It’s a crisp winter day when I visit Ron Verdoorn and Barb Schultz at The Waters in Excelsior. Their apartment at the senior living community, where they have lived since May of 2021, is warm and bright just as they are: warm and bright. This lovely couple met as high school students in Albert Lea, but their love story does not begin until many decades later. If any two people have been blessed with long simmering kismet, it is these two.
Ron grew up in the small community of Hollandale, Minnesota. Barb tells me “The Hollandale Boys” had a reputation of mechanical know-how and fast driving. So much so, her parents wouldn’t even allow her to catch a ride home with boys from Hollandale when she was a teenager. Barb assures me that Ron turned into a wonderful man despite his penchant for cars and motorcycles. He grins and confesses to years of enjoying motorcycles and a daredevil stunt or two.
The two of them were in the same large friend group in high school. Ron married his first wife (Barb Solma) in 1957 and Barb married her first husband Leo Schultz in 1959. The four of them were best friends. Ron became a career military man rising to the rank of Army Major living all over the country and the world with his family. Barb and her husband lived out of state for a time but returned to Minnesota and both worked as educators in the Minnetonka area.
Their high school graduating class in Albert Lea was a close-knit group who consistently gathered for reunions. Ron and Barb saw each other every five years at these events. Barb and Barb S. were close friends and always enjoyed catching up in person at reunions. The couples kept in touch through annual Christmas letters as their families grew and changed.
Sadly, Barb and Ron both lost their spouses in 2010 and 2013 respectively. In 2013, Barb was on the class reunion committee, busy planning the event for fall. She got a call from Ron that summer as he was sorting through things and came across every issue of their school newspaper, the Ahlahasa. He wanted to know if Barb wanted them since she had worked on the paper. He mailed them to her and called to follow up.
While discussing their upcoming 60th class reunion, Ron made a simple offer that changed everything: he offered to pick up Barb and go to the reunion together. I ask them if they considered it a date. They both say no.
Barb asks Ron, “Do you remember what you said?” Ron responds, “I said, how about I pick you up for the reunion and we can go together so we won’t have to walk in alone?” Smiling, Barb says, “Yes. Exactly.”
On the final evening of the reunion weekend, Ron invited Barb to dinner; just the two of them. Barb shares that she knew then that her life was about to change forever. Before Ron headed back home to Texas, they dined where many Minnetonka locals hope romance will blossom: Maynard’s.
Hearing their story lead me to wonder, what is dating like in your late 70s? It turns out it’s exactly like dating at every other age. Barb visited Ron in Texas and he visited her here. They had dinners and favorite restaurants and started traditions. They dated long distance for two years before tying the knot in 2015. The priest who married them mentioned marriage classes, but Ron gently reminded him they had a collective 106 years of marriage between them. I joke with them that they should teach the classes at this point and share their secrets to success.
Ron comments, “At this stage of life, all those nickel and dime things that bother you, we don’t have that problem. We have never even had an argument…have we?”
Barb shakes her head. “We haven’t. The great thing is we can talk about everything. Anything. There is no holding back. We can talk about Barb and Leo because we have that shared history. A lot of people feel like they have to hide those things or avoid them; not talking about the past. We talk about everything, and Ron has such interesting stories. He has world travels and appreciates art and tells stories with such vivid description.”
“And what about all those looking for love?” I ask. Ron shares some insight, “People think being different from each other is good. But I think having a shared history helps. We knew each other quite well, had a lot in common. And it helps if you don’t let the small things bother you.”
Barb elaborates further, “As you go through life, all of us lose people we love. All of us. Stop and think about what is really important, and it’s those people you love. Keep those people you love and make them more important than you are. It’s easy to get all upset about little things that have no importance.” Ron adds, “Like things. I left a houseful of things behind. Things are not important.”
I am so charmed by both of them. I make a mental note to try and not irritate my husband when I get home, make my laundry stories far more engaging, and skip ordering another lamp.
So how does a couple, who seem to have it all celebrate Valentine’s Day? Barb’s ideal Valentine’s Day is to have a nice meal at home with a glass of wine. She plans on making a special dinner. She asks Ron what he would like if he could choose anything. He smiles and immediately says, “a baked potato and a tenderloin wrapped in bacon. And pie for dessert. Pumpkin or apple.” He tells me that he has married a very good cook and they both beam.
I tell them I think it is inspirational for other people to see that you can find love at every age. They make it look effortless. They say they hope that they can bring hope to others, especially now when so many need some hope. Barb says, “We wake up and just think, we are here! We get to have another day together.”
What strikes me most about Barb and Ron is their joy of being together is rooted in a long-standing friendship. A relationship built and nurtured over years. This is what’s possible when one person bravely extends an offer to another who bravely accepts. So nobody has to walk in alone. Love grows.
Oh, to be so lucky in love. Twice.