Tenderly holding hands and with a sparkle in their eyes, Bernie Charlebois and Marie Shaw can’t stop smiling. They are like two young lovebirds basking in their good fortune.
In reality, this is a couple who discovered each other late in life.
Now in their 80s, they met only a year ago and have been dating steadily since.
And because they’ve both lost past spouses, they speak of having a deeper appreciation for their new relationship.
“I don’t care what anyone says, we all like to have a partner,” Charlebois says. “It gets pretty lonesome at night just looking at the wall.”
And besides that, he adds, “You’re never too old for love.”
The couple struck up their relationship through a “Meet and Greet” social event for seniors, organized by Willamalane Adult Activity Center in Springfield.
The Meet and Greet even-ings are structured for men and women to chat for five minutes and then move on to the next person.
No last names or contact information is given, but a scoresheet is available to mark down whether they’d like to have further contact with someone they’ve met.
If there are corresponding responses between a man and woman, it is considered a “match.”
The staff then sends a letter to each couple that has a match and the full names and contact information are provided.
While it may sound similar to “speed dating,” that term is discouraged, according to Trish Phetteplace, Willamalane’s adult activity supervisor.
“We think the name ‘senior speed dating’ only emphasizes the dating part of the event, but in fact many seniors are looking for ‘connections,’” she says. “Dating is like icing on the cake. Plus, sometimes the name ‘senior speed dating’ can be intimidating to someone who is interested, but a bit reluctant to embrace the unknown.”
Finding that connection is what both Charlebois and Shaw say they were looking for when they signed up for the event.
Shaw says the Meet and Greet seemed like it would provide a nice atmosphere to just get acquainted and see if there was an attraction.
“And you can see what someone looks like (in person), instead of going on the internet where it’s just someone’s picture.”
Charlebois, sporting a cowboy hat, western shirt and bolo tie, knew that there had to be somebody, somewhere for him. He found that “someone” in Shaw.
They now see one another nearly every day, often eating together during the afternoons and occasionally heading out to the Eagles and VFW for an evening of dancing.
“Bernie wanted attention and got attention, and it works both ways,” says Shaw, dressed in a turquoise blouse, complemented by silver earrings. “He is easy- going, and I’m having fun learning how to dance. I really haven’t done that before.”
Along with Charlebois and Shaw, other connections have been made since the first Meet and Greet event last March.
Three more Meet and Greets and one reunion have been held since then, with more than 20 individuals making connections, along with three couples who are dating steadily.
Lois Stadt and Jim Kelso also attribute the Meet and Greet event for bringing them together.
Kelso says he was looking for companionship, friendship and someone to do things with. He says he hadn’t gotten out since his wife passed away three years go, but felt the Meet and Greet seemed like a nice way to meet someone.
He admits he had trepidations about getting back into the dating scene, but felt the Meet and Greet offered a more informal way to meet people.
“I’m an old man and was married 58 years, and haven’t dated anyone for a long time,” Kelso says. “I didn’t know the first thing about dating. An old man doesn’t know how to date, that’s silly. So, I was a little apprehensive. But Meet and Greet struck me as something where you could meet someone openly, find out what you have in common and care enough about each other to have a dinner and date. I’ve never tried online. That’s not my cup of tea.”
Encouraging men to sign up for the event has been one of the biggest challenges of organizing this event, Phetteplace says.
“But the irony is that once guys attend the event, they express how much they enjoyed it and would recommend it to others,” she says.
Kelso, 86, and Stadt, 85, say they clicked that night as both felt a certain connection and comfort level.
“I remember that he was the only one to look me straight in the eye that night,” Stadt says. “I thought that was a good sign.”
They’re now enjoying a close friendship, spending time together, traveling and finding that both enjoy square dancing, though Kelso admits he’s not up for the “twirling” part of it any more.
And, Stadt says, they do like “hugs and kisses.”
Both were also relieved, they say, when their relationship received their children’s blessing.
“At first my children were hesitant about the relationship,” Kelso says. “I’ve got two daughters and they are the mothering type. But they now think it’s a good idea.”
Phetteplace says she is very pleased with the success of Meet and Greet, and that it has been very satisfying to organize this activity.
“It’s definitely a heartfelt commitment on my part,” she says. “I found my partner late in life and am so appreciative and happy that I want to give others the opportunity to experience similar happiness. And I love how gidddly happy new couples can be at any age.”