Elgin couple finds love again, unexpectedly, in their 80s
Finding love again after losing their spouses and moving into a senior living community was pretty much the last thing Jim Gathman and Carolyn Rohde expected to happen.
And yet it did, and the couple -- he, 89, and she, 82 -- is getting married Sept. 16 at The Greens of Elgin, where they live.
"People around them describe them -- and especially him -- as acting like 14-year-olds with a crush," said Gathman's son, Dave.
Gathman and Rohde said their joyful bond is much about their mutual love of laughter.
"Jim and I can find humor in just about anything that comes along," Rohde said.
"There is humor in a lot of stuff in life," Jim Gathman said.
The couple moved into The Greens within two months of each other in late 2015 and early 2016.
Rohde's husband had died in 2013 after 56 years of marriage. "I still felt married when I came here," she said.
Gathman had spent 64 years with his wife, who died in 2015. "It was a shock. At the time I didn't care if I lived or died."
Residents at The Greens joked Gathman would be popular because he owned a car and could drive, but Rohde is quick to point out she didn't even know that for a long time.
At dinner his first night, Gathman sat with Rohde and two other women. He enjoyed the conversation, so he sat with them again the next day. And the next. And one day, he looked at her with new eyes.
"All of a sudden it hit me and I thought, 'She's a pretty good-looking lady,'" he said.
But Rohde was having none of that. She liked him fine as a friend, but made it clear that would be it.
Gathman persisted. "Being my tenacious self, I never quit," he said.
Then came a turning point. "I quit comparing him to my husband," Rohde explained. "I realized it wasn't fair to Don (her late husband) and it wasn't fair to Jim."
Gathman announced their relationship to the world last winter by kissing Rohde in a public flourish of affection during a concert at The Greens. Then Rohde suggested Gathman get her a ring for Valentine's Day.
"That was like putting the pedal to the metal," he said, making her bust out laughing.
Then came his quip: "I reserve the right to go back and change my mind."
"He never has a silent thought," Rohde said, after simultaneously guffawing and burying her head in her hands.
Gathman worked in sales and vacuum repair, and was a registered professional mechanical engineer. "I can fix almost anything you give me," he said. "I built a radio-controlled airplane last year."
Rohde is a former color consultant who's in charge of making birthday cards for residents at The Greens. She also created the couple's wedding invitations.
They love to play board games like Chinese checkers and Sequence, and hold hands while watching TV at night. Rohde uses a walker and Gathman has a pacemaker, but their health is generally OK, they said.
They decided to get married at The Greens because it would be easier for their families, a combined six children -- including four in Elgin -- 12 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren. The honeymoon, at a place to be determined, will come later.
Theirs will be the first wedding at the Elgin senior facility.
"We think it's very exciting," said resident Coral Reinert, 87. "When they announced they were engaged, that was a very happy occasion. They've been planning the wedding and we've all been a part of it. We're all invited. So that's really exciting for all us."
New love in old age is different from young love, Gathman and Rohde said. They both knew it takes communication to make a relationship work, and had a fuller understanding of love itself, they explained.
"When you're young, your hormones are going like big guns," Gathman said. "As you get older and older, there's different types of love. Love encompasses more than just sex. A lot more."
So why get married? For one, both have a strong Christian faith and it's important to them do to things properly, they said. And of course, it's about companionship.
"I don't think you ever quit missing your spouse," Rohde said.
"No, you don't," Gathman agreed. "But you fill a big gap."