Love After 50: Stories of the Heart

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson June 15, 2010 11:51

Judd and Jan share a laugh/Photo by Ben Hicks

For Judd and Jan Mangin, it started with the gift of carrot salad. For old friends Pat Dean and Paul Girard, a shared lunch opened the door to something deeper.

Mary and Lee Heinen found each other online, and Frank and Marylin Martin met in more of an old-fashioned way – through an ad in the newspaper’s personals section.

Their love stories, no doubt among scores here in the Mother Lode, prove one thing: Romance is not the exclusive province of the young.

Don’t believe TV and the movies: Deep, passionate and wonderful relationships, as writer Joan Jackson’s stories richly illustrate, thrive among couples in their 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond. And more often than not, their life experience and a shared frame of reference only solidify these relationships.

Seniors need not spend their years alone, or lonely, our love stories show. Opportunities for companionship abound, be they serendipitous or deliberate.

The online world, of course, is part of the 21st Century landscape and is rich in both romantic possibility and risk. But armed with tips in the accompanying article on online dating safety, seniors will be better equipped to embark on this adventure.

To the four couples profiled in the pages that follow, thank you for so candidly and generously sharing your stories. And to our readers, warm wishes for your own happy endings. – Editor

Pat Dean and Paul Girard

Their lives have touched many times over the past 33 years.

Paul Girard was the contractor who built Pat Dean’s house in 1976. When Pat and her husband, Bob, planned to remodel the home in 1993, she called Paul about the original house plans – he couldn’t find them.

Paul and Pat served together on the Tuolumne General Hospital board of trustees from 2002 through 2005. They ran into each other at the Tuolumne County Health Fair in 2008. But it wasn’t until they met at the health fair again, a year later, that their friendship took a special turn. Pat had lost her husband to cancer. Paul was divorced and had been single since 2004.

“Let’s go for coffee,” he suggested. She declined. Several days later Paul asked her to go to lunch. They set a date and went to a Murphys restaurant.

“We talked for four hours straight,” recalls Pat, 74. “I never expected to be married again, but Paul has filled a need I didn’t know existed.”

“She needed a handyman,” quips Paul, 67, with his laid-back wit.

Pat just smiles. It’s true, Paul can fix anything, but there’s much more.

“He has a great sense of humor, he’s imaginative, smart and kind,” she says. “I just easily fell in love with him.” They take a moment for a quick kiss before continuing.

When they first talked about marriage, Paul says, Pat had about 174 questions. He had only two: “When are we going to get married, and where are we going to live?”

They plan to marry in September at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Sonora. They will live in the Sonora house he built all those years ago, with plans to move into a smaller, more energy-efficient home in the future. Meanwhile, they’re working their way through Pat’s lists of questions.

Paul lives in an all-solar home on seven acres in Coulterville. Merging the households is a challenge. “Pat has lots more stuff,” he says.

Pat laughs. “He calls himself a miser, and he calls me a maxi-miser.”

So far, they know he will bring two dogs, two cats, myriad tools and his artwork. Pat, who has a great mind for organizing and visualizing, already knows where she’s going to put the art, says Paul.

How do they deal with issues when they don’t agree?

“We talk,” says Paul, “and sometimes she cries.” They both grin. Tears work.

“One of the best things,” says Pat, “is that we talk freely about everything. We’re very honest and open.”

Paul nods in agreement. “If something doesn’t work, then something else will.”

Between them, Paul and Pat have eight adult children (each has lost a child to death, and each has a mix of biological and adopted children), numerous grandchildren, and various pets. Paul also has three planes and another home.

Pat heads the Yosemite Community College District Board of Trustees and serves on the Columbia College Foundation. She is active in AAUW, and sits on the Visiting Nurses/Hospice and Adult Day Health Center boards. A retired high school teacher and nursing administrator, she was nursing director for Tuolumne General and Sonora Community hospitals, among others. She and her sister operate a ranch in Merced and Mariposa counties.

As a single parent with three young children, she did child care during the day and went to school at night. She adopted another son and daughter, siblings, during that time. In 1969, all five children were lined up to see their mother graduate after seven hard-won years. Pat also earned a nursing degree from California State University, Fullerton, and a master’s degree and teaching credential from the University of San Francisco.

Shortly after, she married Bob Dean. During their 38-year marriage they moved many times with the California Department of Corrections, settling back in Sonora in 1993. He survived several battles with cancer, but finally lost to bladder cancer in February 2008.

Paul, a general contractor for 40 years, has co-owned Inter-Mountain Truss since 1979. He was a member of the Columbia Elementary School Site Committee, and a Tuolumne General Hospital trustee. He began flying more than 50 years ago. In 1991, after quadruple bypass heart surgery, he went back to school to become a certified aircraft mechanic, and returned to get his inspection authorization.

Paul has always been an adventurer. In 1964, at the age of 20, he bought a new Ford Ranchero pickup and spent eight months visiting 47 of the 50 states, working for gas and food as he went.

Pat, who has had little time to roam, looks forward to the travel they plan together after they marry. They’re thinking the first stop might be Belize. However, it will be hard to top the adventure of just being together.

“Every once in a while someone touches your heart in a special way,” says Pat. “Paul did that to me.”

Paul adds that he can think of no better way to spend the rest of his life than loving and being with Pat.

And those missing house plans? Paul found them in his airplane hangar in March, just about the time he and Pat set their wedding date.

Judd and Jan Mangin

Four years ago, a carrot salad wove its magic.

Judd Mangin was a widower. A resident of a Murphys mobile home park, he’d planned to get himself out of the house that day by attending the community’s bi-monthly barbecue. As he set off for the clubhouse, carrot salad in hand, he found the event had been canceled.

On the spur of the moment Judd thought of Janet Peterson, the charming neighbor one block over, whom he had first met at a San Andreas convalescent hospital. What better way to say “hi” than a fresh carrot salad?

Jan had spent seven months at the convalescent hospital as she recovered from a difficult hip surgery. Judd’s wife of 61 years, Marcielle, was in a room down the hall. The two women became friends over the months. Jan was touched by the loving care Judd gave his cancer-stricken wife, bringing her freshly laundered clothing, special food and anything else he could think of to keep her comfortable.

Judd’s wife had been firm with him when it became clear that her illness was terminal. “I don’t want you to be alone. I want you to go on with your life,” she told him. After her death, he began slowly.  The neighborhood barbecues were fun and simple.

Jan also liked the barbecue. “We would see each other there,” she recalls. As they spent more time together, their relationship grew from casual friendship into romance and love.

Judd and Jan were married in November of 2006. She was 78 and he was 80.

After 20 years of marriage to Max Peterson, owner of Stockton Beauty Supplies, Jan had been contentedly single for 30 years and never expected to remarry. “When you say ‘no smoking, no drinking, no fornication,’ you don’t go on very many dates,” she explains with a good-humored laugh.

How is it to be married after being single for so long? “We take care of each other,” she says, her cheerful voice going soft.

Each of them deals with a multitude of health issues, but mutual caring sustains them both. Judd now uses a wheelchair and wears leg braces, “but he never complains,” Jan says.  “He’s always cheerful.”

They enjoy visits with neighborhood friends, and dinners and special occasions with family: Jan’s children, Janelle, Tonja, Jim and Bill Peterson, and Judd’s son Timothy Mangin and daughter Jayette Williams.

But Judd and Jan each have their own places in the home and own favorite television shows and he enjoys poker with friends. They’ve found a balance of independence and togetherness. “We just melded together,” Jan says, “but we still do our own thing.”

While Judd and Jan take good care of each other, they also clearly enjoy each other.

“Jan is a lovely lady, and she knows how to have fun,” says Judd, who is retired from the electrical industry. “She sings to me or sometimes we sing together.”

Jan, who sang professionally in her late teens and twenties, was part of the Spade Cooley show in the 1950s appearing as Jan Marlow. She also performed on Lawrence Welk’s stage with Champagne Lady Roberta Linn, and was close friends with both. Today she sings for the joy of it — and for her husband.

And does Judd still make carrot salad?

“No,” he says with a chuckle. “That first one accomplished what it had to do.”

Frank and Marylin Martin

You’ve been married before and the prospect of trying again is pretty scary. What’s the secret to being sure about your new love?

Twain Harte residents Frank Martin, 77, and his wife, Marylin, 69, are convinced the key is to really get to know each other before taking the big step. They’ve been happily married for nearly 11 years.

“We really did our homework before we got married,” says Marylin.

“And we spent time together,” adds Frank. “It takes time to get to know one another. We learned to talk to each other.”

Marylin reaches over and picks up a book from the coffee table, “His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-Proof Marriage” by Willard F. Harley. Holding it up, she says, “We went to counseling for six months before we got married, and we read this book and did all the exercises together.”

Marylin was widowed in 1992, when David, her high-school sweetheart and husband of 35 years, died of cancer. In his final days, he had urged her to marry again. She remarried fairly quickly to a family friend, whose wife died around the same as her husband.

“We grieved together,” she says. But the marriage itself was traumatic and ended quickly. The experience left her “scared to death.”

Frank’s first marriage ended in divorce after 17 years. Single for 28 years, he was engaged twice before he met Marylin; neither relationship worked out. With Marylin, it was all different.

“She’s an original,” he says with a smile.

Both have lived and worked throughout California. They met in the mid-1990s when Marylin was working for an upscale resort in Carmel. Her friends urged her to run an ad in the lifestyle section of the Monterey Herald, spelling out her criteria for someone she would like to meet and date. “That’s the way to do it here,” she was told.

Frank worked part-time at a Carmel drugstore after retiring from investment consulting  and a 25-year career with Wells Fargo. He was potential beau number seven of eight that Marylin met through her newspaper ad. He quickly beat out the competition. Marylin believes her first husband, whose ashes are scattered on Monterey Bay, “helped me find Frank.”

Not only did Frank respect the grief Marylin carried for her first husband, but he actively engaged in counseling and homework exercises. “I actually didn’t want to be single,” he says, “and I didn’t want to spend my later years alone.”

They lived together for six months before marrying on Sept. 18, 1999, his father’s birthday, at the iconic Lone Cypress at Pebble Beach.

They soon recognized that the Monterey area carried mixed memories for each of them, and decided to start somewhere new. Marylin was working as social services director at Beverly Healthcare in Monterey, so she applied at the Beverly facility (now Avalon) in Sonora. Always a believer in “lucky pennies,” Marylin found 13 pennies the day she applied – a lucky number, as it turned out. She worked there until retiring four years later.

“Retired,” however, hardly applies to this busy pair. Marylin is an award-winning watercolor artist, long-time quilter and avid writer who co-founded the Sonora Writers Group with her sister, Jill. Frank manages the couple’s rental properties, is the office manager for the Willow Springs Association, does maintenance work for a development firm, and reads three newspapers a day. Both are active in the Tuolumne County Newcomers Club, love to dance, and enjoy walks on Twain Harte’s ditch trails.

Frank and Marylin acknowledge that they have similarities and differences. Both are compassionate, gentle people who enjoy nature and the beauty of their surroundings in Twain Harte. They diverge somewhat when it comes to money.

“He likes to save, and I like to spend,” says Marylin with a grin.

While they occasionally disagree, the fights are few and they know how to work them out.

“Frank is not a fighter,” says Marylin. “I’ll sulk for a day or two and then he says ‘We need to talk.’”

Her husband nods in agreement. “I write my thoughts down,” he says. Then they sit together and talk it through.

Frank has an extra secret for keeping his wife happy.

“He rubs my feet every night,” says Marylin. “My girlfriends are so jealous.”

Mary and Lee Heinen

“She’s my angel,” says 70-year-old Lee Heinen, emotions brimming as he turns to his wife, Mary.

“I never believed anyone would love me to the depths that Lee does,” says Mary, 55, with a smile.

The couple met online via CatholicMatch.com in a courtship that bridged from careful first contact to deep conversations and praying together over the phone. It advanced to near-giddy excitement when Mary arranged for them to meet face-to-face at a spiritual conference in Modesto in October 2005.

Lee arrived at the conference extra early and searched the crowd, nervously clutching a photo of Mary. Suddenly an arm slid around his shoulder and a happy voice asked, “Are you looking for me?”

“I turned around and looked into those eyes and I was just mesmerized,” Lee says with a shake of his head. “I knew I was gone.”

In the months that followed, Lee and Mary courted. With Valentine’s Day 2006 coming up, Mary invited Lee to see the beauty of the mountains and Twain Harte. Mary was knee-deep preparing for a business conference, so Lee came to her house, again early, bearing roses, wine and food for a romantic surprise dinner. Along the way, Mary’s parents called from Michigan. Lee asked their permission to propose to Mary. To his joy, they said yes. Even better, so did Mary.

“I was airborne,” recalls Lee.

Yet the life paths leading to this loving, faith-filled marriage were not easy.

Lee, a Marine, retired on disability after suffering shrapnel wounds in Vietnam. Injured and haunted by the traumas of the war, he returned to the heart-wrenching jeers of his countrymen – and also found himself facing a bitter divorce.

Devastated, he lived on the street for awhile, until his mother and aunt persuaded him to go back to school. Just as he was getting back on his feet, his mother was killed in a horrific car accident.

A dogged survivor, he worked hard and found friendships among other Vietnam veterans.  Ultimately he landed at Hughes Space and Communications, where he was administrator for payloads and integration. From there he moved on to the movie business, where he did walk-ons and small parts in television and movies. Today, he’s taking a turn at screenwriting and currently has a script in the hopper. He turned to CatholicMatch.com at the urging of his favorite cousin.

Mary’s first marriage ended in a painful divorce in 1984. She lived in various places across the country as she worked her way up in retail management, supporting herself and her two children. She came to Tuolumne County to open Mervyns, and moved on to manage the Sonora Staples store. She also owns Curves in Twain Harte. She turned to CatholicMatch.com because faith was a key value she sought in anyone she dated.

In October 2006, just a month before Lee and Mary were to be married, Lee was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Fearfully, he shared the diagnosis.

“We can get past this,” Mary told him. When infection set in after surgery, she was there to help him through.

Surrounded by family and friends, and with the prayers of five priests, they were married November 4, 2006 at All Saints Catholic Church in Twain Harte.

Clearly, it’s an online match made in heaven.

“She’s my angel,” Lee echoes.

“We do have angels with us,” Mary agrees.

© 2010 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

Joan Jackson
By Joan Jackson June 15, 2010 11:51
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