Love Stories, for better or for worse

February 14, 2019

Every couple has their own story of love and marriage to tell.

Couples living in DeKalb County spoke with the Daily Chronicle about how they met, the ups and downs of their marriage and their love story. Each interview ended with advice for other couples.

Focusing on life after “I do,” “in sickness and in health” and “til death do us part,” the interviews give a spotlight on local lovebirds and their lifelong romance in time for Valentine’s Day.

In Sickness and in Health

Peggy and Frank Bilardello of Sycamore and Lincolnshire Place

Wedding date: Oct. 22, 1966

Met: Working together at Chrysler Corp.

Family: A son, a daughter and five grandchildren

Peggy recalls turning Frank down when his cousin first approached her to try to set up a date.

“I thought Frank was too bold, I had just met him, but had seen him around,” Peggy said. “But soon we got to know each other better and dated.”

Peggy attributes their long-lasting marriage to the fact “that we’ve always loved each other.” Frank, always more quiet, loved to bowl and golf and the more outgoing Peggy planned outings and vacations.

“That’s not to say we haven’t had our ups and downs, we both struggled through the deaths of our parents and even went through marriage counseling,” Peggy said. “In the beginning, it’s all hearts and flowers and songs. But marriage, life, is not easy. It’s like a job, you have to work at it. I think that in adversity, you find true love. Going through some horrible things together and being able to turn to each other, support each other, that’s where true love lies.”

In 2014, Frank was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The disease progressed, and Frank is now nonverbal and resides in Lincolnshire Place. Peggy visits him every day for lunch and dinner, and they watch a movie together at night until Frank falls asleep.

“We promised to stay together in sickness and in health, and you never know what’s coming down the road,” Peggy said. “We stay together because of love, the love is and always will be there. ... More important than any other successes in life is family. Anything else pales in comparison to your children and grandchildren.”

Advice: “Evaluate where you are in your marriage every day,” Peggy said. “Ask yourself, ‘Am I better with him or without him?’ I have evaluated our marriage every day. Every day, my answer has been yes, and we’ve stayed together.”

Effortless Love

Barbara and Rodney Wellendorf of Barb City Manor

Wedding date: Aug. 4, 1956

Met: On a blind date

Family: Two sons, two daughters, 18 grandchildren and 22 great-grandchildren

After meeting on a blind date set up because Barbara’s co-worker knew a friend of Rodney’s, the two quickly became best friends. What first drew Barbara to Rodney was their mutual love of fishing, bowling and other shared interests.

After 62 years of marriage, Rodney said his love for his wife and their feelings for each other have never changed. Rodney describes their marriage as “effortless,” and their love and long marriage has blossomed because “we just have a natural feeling toward one another, we didn’t have to work hard at it.”

Barbara describes their life together as “ordinary, but not boring.”

“We have been lucky to be healthy and happy together,” Barbara said. “But we have had our fair share of ups and downs. About 10 years into our marriage, we had a horrible fight. We don’t like to fight. We made up our minds after that to always talk things out and make things work.”

Advice: “You have to like each other before you fall in love,” Barbara advises. “It has to be more than a physical thing.”

I Do, Times Two

Diane and Wes Strand of Heritage Woods

Wedding dates: Aug. 12, 1967, and Dec. 28, 2016

Met: At work at La Grange State Bank

Family: Two daughters, seven grandchildren, seven great-grandchildren

Diane and Wes Strand first met working at La Grange State Bank. Diane was a student working summers and Wes was a stock boy. They were friends for some time and went on one date before Wes served in the Vietnam War as a paratrooper. Diane wrote him daily when he was away.

“I admired her voice, I remember her singing in the stock room,” Wes said. “She was always such a nice person, and I loved that she would write to me. It was a big deal. I got letters from my mom, my dad and her.”

The couple dated when Wes returned home and married two years later. Only a few years later, Wes fell off the roof onto his head. He was comatose and suffered a brain contusion. Diane and their children worried whether he would survive the fall, but he pulled through. However, after the injury, his personality changed and he became more strict with the children.

“After 14 years of marriage, we divorced,” Diane said. “But we saw each other often and he always paid child support and was involved with the children’s lives.”

When Diane suffered health issues, Wes visited her often at the rehab center.

“I was concerned because I had no say in her health care, I wasn’t her power of attorney,” Wes said. “I was her husband, but I wasn’t. So I said, ‘Let’s get married again.’”

The couple lived together since 2001, remarried in 2016 and moved to Heritage Woods about a year ago. In their spare time, the Strands like to play Scrabble, make new friends and go to movies together.

“I think what has kept us together is our similarities and differences,” Diane said. “He’s always been more physically active; he was a physical education teacher and now has a tree company. I’ve always been a writer and an artist. We balance each other out.”

Advice: “You have to share the same major values,” Diane said. “We’re both Christian, and that’s very important to us. We also totally agree on politics. You have to agree on the important stuff and be as patient as possible.”

Childhood Sweethearts

Mary Ann and Marty Christensen of Heritage Woods

Wedding date: May 12, 1957

Met: As childhood friends in Mapleton, Iowa

Family: One son, three daughters, 13 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren

Mary Ann was Marty’s best friend’s younger sister. In kindergarten, Marty visited Mary Ann’s house often to play with her brothers and because the bus didn’t go as far as his farm.

“Every time I came in front of the house, she tripped me,” Marty said. “But we soon became friends. We were inseparable. Then we dated in high school.”

Mary Ann pinpoints their first date to attending Marty’s junior prom, when she was a sophomore.

“I remember he even helped me do the dishes so we could go out on a date,” she said. “I would cheer for him because I was in cheerleading and the marching band and he was in athletics.”

Marty, a year older than Mary Ann, graduated from high school first and attended Iowa State University. They decided to spend the year apart, but then started dating again when Mary Ann started attending the same college.

After college, Marty’s job with People’s Gas took him to Chicago and he was soon drafted by the Army. Marty was sent to Fitzsimons Army Hospital in Colorado and Mary Ann worked as a nurse at Colorado General Hospital. After Marty’s basic training, they married and had a two-day honeymoon.

“Through the years, we’ve done almost everything together,” Mary Ann said. “We eat together, go play cards once a week together, we even both had cancer together. We’ve also loved to travel, going to New Zealand, Australia, Europe, Alaska, the Caribbean, China.”

Mary Ann wears a pendant Marty gave her that says “My best friend and true love,” a sign she knows that he’s still a romantic at heart.

“We have four kids, a great family, our faith and each other,” Mary Ann said. “We’ve had arguments and differences of opinions, but it’s the love we’ve had that has kept us together.”

Advice: “Never go to bed mad,” Marty said. “Sometimes you can be upset, but talk things out, don’t yell at each other. And if you do get upset, kiss and make up and everything will be OK.”