June 8, 1969 was our first official date … and our first kiss. I can still remember the butterflies in my stomach. He picked me up in his silver Corvette and we went to a restaurant in Saline. I think it was called Leithauser’s, but it’s no longer there. It was very fancy by my standards and I worried that I’d use the wrong utensil as my family never ate in places like that. Add to that my nerves that I was on a date with “Mr. West”!! OMG … it didn’t seem real. It was magical, but I had absolutely no idea on that night that we would marry just 2-1/2 months later.
For those who don’t know our story, Vern was one of my high school teachers. No, we didn’t date while I was a student (in fact, I was engaged to someone else my senior year). My senior trip to NYC was a huge turning point in my life. I was having doubts about whether I should be getting married; was questioning the relationship; thinking I should go college to become a teacher. I can remember sitting on a curb at a rest stop along the highway coming back from NYC having a conversation with my friend, Kenny, about all of this. He didn’t think I should marry Phil and helped me recognize that I didn’t think I should either. I returned to Sand Creek, broke off the engagement (that’s a story for another time) and headed into the school to see if it was too late to get into college. I told “Mr. West” first and he took me over to the school guidance counselor, Mrs. Porter. I don’t recall the specifics – and I know my parents didn’t have the money to send me to school – but I was accepted at Grand Valley State College and began making plans to head to Grand Rapids
I had to make a speech at graduation. Who did I turn to for help? Yep, you guessed it … Mr. West. He suggested I use Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I have a dream”. I liked how my speech turned out, but he didn’t attend the graduation ceremony to hear it. I saw him at a couple of my friend’s graduation parties and then saw him again when I returned to school to help the teachers with their end-of-year tasks. I was assigned to his classroom to pack up books and supplies, etc. As a thank-you for my help, he took me to Big Boy for lunch. And so it began. A spark. A love that was meant to be. A love that defined me. A love I will carry with me forever.
I haven’t thought about this before … but I owe Kenny a really huge debt of gratitude. I had always been a pretty straight arrow, wouldn't think of doing anything ‘wrong’ or controversial, so I seriously doubt I would have had the strength to break off my engagement if it hadn’t been for that one conversation. Wow. One little conversation that changed my life. Thank you, Kenny.