us to get together we kind of think of this as our second miracle,” Thurston said. “Our first being his life saved.”

Drewek said he still loves the water, even after last year’s ordeal.

The Lake Express ferry makes three round trips between the two port cities daily during the summer.

Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2006

Medical miracle ends in love

THE broad grins say it all. They’re in love… and never have two hearts been so well matched.

For Kaylee Davidson and Craig O’Neill have both had heart transplants – and it was those life-or-death operations that bought them together.

They met at the European Transplant Games in Naples this summer, where both of them picked up a clutch of medals.

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The games celebrate those who owe their lives to the skills of transplant surgeons – and few have a better reason to celebrate than Kaylee and Craig.

“If it wasn’t for the Transplant Games, we’d never have met,” says 19-year-old Kaylee, who scooped three medals on the track and badminton court at this year’s tournament.

“Knowing that we’ve been through the same thing is a huge comfort and we’ve become very close very quickly.

“The Transplant Games is an amazing experience and it’s great to show off just how many lives have been saved.”

And Kaylee, more than most, is an all-running, all-jumping example of the miracle of transplants.

The part-time sales assistant from Houghton le Spring, Co Durham, was just five months old when she became Britain’s youngest heart transplant patient back in 1987.

Specialists had diagnosed a rare and aggressive viral form of heart disease called cardiomyopathy.

There was no cure, and Kaylee’s only chance was a heart transplant. It was a huge gamble for doctors at the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle upon Tyne. Two previous attempts with babies had failed.

MIRACULOUSLY, Kaylee’s tiny body withstood I the gruelling six-hour operation and she went on to make a full recovery.

Over the years, her incredible progress has continued to astonish the experts and she’s currently Britain’s longest surviving heart transplant patient.

“I don’t tend to make a big deal of it,” says Kaylee. “It’s not like I go up to people and say: ‘Hi, my name’s Kaylee and I’ve had a heart transplant.’

“I’ve still got to take anti-rejection tablets every day, but I’ve never known anything different. I’ve always had my heart transplant.”

She’s been attending the annual British Transplant Games since the age of two, but it wasn’t until last year in Loughborough that she first met Craig, 24.

Unlike Kaylee, he’d had his transplant as a young adult, but at the same Freeman Hospital.

Craig got his new heart less than 18 months ago after spending nearly two years on a waiting list, confined to a wheelchair.

“I was born with transposition of the main arteries, but I was generally OK until the age of 18,” he says.

“That’s when it hit me, and the doctors said I needed a heart transplant as soon as possible. I was so weak and hated being in a wheelchair. I was really scared.”

After receiving the transplant he so desperately needed, Craig made an astonishingly quick recovery. Always sporty, he was soon able to walk unaided again and was eager to start enjoying life. Which is how he met Kaylee.

Both Kaylee and Craig, who works in a hardware store, had noticed each other during a gala dinner after the 2005 games, but neither had the courage to make the first move. “I knew he was looking at me, but he didn’t come over and talk so I thought maybe he wasn’t interested,” says Kaylee.

“I thought she was gorgeous,” says Craig. “She was chatting to everyone and was having a really good time. I was just too shy to do anything about it.”

It wasn’t until a year later, at the 2006 European Games in Naples that Craig, who picked up two golds for sprint and relay, finally felt able tell Kaylee exactly how strong his feelings were for her… with the help of his mum.

“I remembered him from last year,” says Kaylee. “When I saw him I was blushing because I knew I really fancied him. But he still didn’t have the guts to tell me until his mum Julie shouted for me to come over. Finally, he asked me out for a drink.”

But Kaylee’s response wasn’t exactly what Craig was expecting

“She said, ‘No thank you!'” he laughs. “I couldn’t believe it. She says now that it was because she was embarrassed, but the rejection just made me even more determined. I definitely wasn’t going to let her slip through my fingers.” That night they sat next to each other during a meal with a group of other competitors, talked all night – and later shared their first kiss.

“He made me laugh and I only wanted to be with him,” says Kaylee. “After the meal we carried on talking. I knew I was falling for him.”

Since arriving back in the UK, the lovebirds have been pretty much inseparable.

Both live at home, but 25 miles apart – Kaylee in Houghton le Spring and Craig in Billingham near Middlesbrough – but they manage to see each other every weekend and twice during the week.

When they’re not together, they’re on the phone. While neither knows quite what the future holds just yet, both Kaylee and Craig are certain they have something very special. “Every time I’m not with him I just want to scream,” says Kaylee. “But the distance doesn’t bother us at all. We know we’re stronger than that. We love each other and that’s enough. Craig’s very romantic. I’ve met all his family and friends and he wants to take me on holiday.”

Neither Kaylee nor Craig chose not to contact their donors’ families, but they remain eternally grateful to them.

And Kaylee encourages everyone to sign the donor register and to discuss their wishes openly with relatives.

“Craig and I are living proof of what donation means. I can understand why some people might feel a bit uncomfortable about it, but there’s no need to be scared.

“You are saving a life. What could be more positive than that?”

Friday, Jul. 28, 2006

Reunited: the loving couple of 69 years

Welfare officials yesterday backed down to allow a war hero and his wife to stay together after almost 69 years of marriage.

Syd Rowley, 91, was heartbroken after being told that his 90-year-old wife Blanche would have to live at a residential home while he stayed at their bungalow.

It meant they would be apart for the first time since

Syd returned home at the end of the Second World War after fighting the Japanese.

The Daily Express highlighted their plight, describing

the decision to separate the couple as “shabby and cruel”, while Age Concern said it was “outrageous”.

Then, just hours after we called for those responsible to be sacked, their council performed

a U-turn.

It said it could, after all, provide the extra £400 a week to allow Syd and Blanche to share the twilight of their lives together in a bright, sunny room in the home a mile from the bungalow where they have

lived for 17 years.

After insisting it was bound by Department of Health

guidelines which meant that Syd should remain in his own house being looked after by home helps, the authority held an emergency review following the adverse publicity.

Then it announced that the extra expense was, in fact,


Syd broke down and wept when told yesterday. But his

daughter, Sheila Stockill, 68, told the Daily Express: “While I am delighted at the outcome, my mum and dad should never have been put in this position.

“Their treatment has been disgraceful and you have a

feeling nothing would have been done if your newspaper

had not spoken out.”

She added: “The authorities say there had not been a mistake but someone, somewhere must have taken the decision which was blatantly wrong.

“They have assured me that no one else will be put in the same situation and I would like to think that will be the case.”

Blanche needed residential care after suffering a stroke and was moved into the Ingersley Court care home in Bollington Cheshire.

At first, social workers assured Syd he would be able

to stay with her and staff moved a second bed into her

room. But, after an assessment, Syd was told he must

remain at home even though he suffers from prostate cancer, has had two heart attacks and is arthritic, which means he is unable to dress himself.

As he held Blanche’s hand Syd, who was a standard bearer at the funeral of Lord Mountbatten in 1979, said: “I was beside myself with worry and knew I couldn’t manage without her.

“I spent last night just sitting in a chair thinking about what was happening to us. I am not too proud to say I cried because I didn’t see any future without Blanche.

“Then, when I heard the council had changed their

minds, I cried again but this time with happiness.

“I love Blanche as much now as I did when we got married and it is just wonderful to know we can be together.”

His daughter added: “I still find it difficult to understand how social services could interpret their circumstances the way they did.”

John Weeks, director of Cheshire community services,

said: “Cases of this sort are extremely complex.

“Social workers have to only spend public money when

absolutely necessary. We always review a situation when the parties are troubled.

“When I discovered that this was the case I decided there should be a further assessment as a matter of urgency.”

Wednesday, Jul. 26, 2006

Pets playing a big role in dating

Love me, love my dog. That’s the message for potential suitors from pet owners.

“We always hear stories, It’s me or the cat, and she chooses the cat,” said Dr. Debra Owens, associate veterinarian with the Animal Medical Center in Charleston. “But there are a lot of couples who truly love animals, and it brings them together.”

Thus, creators of online dating services for single pet owners for whom the specialized Web sites have multiplied recently like … well … like rabbits, are hoping for the latter.

“Only dog lovers really understand what it’s like to love dogs, and it’s important for them to be able to share that passion with the person they love,” said Derek Collinson, creator of the Web site

His and similar Internet-based services offer search tools, instant messaging and e-mail capabilities for customers to track down other pet-minded romantics. Other sites, such as, rely on high-speed networks through which members can communicate with each other.

Online dating service claims there are 40 million single pet owners, while the American Animal Hospital Association reported results of a 2002 survey in which 90 percent of pet owners said they would not date someone who wasn’t also endeared to their pets.

“If you’ve started dating a fellow pet lover, you already have something important in common: your love for animals,” writes Ann Palik, a marriage and family therapist, for the Web site “You probably feel you and your pets are a package deal; if your date cannot get along with your pets, it’s time to look elsewhere.”

After all, according to some experts, how one treats animals potentially indicates how that person would behave with larger responsibilities, say, children, for example.

“It’s like a litmus test: How do you deal with any other creature that needs care or attention?” said Paula McNitt, a clinical psychologist and relationship counselor for Carle Foundation Physician Services in Coles County. “If it goes well, it probably bodes well for the relationship.”

She cited her own daughter, who wanted a cat and got one from her boyfriend, who also helps care for the cat.

Rachel Toor, author of “The Pig and I: Why It’s So Easy to Love an Animal, and So Hard to Live with a Man,” jokingly writes in Happen magazine that if prospective boyfriends don’t like animals, “Forget about them. That’s clearly an evil person.

“But, if you find a guy who makes a joke if your pet pig pees on their Oriental carpet; who brings treats for your pooch and chocolate for you; who can play rough or gentle with them depending on the mood; who is kind and caring and responsible well, then, send him my way.”

According to Dr. Owens, some of the couples who bring their pets to the Animal Medical Center regard their animals as “pre-kids.”

“They’re thinking about having kids, so they start out with a puppy or kitten,” she said. “Having a puppy is like having a child.”

But pets, while important, certainly should not become the foundation of a long-term relationship, said experts. Palik encourages would-be couples to ask themselves this question: “Do you have enough to sustain a relationship aside from your mutual love of animals?”

McNitt, who spends much more time counseling married people than couples who are dating, said she has never had clients for whom pets were a “particular issue.”

Dr. Owens noted the pet-oriented dating services are “OK.” However, she said, “There’s a lot more to a relationship than loving a dog.”

Thursday, Jul. 13, 2006

Woman reunited with old love letters

Her house was ripped from its foundation and destroyed when the 17th Street Canal floodwall collapsed in August. But last month, Marlene Boudreaux discovered that all was not lost when she opened an ammunition box filled with sweet words, written a half-century ago by a young soldier to his bride back home in the Irish Channel.

“I’ll be damned; of all things,” Boudreaux, 68, said as she opened the metal box she had stored in the attic of her Lakeview home. It was found by volunteers cleaning the yard of a house a half-mile away.

No longer a container for 250 30-caliber cartridges, the box cradles dozens of letters written to Marlene Gildig Boudreaux by Army veteran Hector “Nunnie” Boudreaux, 69. The two married in 1955 and divorced 20 years later.

“My ex-husband said anything he said in here he takes back,” Boudreaux said with a laugh as she read parts of the letters to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church volunteer Maggie Immler, 20, a student at Grinnell College, in Grinnell, Iowa. Another volunteer found the box and Immler joined Katie Mears, 25, in returning it to Boudreaux, whom they found after a computer search.

Boudreaux, who is living in a trailer on a relative’s property in Kenner, drove to the church to meet Mears and Immler, who have been gutting and cleaning houses since December.

Boudreaux hugged and thanked the young volunteers, then set the rusted box on the hood of her Volkswagen Jetta and struggled to open it.

“Here’s one from September 1957,” Boudreaux said, pulling a faded letter from an envelope bearing a three-cent stamp. “I was still living in the Irish Channel on Seventh Street,” she said. “That was when I wondered how can I ever move to Lakeview,” which the couple did 44 years ago.

A bride of 18 married at St. Alphonsus Church – she in a suit and hat, he in his Army uniform – Boudreaux said she stored her love letters in the ammunition box because “it was a nice little letter holder.” She had no idea that the box was watertight, she said.

Several dozen letters were sandwiched in the box. “Maybe these were the sweeter ones I kept,” Boudreaux said. The letters were postmarked in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Arizona. “It was after the Korean War and he was supposed to be shipped to Germany, but it never came through,” she said.

“All my love, Hec,” one letter ended. “Write soon. I need the mail if I can’t have you.”

It’s been more than 30 years since they divorced, but she and her former husband never remarried, Boudreaux said. “I guess no one would have us,” she said, lighting another cigarette.

“We get along,” Boudreaux said. “We even evacuated together (after Hurricane Katrina).”

The former couple and their daughters Renee, 38, Nicole, 35, and granddaughter Brooke, 17, joined a six-car caravan of relatives who headed to the home of Boudreaux’s nephew in Lafayette before the storm hit.

“We’re still friends,” Hector Boudreaux said, back home in Metairie. “We still have the two girls together.”

Hector Boudreaux recalled attending Redemptorist High School with his wife-to-be and walking at night to her house on Seventh Street from his home in the St. Thomas housing development. He said he had “no idea” that his letters had been saved for all these years and he is grateful to the volunteers who found them.

“We had 20 years together,” he said. “I guess nowadays, that would be a lifetime for a marriage.”

Marlene Boudreaux said she will store the ammunition box filled with letters in the makeshift attic she created by stacking plastic bins on the top bunk in her FEMA trailer.

“I will definitely save them,” Boudreaux said. “I’m a saver. And I don’t have much to save anymore.”

Monday, Jul. 10, 2006

Rescued soldier weds her hero

A SOLDIER who escaped death in Iraq has married the man who came to her rescue.

Gunner Natalie Savage was thrown from an army Land Rover in Basra in 2003 – and was at the mercy of a hostile mob of Iraqis as she lay injured.

But her husband-to-be, Lance Bombardier James Day, from Manchester, came to her rescue – and sparked off their romance, with him proposing last March at the top of the Eiffel Tower.
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The couple tied the knot at Mansergh Barracks in Guterslogh, Germany, where they are serving in the Royal Artillery Regiment.

Natalie, from Thornaby, Teesside, said: “I have got my own hero now. I was lying there injured and James said, `Please don’t go. I don’t want you to die.

“Then he came to the hospital and told me he loved me. It’s not the way you would expect to meet your future husband.”

Woman is reunited with love letters found in flooded-out Lakeview

Her house was ripped from its foundation and destroyed when the 17th Street Canal floodwall collapsed in August. But last month, Marlene Boudreaux discovered that all was not lost when she opened an ammunition box filled with sweet words, written a half-century ago by a young soldier to his bride back home in the Irish Channel.

“I’ll be damned; of all things,” Boudreaux, 68, said as she opened the metal box she had stored in the attic of her Lakeview home. It was found by volunteers cleaning the yard of a house a half-mile away.

No longer a container for 250 30-caliber cartridges, the box cradles dozens of letters written to Marlene Gildig Boudreaux by Army veteran Hector “Nunnie” Boudreaux, 69. The two married in 1955 and divorced 20 years later.

“My ex-husband said anything he said in here he takes back,” Boudreaux said with a laugh as she read parts of the letters to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church volunteer Maggie Immler, 20, a student at Grinnell College, in Grinnell, Iowa. Another volunteer found the box and Immler joined Katie Mears, 25, in returning it to Boudreaux, whom they found after a computer search.

Boudreaux, who is living in a trailer on a relative’s property in Kenner, drove to the church to meet Mears and Immler, who have been gutting and cleaning houses since December.

Boudreaux hugged and thanked the young volunteers, then set the rusted box on the hood of her Volkswagen Jetta and struggled to open it.

“Here’s one from September 1957,” Boudreaux said, pulling a faded letter from an envelope bearing a three-cent stamp. “I was still living in the Irish Channel on Seventh Street,” she said. “That was when I wondered how can I ever move to Lakeview,” which the couple did 44 years ago.

A bride of 18 married at St. Alphonsus Church — she in a suit and hat, he in his Army uniform — Boudreaux said she stored her love letters in the ammunition box because “it was a nice little letter holder.” She had no idea that the box was water tight, she said.

Several dozen letters were sandwiched in the box. “Maybe these were the sweeter ones I kept,” Boudreaux said. The letters were postmarked in Arkansas, Oklahoma and Arizona. “It was after the Korean War and he was supposed to be shipped to Germany, but it never came through,” she said.

“All my love, Hec,” one letter ended. “Write soon, I need the mail if I can’t have you.”

It’s been more than 30 years since they divorced, but she and her former husband never remarried, Boudreaux said. “I guess no one would have us,” she said, lighting another cigarette.

“We get along,” Boudreaux said. “We even evacuated together (after Hurricane Katrina).”

The former couple and their daughters Renee, 38, Nicole, 35, and granddaughter Brooke, 17, joined a six-car caravan of relatives who headed to the home of Boudreaux’s nephew in Lafayette before the storm hit.

“We’re still friends,” Hector Boudreaux said, back home in Metairie. “We still have the two girls together.”

Hector Boudreaux recalled attending Redemptorist High School with his wife-to-be and walking at night to her house on Seventh Street from his home in the St. Thomas housing development. He said he had “no idea” that his letters had been saved for all these years and he is grateful to the volunteers who found them.

“We had 20 years together,” he said. “I guess nowadays, that would be a lifetime for a marriage.”

Marlene Boudreaux said she will store the ammunition box filled with letters in the makeshift attic she created by stacking plastic bins on the top bunk in her FEMA trailer.

“I will definitely save them,” Boudreaux said. “I’m a saver. And I don’t have much to save anymore.”

Thursday, Jun. 15, 2006

Reunited after 63 years: World War II couple meets again

They became lovers during World War II. She was a 21-year-old Australian and he was a 23-year-old American Marine.
After 63 years of separation, they’re together again.

In 1943, Russ Cummer, of Clio, was a Marine stationed near Melbourne, Australia. One day on the beach, he met a cute, young lady by the name of Jean. Her family took to Russ right away and had him over for dinner often. Romance soon bloomed between Russ and Jean.

“She took me dancing. She took me to the horse races,” Russ recalled.

“We never had a cross word that I can remember. We just enjoyed each other’s company,” Jean added.

After six months together, Russ was reassigned. He was needed for the invasion of the Philippines. That was the last time Russ and Jean saw each other. The last letter between them was sent in 1950.

“We both got busy with our families – just didn’t communicate any longer,” Jean said.

The years flew by. Last winter, two of Russ’s sons planned a vacation to Australia and offered to look up Jean. “The kids said they were going to Australia. I said, ‘Well, it’s a long shot. Try it,'” Russ told ABC12’s Randy Conat.

The two brothers found Jean living on the same street she did 63 years ago. “It was absolutely magical that they would find me,” said Jean.

“Next to a miracle as far as I’m concerned,” Russ admitted.

Last night, Jean and her daughter, Vivian, flew into Detroit Metro and met Russ and his family. “I got a kiss. First time in 63 years,” said Russ.

Now it’s time to look over the old pictures and reminisce.

Jean returns to Australia in a week. She plans to stay in touch with Russ through phone calls and letters.

Monday, Jun. 5, 2006

First Love Reunited 45 Years Later

CHILDHOOD sweethearts Marlene Houston and Gordon Johnson have fallen in love again 45 years on after meeting up through the Friends Reunited website.

At 15 they were close at Walbottle School, Lemington, Tyne and Wear but drifted apart.

Now twice-married Marlene, 61, a foster carer of Lemington, and widower Gordon, 61, are living together in Carlisle.

Marlene didn’t expect to find love last October when she posted on the website and lawyer Gordon said: “My reaction was ‘wow’ when I saw her name in the 1959 page.”

She said: “We were boyfriend and girlfriend in an old-fashioned way. I think he had a bit of a crush on me and always saw me as his first love.”

Thursday, Jun. 1, 2006

Couple Plans Wrightsville Beach Wedding on a Budget

Many people plan weddings for late spring and early summer. Weddings can be expensive, but if you plan wisely, you can make it happen for much less.

Angel Dunivan and Mark Jaquays planned their Wrightsville Beach wedding on a budget. The ceremony was held in the sand to save on the cost of location. The couple rented a beach house for the occasion and their guests helped out with the cost.

Dunivan also saved money on a wedding dress. Several stores sell gowns at a discount becuase they need the space in the shop. Angel and Mark’s wedding planner says the best advice for saving money is to decide on a budget and stick with it.

The average wedding today costs around $30,000. For a third of that price, Angel and Bark had their dream wedding on the beach.

Inside Good News Blog