Love the second time around: Couples find happiness after remarriage

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 11, 2018

By Susan Shinn Turner for the Salisbury Post

I never intended to remarry. God had other plans.

I’d spent 15 “glorious years” (my words) as a single mom. Yeah, it was tough. But my son and I were happy.

In January 2016, my cousin Tom — I now refer to him as my favorite, even though I have many fabulous first cousins — called about taking me to Cuba in September. I’d been bugging the heck out of him to take me. In his role as missions director for North Carolina Baptists on Mission, he was leading two visioning trips to build a seminary in Santa Clara. My task was to cover one of the trips, interview the attendees, and distribute articles to their hometown newspapers and other Baptist publications.

“The first trip travels over Labor Day, and I know you’ll be at the pool that weekend,” my cousin told me. Oh, he knows me so well. “So come the second week.”

It sounded good to me.

That second week, I met a man from Raleigh named Jim Turner, a member of Hayes Barton Baptist Church, a moderate, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship church. We hit it off and married on Jan. 6, 2017 — Epiphany, for those of you with liturgical backgrounds — and I moved to Raleigh.

The Turners

As we recently celebrated our first anniversary — Praise Jesus! We made it! — that got me thinking about others who have found love again. All the couples I talked with were eager to share their stories, and I’m thrilled to share them with you.

After all, love is sweeter the second time around.


Larry and Sue Williams: An introduction at PTA

The Williamses

Larry and Sue Williams will celebrate their 40th anniversary this year. Truth to tell, I’d nearly forgotten they were a remarried couple. My friend Becky Withers suggested I talk with them. She was the right person to bring it up.

“It’s Becky’s fault to start with,” Sue said, when I called. “Becky and fellow teacher Sandra Rogers conspired together. They said I needed to meet Larry.”

At that point, Sue had been divorced for about a year. Larry’s wife had died. His two sons, Scott and Mark, were in Sandra’s multi-age classroom, and Bryan, Sue’s son, was in fifth grade.

Tommy Pearce, a colleague of Larry’s at the N.C. State Highway Patrol, had done some work at the Rogers’ home.

“They all decided we needed to meet,” Sue says. “We met at PTA. He came up to me and introduced himself. We started dating and things moved along pretty quickly. Larry was scheduled to move to Gaston County, where his parents lived, so they could help with the boys, but he rescinded that order.”

They met in April 1978 and married that September. The boys were all close in age. The three played sports over the years, and became especially close when Bryan went to Carolina to graduate school, when Mark was a freshman and Scott a sophomore. Incidentally, the women they would marry were also students there that year.

Together, Larry and Sue have three sons, three daughters-in-law, and seven grandchildren.

“It was a determination on both our parts,” Sue says. “We had to put each other first. We took care of each other’s children, but on Larry’s weekends off, the two of us tried to do something special.”

Since becoming empty-nesters, they have especially enjoyed their time together. Larry retired after 20 years with the Highway Patrol, then worked 13 more years in fraud investigation. Because Sue is a travel agent, they travel a lot. They were in the car on the way to Florida for a 10-day cruise during their phone interview.

Sue will turn 70 before the end of the month, and Larry is 69. Because of Larry’s weekend work, the family decided to attend First Methodist Church together, where Sue and Bryan were members, and where all the boys already had friends.

“I could tell he was just a really good person,” Sue says. “He was caring, honest, and dependable. We had the same goals, the same priorities.”

“We just seemed to have a lot in common,” Larry says. “She was a sweet person, and a good mother to Bryan. We have never had any cross words. We have really gotten along so well together.”

“We have been so blessed,” Sue adds. “The boys are wonderful men. They each chose the right woman, and they’ve given us awesome grandchildren. Bryan’s oldest son, Brock, is getting married in April. Love continues.”


Joel and Joyce Goodwin: Together from day one

The Goodwins

Joel Goodwin’s parents were living in Apex when his father delivered him. A year later, his dad delivered Joyce. In Joyce’s baby book, her mother wrote a list of Joyce’s first friends, and Joel’s name was there. Joel’s name is also on the list of attendees to Joyce’s fifth birthday party. The two were friends all through school. Joel is now 83, and Joyce is 82.

“We have a lot of history together,” Joyce says.

At Apex Baptist Church, they’d meet with their respective families over the years. One of her mother’s friends began writing Joyce after Joyce’s mother died. One letter mentioned that Ellen Goodwin, Joel’s first wife, had died.

“He was the first person in our group who had lost a spouse,” Joyce says. She got in touch with Joel to offer her condolences.

Joel’s sister encouraged him to see Joyce. Joel went with his son and daughter-in-law to Orlando to help with their new baby, and took an extra day to visit Joyce on the way home. He was still working full-time as an OB-GYN. He didn’t tell anyone about the side trip.

Joel, who had dreadful headaches when he was working — they’ve since gone away — was wearing dark glasses at their first meeting. Joyce thought he’d had cataract surgery.

Meanwhile, Joel says, “I saw this cute little girl in a cute little dress wearing designer sunglasses, and I thought, oh my goodness! She was a beautiful lady then and she is now.”

That was in April 1995, and the two married Aug. 20, 1995.

“We felt so blessed we’ve had the length of time together,” Joyce says. “Thomas Wolfe says you can’t go home, but it’s pretty close.”

Joyce jokes that Joel married her for her insurance — she was a former assistant professor at Winthrop University — and she married him for his UNC, Panthers and Hornets tickets.

They both laugh.

“We’re friends,” Joel says simply. “We really are. We like to touch each other and be close to each other.”

Joel had quadruple bypass surgery in September, and Joyce spent most nights with him in the hospital.

“That’s a big deal,” Joel says. “When you have somebody who cares, that’s not so bad.”

Together, the Goodwins have six children and 13 grandchildren.

Joyce laughs again when she tells the story about seeing a fortune teller while in China on a Fulbright Scholarship.

“You are good to your parents,” she was told. “You like to spend money.”

She agreed with both assessments.

Then, the fortune teller said, “You will have six children.”

“I just died laughing,” Joyce says. “But then a year later, I had six children.”


Robert and Maria Flanagan: Working through grief together

The Flanagans

When Maria Flanagan was stationed in California with her first husband, Robert’s brother was his next-door neighbor. They met each other casually. Maria was in the process of a divorce, and then Robert’s brother, Daniel, got sick.

A year later, Daniel died, and Maria helped her friend through that. Six months later, Maria’s former husband died, and Robert was there for her.

“Here we are dealing with all this stuff,” Maria says. “We became close, and then we became a couple.”

Then Maria got pregnant.

“We wanted to get married anyway, but we just happened to get pregnant first,” Maria says.

They married July 5, 1997, and their son, whom they named Daniel, was born in September.

After a stint in Minnesota living near Robert’s family — it was just too cold for Maria — Robert and Maria moved to Salisbury with their three sons, Tim, Mack and Daniel, and stayed with her parents for three years to save money. Robert joined Maria’s father in a payroll service for small businesses, and now works with insurance companies and NASCAR.

Robert and Maria celebrated their 20th anniversary in September with a trip to Morton’s Steak House, courtesy of their sons.

“He listens when people talk,” Maria says of her husband. “He’s very empathetic. He was very good with my kids. We’re each other’s lifesaver. His mom died during the first three years we were here, so he knew what it was like.”

Maria’s mom died in October.

“He tells me it took him 31 years to find the perfect female and that was me,” Maria says. “I believe that. I do!”


Pete and Donna Prunkl: Common and separate interests

The Prunkls

Donna and Pete Prunkl also celebrated their 20th anniversary in 2017.

Both were employed by non-profit agencies in Hickory, and both had no plans to remarry. They were introduced by a mutual friend at a United Way event. The friend looked back and forth at Donna and Pete, working at separate tables across the room, and thought “Yes!”

They dated for three years. They reiterated that they weren’t interested in marriage.

“I became very close to his family,” Donna says. “His children began to have children, and I didn’t want to be the girlfriend, I wanted to be the grandma. I proposed to him. I said, ‘I know you think you don’t want to be married, but you do want to be married to me.’”

Pete says, “She said, ‘If you don’t do this, it will be the worst mistake you will ever make.’ And she was absolutely right.”

Pete followed Donna to Salisbury when she took a job at the N.C. Synod Headquarters. He got a job with what’s now Lutheran Services Carolinas.

Now both retired from those positions, they share common interests — antiques, movies, families, political views and writing. But they have separate interests, too — Girl Scouts and Women of the ELCA for Donna, Civitan and Senior Democrats for Pete.

Their combined family includes five children and 10 grandchildren, mostly spread out across the Southeast but with one in Japan


Brian and Deborah Howell: Battled cancer together

The Howells

Brian and Deborah Howell celebrated their 10-year anniversary in October. They met when Brian joined a mutual friend of his and Deborah’s for a girls night out.

“I wasn’t into the singles scene,” Brian says. “But I couldn’t make an excuse not to go.”

It was a case of “Hey, I remember you.”

Brian’s daughter, Grace, attended Partners in Learning, where Deborah now serves as director for the Catawba College site. They’d said no more than “Hey” and “Bye” then.

In March 2006, a couple months after becoming reacquainted, they went out as a group again. They went out to dinner and then out dancing.

“I think we were both a little gun shy,” says Brian, who was divorced at the time, and Deborah was about to be divorced. “We were a little scared of starting anything too soon.”

Brian took Deborah home, she says, “but I wouldn’t let him in my house.”

Instead, they talked in her driveway until 4 a.m.

Deborah had specific criteria for the next person she wanted to date: she did not want to remarry, she did not want more kids (she had two), and she wanted someone who believed in God and didn’t mind going to church.

“We laid it all out on the line,” Brian says.

And Brian met all the criteria, Deborah realized.

“Really, what I wanted was someone I could trust, and would share the way they felt about things,” Brian says. “We opened the door for communication right at the beginning. That makes all the difference right there. We knew right at the beginning we liked each other, but we wanted to do it the right way. We took baby steps.”

Brian proposed one year to the day after the driveway conversation, and they were married in October 2007. Five years ago, Brian retired after a career with the State of North Carolina at the N.C. Transportation Museum. He’s now 54, and she’s 46.

In January 2015, Deborah was diagnosed with breast cancer, the same disease from which Brian’s mom died in 2003.

“For me, when I heard that, my immediate thought was, am I going to have to go through that again? It scared me to death, it really did,” Brian says.

Deborah even apologized to him for her diagnosis.

She underwent a double mastectomy that March, and, because they found recurring cancer in the chest wall, went through chemo and radiation. She had reconstruction the following year, and is now cancer-free.

Brian notes that their daughters were extremely supportive and positive. Jordan Daniels is now 14 and Grace Howell is 16.

“We had a good support in the house,” he says. “But I’ll be honest with you. We were scared. It definitely changed the way our family looks at cancer.”

As for Brian, Deborah says, “He was very aware and conscious of what my needs were. He never woke me from a nap. I felt like I didn’t have to worry about anything but taking care of myself. I can’t imagine having gone through it with anybody else.”

Nowadays, Brian and Deborah enjoy traveling, going out to dinner, and simply sitting side by side on the couch in the evenings.

And every morning, Brian puts a cup of coffee on her dressing table.


Oscar and Miriam Ramirez: Brought together for a purpose

The Ramirezes

After Miriam Ramirez’s first husband died in 2004, she decided to get closer to God. Two years later, a couple a church invited her to a Bible study at another church close to her home. She attended an Old Testament study of Miriam and Moses, and returned for a Seder meal on Good Friday.

Miriam noticed the pastor was especially good looking. She sat with a group from his church and asked which woman was his wife. The group told her he wasn’t married and did not have a girlfriend.

“That piqued my interest,” she says.

When she told him good night at the end of the meal, he asked her out. They started dating two weeks later, and a year and a half later, he proposed in front of the entire group at the Seder meal in 2008. They married Oct. 11, 2008.

“God brought us here to Salisbury,” Miriam says. “He did not just bring us together for romance but also for ministry.”

Miriam, 66, who still has a real estate business, is the volunteer executive director of Capstone Recovery Center, and Oscar, 71, is the volunteer counseling director.

“I was not looking and he was not looking,” Miriam says. “God brought us together for His purpose.”

Together, the couple has five children and 12 grandchildren.

“He is a man who treats me like a daughter of the King,” Miriam says.


Brian and Jenni Pfaff: The next chapter

The Pfaffs

Brian and Jenni Pfaff met online, she says, “but he was actually the only person I answered.”

The two dated for about a year. He lived in Mooresville, she in Salisbury. He proposed to her at the beach with all of their children on hand — she has a son, he has two sons and a daughter.

His daughter suggested they get married on Halloween, and they did just that, on Oct. 31, 2009.

Their kids now range in age from 19 to 26, Jenni says, “so we now have an empty nest.”

Jenni, 51, works in the tutoring center at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College, while Brian, 49, is an independent contractor who works with Historic Salisbury Foundation and does carpentry on the side.

“Our children got along with each other from the very beginning,” Jenni says of blending their families. “They clicked really quickly. We had no problems whatsoever. We have really good kids.”

Jenni says that she and Brian are still trying to figure out life as empty-nesters.

“We’re going to plant a larger garden this spring,” she says. “Last spring, I bought two beehives, and that’s become something we like to do together.”

They also love to travel, especially to the beach, Jenni says. “We’re really looking forward to the next chapter.”

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