Robert, Eunice, Gerald and Roberta participate in The Salvation Army’s Golden Diners program, which brings hot nutritious meals to seniors in Kane and McHenry counties. In celebration of Valentine’s Day, we asked them to share their stories.
The Love Story of Robert and Eunice
Robert Stark, 90, and his wife Eunice, 85, start every day with a cup of coffee and conversation in the living room.
“We do almost everything together,” Robert said. “We’re always together.”
In fact, this is a love story that started nearly 70 years ago when Robert and Eunice noticed each other in the student parking lot at Northern Illinois University.
When asked what caught his attention that particular day at Northern Illinois University, Robert said “She looked like she knew what she was doing.”
Eunice laughed and said, “You liked how I walked past you in my leopard coat.”
Robert gave a smirk that indicated she was right. Eunice was drawn to him because he was older. “He was different than all the high school boys I dated.”
Shortly after that first encounter, Eunice asked Robert to deliver a note to her then boyfriend – a note that told her boyfriend she was no longer interested in maintaining a relationship. Soon Robert, who has also ended a relationship after their meeting in the parking lot, asked her to accompany him to a school dance.
“But we ended up going to a movie instead,” Eunice said. “It was so snowy. We drove all the way from Sycamore to Aurora in the snow to see a movie together.” And they’ve been together ever since.
And after 67 years of marriage, they have an easy rapport. They finish each other’s sentences and build on each other’s stories. Robert usually starts and gives the short and simple answers, and Eunice fills in the gaps with more detail and warmth.
They talked about their short courtship and their wedding; how after only three or four years, Robert was deployed to Korea, leaving his young bride at home. “I was miserable while he was gone,” Eunice said. “I moved back in with my family and it just didn’t work out.”
They talk about graduating from college and going on to teach, and then later, raising a family. Focused on each other and their careers, Eunice said they weren’t interested in having children. But a close co-worker suggested they would regret their decision later in life. So, they investigated adoption. The meetings were long and the process was trying. “The questions were very personal and it was hard. Usually Bob would say he wasn’t going back,” Eunice said with a warm smile. “But he would always come back.” And before they knew it, a little boy was born. And a few years later, a sister joined him. Both children eventually followed their parents into education.
They value their conversations and being together. “You always give yourself in relationships,” Robert said. “You give to your partner. You talk about things. And you stand together on big decisions.”
As they tell their love story they look like they’ve been transported back to when they were dating – Eunice with a slight blush and Robert with a knowing smirk. They are reliving their story together.
The Love Story of Gerald and Roberta
Gerald and Roberta Sampen were set up on a date by friends. They went to the 4th of July picnic in Bloomington, Illinois, and stayed for the fireworks. You could say the fireworks still haven’t lost their twinkle. More than 65 years later, the couple is still laughing and reminiscing together. Their life is full of stories.
Their wedding was a small affair – family and friends for the ceremony and cake and punch in the basement afterwards. “My dad didn’t want to pay for free food for everyone,” Roberta said laughing. They left for the Ozarks that evening. “Because we didn’t have dinner at the wedding, our friend packed us some food for when we got to the motel,” she explained. “But the food wasn’t there. Our friend put the food in the wrong car!” Gerald chimed in.
Unfortunately things didn’t go so smoothly afterwards, either. They planned to stop for the night at a motel in Springfield, but due to the state fair, everything was booked within a 20-mile radius. “We had to drive for another bit to find something,” Gerald said.
“And then we had no food for that night.”
One of the first houses they lived in was in back of a school where Gerald taught classes, and it had been abandoned for a few years…abandoned by humans. The mice were quite happy there, which made it difficult for Roberta to get comfortable. But Gerald figured out a way to “encourage them to move on.”
“That was not a fun place to live,” Roberta said shaking her head. “It was just awful.”
They drove from Illinois to New Jersey when Gerald was ordered to report to military training in advance of his deployment to Germany in support of the Korean War. “After she dropped me off, she drove back home sick the whole way,” Gerald said. Turns out Roberta was pregnant with their first child. “Before I left for training, we talked about whether we wanted children since I was being deployed and could be killed,” Gerald said. “But she must have loved me back then,” he said with a laugh. “Because she said she would leave it in God’s hands.” While Gerald was telling the story, Roberta laughed heartily.
After 65 years of marriage and three children, Gerald and Roberta moved from central Illinois to Geneva to be closer to her daughter. “That is a story in itself!” Gerald said as he settled in his chair for another story session. “I’ve been told I should write a book because I have so many stories to tell. But I have nobody who wants to sit and write them!”