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Heritage Community wedding celebrates finding love at any age, in any setting

 Falling in love is always a bit of surprise.

Maybe it's especially surprising after you've already experienced love.

And when you're in your 80s.

And you're living in a nursing home.

You don't expect to again discover that life with a certain someone is better than life without them.

But love found Lynne Hughson, 80, and Bob Merkle, 81, or they found it, and on Saturday the two married in front of family, friends and fellow residents of the Harold and Grace Upjohn Community Care and Rehabilitation Center at Heritage Community of Kalamazoo.

In the dining hall, near an arbor decorated with garland and organza and little white lights, they promised "to have and to hold, from this day forward for better or worse, for richer or poorer, forever and ever."

Lynne Hughson moved into the Upjohn Center almost a year ago. She wasn't happy about the move, her daughters Deborah Danger, Kim Olson and Colleen Bishop all say. She swore she was getting out of there.

Lynne doesn't mention that, but she does say that from the time she moved in, other residents asked if she'd met Bob Merkle yet. Then one day maybe half a dozen months ago, they did meet. Bob asked Lynne and a friend if they'd join him at his table for lunch. It was pleasant enough, although neither really remembers much about lunch.


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What they do remember is that the next day, Lynne happened to pass Bob in his wheelchair, and as she walked by she was overcome by the urge to kiss the man on the cheek.

Three times.

"Basically, I'm shy. I thought, 'Lynne! What are you doing?" Hughson said. "I don't act like that. It's like grabbing a man on the street and giving him a kiss. You don't do that."

Merkle listens to the story and deadpans, "She attacked me."

Courtship in a nursing home is not particularly exciting. Perhaps that is part of what makes it so easy. No one is looking for fireworks or to be wowed. It is a thrill just to find someone who likes you as much as you like them.

It had already happened for each of them once before. Lynne married her high school sweetheart Don Hughson when they were both 17. And they stayed married until he died of cancer 15 years ago at age 65.

Bob was married to his wife Shirley, until she died 17 years ago from multiple sclerosis.

"No way did I think I'd fall in love again, especially when you become an old fart," Bob said. "But this is a lonely place you know. It's nice to have someone to talk to. Something just shorted out and bang. We just hit it off."

Lynne and Bob's days were filled with puzzles, talking about their families, sitting next to each other during concerts. Having lunch. Holding hands.

Lynne's daughter Kim Olson said that her mother used to call her four or five times a day, mostly to complain about one ache or another. Then the calls began to dwindle to nothing. "I was calling to see if she was still there," Olson said.

About a month ago, Bob and Lynne were talking and the talk turned to marriage. It wasn't more than one conversation. It wasn't a very long talk, but by the end of it they had decided that this was more than a fling. This was love, and they were going to get married. 

They called their families. He called his sons Tony and Terry. She called her daughters.

"I can say it was the most surprising call I've ever gotten," Terry Merkle said. "He called and announced he was going to get married again."

Olson said her mother called and said," If it's okay with you girls, Bob and I want to get married." Looking in the room where her mother and Bob were signing their marriage license, she watched them touch foreheads, laugh and kiss. "It's wonderful they found happiness with each other. It's all good."

The wedding went off without a hitch. The bride wore a dress of sea green. As they sat in their wheelchairs decorated with white ribbons and bows, Hughson's son-in-law Tom Danger married them. The groom had a bit of trouble slipping the ring on his bride's finger and the minister quipped about marriage taking a little work. When he pronounced them man and wife, they kissed not once, not three times, but four times, then Danger wagged his finger at them.

There was wedding cake. And the pianist sang the Etta James classic. "At Last," "At last my love came along. My lonely days are gone. ... My heart was wrapped up in clover when I found you."

Love can surprise you anywhere, at any stage of life. The gift is to recognize it and hold on to it for as long as you can.

"It's almost a miracle, I say," Bob said. "Who cares if its one year or 10 years. Whatever we've got, we've got."

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