By Veronica Hinke
He fixed her lamp – and their path to a new life together was lit.
Plenty of baby boomers hire dating services or turn to online matchmakers to meet that special someone. But Wayne and Jeanne Kroeplin recently learned that someone very special could be sitting close by in church every week - even for 30 years or more.
That was their experience. Wayne and Jeanne attended the same church for much of their adult lives -- but only just recently spoke for the first time. Now, they are married.
It all started with a broken lamp.
Had she not lost her husband to brain cancer in 2007, Jeanne would be celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary on December 14. She and her husband, Bill Hinke, had been together since college. They raised two children. A few years after Bill retired from teaching – and they built their first brand new home together – he was diagnosed with a deadly glioblastoma multiforme IV brain tumor.
After the 18-month ordeal that took Bill's life, Jeanne took an upbeat approach to reclaiming hers. She teamed up with two friends who had also recently lost their husbands. Together, they started a grief share group at Immanuel Baptist Church in Rib Mountain, Wis. Jeanne stayed busy with this group and others. She also spent much of her time maintaining her house and mowing and landscaping the acre of land that surrounds it.
Then her lamp broke.
Around the same time, in the spring of 2013, there was a new – but somewhat familiar face – in Jeanne's grief share group. He was a handsome Vietnam veteran named Wayne. He had recently lost Rita, his wife of more than 45 years, three weeks before Christmas.
When Jeanne found out that Wayne had an electrical background, she asked him to fix her lamp.
"I said I would try," Wayne recalls. "My son Wayne many times would call me in the morning to pray with me. I had told him about the lamp situation. One morning, he suggested I go out for lunch. He knew I did not want to go alone, so he told me to call the 'lamp lady.' I did call her and took her out to lunch."
More lunch dates followed. Wayne and Jeanne began regular phone conversations.
"We started to share our life stories," Wayne remembers. "I really got to start to love her inner character which just made her more beautiful in my eyes every time we met."
These two people who had attended the same church for decades yet never spoke realized a number of other coincidences. They learned they were born one day apart – in 1943. Jeanne was born on December 7, and Wayne was born on December 6. Next month, they will turn 70 – together.
The more Wayne got to know Jeanne, he began to feel like he was getting his life back.
"I began to feel alive again. I never thought I would ever love again or be loved, and now I couldn't believe I could love two women just as much in one life time. When my wife died, I thought my life was over," he says. "I began to recognize my life had changed and there is nothing I can do about the past, but I could do something about the future."
Wayne and Jeanne were married on August 24 in the backyard of Wayne's son, Wayne Jr. He is the son that recommended lunch with the "lamp lady."
Now, with some 89 years of marital experience between them, Wayne and Jeanne are learning to live together as a married couple.
"We both like to cook," Wayne says. "We are cooking with different methods and equipment and making it work. We found we were having fun laughing about each other's ways of doing things and making it a joyful experience. Learning to function with one another as we seek to find our new normal can be an enormously joyous experience when we love one another as we do."
Realizing it is healthy to move forward has taken time.
"I do occasionally have times of confusion and guilt feelings and I start thanking God that our past spouses are tucked away safe in His arms. In Colossians 3:3, Paul said: 'For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.' What a better place could they be? We realize God has taken our loved ones and brought us together."
Wayne only partly credits his new life to his openness toward new friendships.
Most of the credit, he believes, belongs to God.
"I said, after my wife died, 'God has a plan for me. I just have to go wait for it to develop,'" Wayne remembers. "I believe this is God's plan, and we are making the necessary adjustments."
His advice to others: Remain open to new experiences and people.
"Be flexible for the future," Wayne says. "We don't know what God has in store for us and where he will be leading you. Always hold true to God's values. Always believe God has a plan. Do not despair, for to despair is to turn your back on God."
Wayne and Jeanne have not looked back since making their decision to build a new life together. Wayne is in the process of selling his house. When it sells, they will make the decision to also sell Jeanne's house – where the lamp burns brightly in the living room. They plan to buy another house together, and there the four of them will build a home together. Marriage takes three, Wayne, Jeanne, and Jesus. The lamp makes four. Jeremiah 33:3