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… And Then Came Love

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Posted: Saturday, February 13, 2010 12:00 am

Whether it was on aisle 1 of S-Mart or during a paper route, Lodians share their stories of how they met the loves of their lives.

Love shows up in a yellow VW on School Street

Becky and Mike Kaminski

In the spring of 1973, Mike Kaminski and his friend were "cruising" School Street, "American Graffiti" style. The so-called drag was crowded that Saturday night. Some of his friends were parked in the Cottage Bakery parking lot and they stopped to talk. They were standing on the curb when Kaminski says two "babes" in a yellow '60s Volkswagen drove by. He waved, but there was no response, not even a passing glance. His buddies told him, "Don't even try. They're stuck up and won't even wave." He sensed a challenge. The next time the girls drove by, he stepped off the curb, into the middle of the street and attempted to flag them down. But the VW never stopped. He jumped out of the way and tripped and fell next to the curb.

Though it wasn't his plan, it got the girls' attention. They circled the block and returned to see if he was OK.

Just as he got close to the car, Becky told the driver to hit the air horn. He couldn't believe that yellow hippie bug had an air horn.

"It almost put me on the pavement again," he said.

Becky rolled down her passenger-side window, slightly apologized and, after she caught her breath from all the laughter, introduced herself.

Thirty-three years later, Kaminski says, "this babe is still the love of my life."

Sweet 16 and head over hills

Carol and LeRoy Mertz

For Carol Mertz, it was love at first sight. Even though she was only 16, she knew there was something special about LeRoy Mertz when she saw him at the Lodi High School prom in 1960. The only problem, though, was they were both with other people, and she didn't have a chance to talk to him.

But then, three weeks later, she saw him again at a beach party on the river.

"I was sitting on a blanket and he comes up and asks me to hold his watch and wallet while he went in the water," she said. "Oh God, I was so in love with him."

They talked, and after the party, he drove her to the Frost Top Frosty on Cherokee Lane. She was too nervous to eat, but ordered a Root Beer because he asked. At the end of the night, he drove her home, kissed her goodnight and asked if she wanted to date.

Nine days after she graduated from high school, she and LeRoy were married. They have been married for 49 years and have two children and two grandchildren.

Love on a midnight paper route

Ron and Barbara Portal

If there's one way to meet a man, it's to throw yourself in front of his car. At least that is how Ron Portal jokes that he met his wife, Barbara.

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In 2001, Ron and Barbara both had second jobs as newspaper carriers at night. As carriers on a rural route, Barbara says they looked out for each other. After covering the same route in Morada for separate newspapers, the two had seen each other many times. One night, while driving down a private road, Ron drove out of a driveway toward Barbara.

"I stopped and waved him down to talk and introduce myself," she said.

Over the next 10 months, the two carriers would stop almost daily to talk during their routes.

"We got to know each other from those talks," she said, though they could only see each other from the shoulders to their heads since they were still in the cars. She thought he was handsome, and she remembers his unique laugh that she says took some getting used to. They shared a love for "Star Trek," had the same religious beliefs and she liked that he had a Harley.

The Portals were married on Aug. 9, 2002.

"Both of us are very blessed to have found each other … on the paper route of life," she said.

Together since high school orientation

Ed and Tess Smith

Ed and Tess Smith prove that even the young can find true love. It was high school orientation in 1938 and 15-year-old Ed was seated next to a cute young girl. The teacher told the group of new students to meet the person on their right and introduce them to everyone else. He found out the girl sitting next to him was named Esther, but everyone called her "Tess."

As the school year progressed, he finally asked her on a date. In 1939, they went on their first date to the Golden Gate Exposition on Treasure Island. The couple was married in 1943 while Ed was on leave from the Navy. They were married until Tess died in April of 2006. They have four children, eight grandchildren and 10 great granchildren.

Suspicious from the start

Russ and Susan Stockton

In 1971, Russ Stockton was an exceptionally efficient letter carrier for the U.S. Postal Service. Every morning, he was the first one out of the office and he didn't waste any time before he did his first delivery at a medical office. It wouldn't be long before it was known why he was such a good employee. He had a crush on the receptionist named Susan, then 20, who accepted his daily delivery.

"She was cute, of course. Kind of shy. She kind of looked at me with a jaundiced eye," Russ said.

Russ, then 32, persisted, and continued to bring her daisies every day with the mail. Finally, though still unsure of this postman, she agreed to go on a date. He took her to a Woody Allen movie, though it wasn't playing when they got there.

Russ and Susan Stockton married and have two sons, Dave and Ryan.

Letting go to find true love

Rosie Salaices and Greg Guerrero

When Rosie Salaices started taking massage classes in Lodi, she thought she'd find a new career, but she didn't expect to find love. One day in class, the students were learning the Shakra technique to help cleanse the soul. The instructor asked for a volunteer, and everyone was scared except for Rosie. While doing the practice, she focused on letting go of anything that was inhibiting her. After, the instructor told her to watch for changes in her life.

Two hours later, she got one of several strange occurances. It was a phone call from Greg Guerrero, a friend of a friend, who wanted to meet her. They talked on the phone for weeks and met at a Sacramento McDonald's, across the street from where Greg's parents met many years before. Eight years later, Rosie and Greg are still together, and they credit Shakra for their meeting.

"It was the Shakra," she said. "I can't shake him."

What she was almost willing to pay for love

Laurie and Scott Bradley

For Laurie Bradley, the best things in life are free — especially her husband, who almost cost her $1,200.

During Field & Fair Day in 1989, Laurie attended a bachelor auction that was taking place for a Senior Center fundraiser. She had read about the event and talked a few friends into attending with her. A few days before the event, she saw a story in the News-Sentinel highlighting the three bachelors who were to be auctioned off.

"The first one was too old for me. The second one was too young for me. But the third one was just right, and cute too," she said.

On the night of the event, more than 30 bachelors were auctioned off. She patiently waited until they got to her bachelor, Scott Bradley.

"When Scott was introduced, the bidding was fast and furious," Laurie said. "Before you could say, 'great date package.' the bidding was already up to $800."

With the encouragement of her friends, the bidding was soon down to one other bidder and herself. She wavered when the bid hit $1,150. But then her friend, Joanne, turned and said, "Oh, what's another 50 bucks?" Laurie raised her bidding card for $1,200, just as they said SOLD. She had lost out! Her heart was racing. She was disappointed (and a little relieved — $1,200 was a lot of money!).

Then, her friend Christine said, "Hey, that guy's sister is sitting at this table behind us. She says if you write your name and phone number down, she'll give it to her brother." She handed over the information. After that, her friend Joanne, grabbed her arm and said, "Laurie, he's over there. He's pointing at you. He's coming over. You might get him for free!"

When he reached their table, the first thing she said was, "I'm sorry, I'm just a teacher, I don't make that much money."

He smiled and asked for her name and phone number, and she told him that she had just given it to his sister. He laughed, smiled nervously, and said he would give me a call.

The next night, he called. They went out the following week and Scott asked her to marry him in January of 1990. They were married in June that same year. Laurie and Scott will celebrate their 20th anniversary this year.

Love sparked through Corvettes and haircuts

Kathi and Gaylord Ostenberg

It was a Saturday afternoon and Kathi Ostenberg, a cosmetologist of 40 years, was getting ready to go home for the weekend when the phone rang. It was a man asking if he could stop by for a haircut.

"I told him I was just about to leave and he said, 'It won't take long, I'm half bald.'"

She laughed and gave in.

When he arrived, he noticed she was wearing a Corvette sweatshirt. He asked about it, and she told him about her 1966 convertible Roadster. It turned out that he too had a Corvette.

Married at the time, Kathi set Gaylord up with a friend during a Corvettes of Lodi car club, though she says they didn't hit it off.

Two months later, he was back for another haircut. They started talking and she ended up telling him that she and her husband were divorcing.

"The next day he called and asked me to come over for dinner," she said. "I did and we talked for hours. That began our future together."

Kathi and Gaylord were married two years later on the beach in Hawaii. In August, they will celebrate their 14th anniversary.

"I'm really glad that blind date I set him up on didn't work out," she said.

Neighbors before lovers

Betty and John Arko

World War II was raging. Betty Arko's family house had been sold, and there was no place to rent in Pasadena. Another family of seven, who was also struggling to pay their mortgage, rented a side apartment to Betty's family.

When one of the sons came home from the military, he met and married Betty's older sister. When the second son came home, he and Betty fell in love and were also married. Betty recalls being embarrassed that they had the same address when they went to get their marriage license.

Their marriage has lasted 62 years, and is still going h3.

"He has had a stroke, so I am his voice; I have had knee replacement (surgery), so he is my walker," Betty said.

Betty is still amazed that another family's generosity during a desperate time lead to two marriages.

Instant connection on aisle 1

Tanya and William Diego

Sometimes, love happens when you least expect. Tanya Diego met her husband, William, on aisle 1 of the grocery store during her lunch hour. She was pushing a friend's baby in the cart when Diego spotted Tanya. The first thing he noticed about her was the size of her feet. "I like small feet," he said.

First, he asked if the baby was hers. She laughed because she looked nothing like the baby. After they walked around the store, he finally asked if he could give her his phone number before they parted ways.

"I fell in love with her instantly," he said.

Though it took her a month to call him, she finally did after friends urged her to call the man from the grocery store. William and Tanya Diego have been married for two years.

Sometimes, you have to give love a chance — even if he wears too much cologne

George and Bernadine Cruz

It was a busy day in 2003 and Bernadine Chapman-Cruz was working on paperwork as the secretary and receptionist for a country club. George Cruz was on a new member tour after joining the club, and he shook her hand. When they shook hands, she immediately noticed his tight grip and smile. Even after he left, she remembered his smile. Over the months, the two spoke when he visited the club. One day, George handed Bernadine a piece of yellow ruled paper that read, "Can I have your phone number?"

That night he called and asked her out to dinner at Red Lobster. She accepted.

She was ready on time, and was delighted when the doorbell rang exactly at 6 p.m. However, when she answered the door, she didn't recognize the person standing on her doorstep. Instead of the cute goofy guy with smile and baseball cap that she knew from the club, it was a total opposite person. He had his hair combed straight down in front in a long widow's peak, wore lots of gold jewelry and smelled of heavy cologne.

"'Oh, well,' I thought, 'Columbus took a chance,' so we left for the restaurant," she said.

Dinner went well, and George informed her that he frequently ate at Red Lobster with his aunts and they would go to Marie Callendar's for pie.

"Pie being my favorite dessert, without thinking, I blurted out, 'I like pie!'" she recalls.

George threw his head back and laughed. After dinner, they too went to Marie Callendar's for pie and coffee.

Fortunately, she says, he toned down the cologne, lessened his accessories and continued to be a perfect gentleman. After a six year engagement, George and Bernadine were married on Dec. 18, 2009.

"The prince I'd been waiting for all my life had finally arrived — after 60 years!" Bernadine said.

It takes a wrong date, flaky friend to find your soulmate

Mark and Carol Trujillo

Nobody likes a friend who flakes, but it was a flaky friend who brought Mark and Carol Trujillo together in 1972. Carol had agreed to go on a double date to a bowling banquet. Her friend would go with Mark, and Carol would go with Mark's friend, Randy. Randy picked up Carol for the night of the banquet, but Carol's friend never showed up. Randy didn't like to dance, so that left Carol and Mark to dance together — all night long. After that, the two saw each other every day until Carol left for Europe for two-and-a-half months. When she returned, he was waiting with a marriage proposal. The couple was married in August of 1973, and they now have three sons, one daughter in law, one granddaughter and three grandsons. Mark and Carol are still good friends with Randy and his wife.

A man who knows exactly what he wants

Karl and Thelma Welsbacher

When Karl saw his future wife, Thelma, he wasn't about to let any other man get to her first. They met a Catholic singles meeting on Jan. 2, 1977. He was the treasurer for the club, and she went to pay her dues for the evening.

"I noticed how cute she was," Karl remembers.

As the dancing started, he noticed that Thelma was the only girl sitting with four guys. He knew that if he didn't ask her to dance, one of the other guys would — and he wouldn't have that.

"I kept her out on the dance floor from that moment on, because I knew if I let her go back to the table one of the other guys would ask her," he said.

He eventually got up the courage to ask her for her phone number, and he took her out four days later. They married on May 6, 1978, and have been happily married ever since.

She watched him for months, and got him

Kim and Scott Carpenter

In March 1995, Kim Carpenter was working at 555 Capitol Mall, on the third floor. On break, she looked downstairs at the construction that was taking place in the alley. At the same time, she began looking at the construction workers, instead of the work.

She had her eyes on one particular man who she says "had wide shoulders, (was) very cute and worked very hard." After peering down from the third floor for about a month, she decided to ask the building engineer if he would go downstairs to see if he was single. He told her, "I don't like to play cupid; but for you, I will take on this task if you bake me some chocolate cupcakes."

"It's a deal," she said.

Kim Carpenter and her husband, Scott, celebrated their 12th wedding anniversary in November.

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