Finding Love After 60: Susan Schlindwein and Bob Hornauer

By Gary Linehan September 15, 2016 13:41

Older adults are marrying in record numbers. What’s it like to find new love later in life? Four couples told their stories to FAN in the Autumn 2016 issue. Read their stories here:  Nancy Stowell-Freiberg and Duane Freiberg, Jeanne Rittenhouse and Bob Myers, Dana and Monty Youngborg

Bob Hornauer and Susan Schlindwein were both well into their 60s the first time they saw each other.

They did not lock eyes across some crowded room – instead, Susan had traveled to Groveland to provide hospice care for Bob’s dying wife.

“It’s a really different way to meet somebody under those circumstances, but you really see who that person is,” Susan says.

That was in early 2010. Bob, 70, and Susan, 72, have now been together for more than five years and share Susan’s Twain Harte home. They are engaged to wed next spring.

“We hope to get married on the beach in Hawaii,” Bob says.

Photo by Rich MillerBoth have been married twice previously and are grandparents.

A Milwaukee native, Susan came to California by bus in the 1960s, arriving in San Francisco with the proverbial flowers in her hair. “I never left,” she says. “I feel like I was born here.” When Susan’s second marriage ended, she moved to Twain Harte to raise her son and daughter, and has lived there since 1977.

She graduated from Columbia College’s licensed vocational nursing program in 1979. After years in the field, she wanted higher pay and better opportunities. In 1990 she became a registered nurse and for the past 15 years has focused on home hospice care.

Bob was born in Cobleskill, a small town near Albany in upstate New York. He attended Oswego State University and graduated in 1968 with a degree in industrial arts and technology. He worked throughout the Southeast, moved to California in 1985 for a job and retired last year as a construction safety engineer.

An accomplished pilot and airplane mechanic, he soloed at age 20 and went on to earn commercial, flight instructor and air transport licenses, as well as airframe and powerplant certificates.

Bob and his late wife, Elizabeth, discovered Tuolumne County in the early 1990s, bought a cabin getaway in Pine Mountain Lake, and often flew to its small airport from their Burlingame home. They enjoyed PML’s aviation community and rural atmosphere, and they bought the Manzanita Hill Bed and Breakfast in Groveland in 2001 as a way to live in the area full-time.

They did not have children together but Elizabeth, a former professional opera singer, had nine of her own. Bob has two children from his first marriage and one grandson; Susan has two children and four grandchildren.

After a long illness, Elizabeth died in June 2010 at age 73. She and Bob had been married for 25 years.

When Susan first visited their home in March 2010, they discovered they were all members of the Unitarian Universalists of Tuolumne County. “I was vice president, and Susan wasn’t going, so I said you’ve got to start coming to church again,” Bob recalls.

Susan, who was at Elizabeth’s side when she died, also attended her memorial service. When she went to services for another Groveland resident, Wally Anker, Bob also was there, and they continued to cross paths at church.

“We kept running into each other and one day he asked me if I wanted to go get a cup of coffee,” Susan says.

“I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ It was very innocent at that point.”

Bob says he admired Susan for the work she did, how she relates to people and the way she handles a crisis. “She’s an adult’s adult,” he says.

When it became apparent something more serious might be developing, Susan insisted that Bob first seek grief counseling.

“I was worried that it might be too soon,” she recalls.

“The counselor asked him some hard questions and said he’s doing what he’s supposed to be doing as far as the grieving process.”

Bob says he and Elizabeth knew for a decade that her condition was irreversible. “I kind of went through the grieving process even before she passed,” he says.

Over time, Bob and Susan started seeing each other.

“We didn’t broadcast it right away, but in this county you can’t go anywhere without people seeing you,” Susan says. “Bob just said, ‘Let them talk – they need something to talk about,’ and I loved that. It’s not like we’re 22 anymore. If you’ve got something you want to do, you’d better do it.”

Both agree their relationship advanced quickly because each had already seen how the other handled difficult situations.

“Because we shared this experience with his wife, I got to see who he was and what he did,” Susan says. “You see who they really are and cut through everything else.”

Bob, turning to Susan, says, “I got to see what you did too. I saw you climb up on the bed and hold her hand, so I know who you are.”

They both agree that romance later in life benefits from experiences of the past. For one thing, there are far fewer arguments.

“You’re a little more tolerant,” Bob says. “Maybe it’s because we didn’t know how to argue constructively before. In maturity we approach it in a way that is not judgmental and we learn how to compromise.

“The concept of setting time aside for each other didn’t happen much in my first marriage,” he adds. “Now, no matter what we do during the week, Sunday is our day together.”

In later years, Susan notes, “You’re willing to go with the flow. Bob’s a really easygoing guy, and that makes it so much easier. And it’s nice to have the companionship.”

She has instilled in Bob a meaningful perspective on daily life, he says.

As Susan recalls, “He was having a bad day at work, complaining about this or that, and I just said, ‘I’m sorry, I have to go to work now – I have a 40-year-old man with a wife and two children who has maybe a week or two to live … so tell me again what your problem is?’

“That’s what you learn in hospice. Yesterday’s gone, tomorrow is just a dream and all you have is today,” she says. “Life is uncertain – eat dessert first. That’s one of my mantras and we live like that. If we want to do something, we do it.”

Copyright © 2016 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Gary Linehan September 15, 2016 13:41
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