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When Bill Angle was flicking through the newspaper after his wife’s death, he was surprised to notice one obituary: his high school sweetheart’s husband.
After steeling his nerves for two days, he called Carolyn, the girl he had met at an outdoor film more than 50 years before. “She was a very beautiful brunette and wasn’t very big. She was the small sort,” Bill said. He asked someone who she was, introduced himself, and offered her a ride home. “And that’s how it started,” he said.
That was 1941. They were only 16 years old, students in the same graduating class at different Illinois high schools. Carolyn and Bill would date for the next five years, but the war brought changes. Bill enlisted in April 1943, eventually serving as an air crewman on a Navy dive bomber. While gone, a tornado struck his family’s farm, destroying trees, buildings and his parents’ home. He and Carolyn kept in touch through letters and dates when he was on leave, but the two drifted apart, due in part to the alcohol problem Bill developed as a sailor. “I cared as much about women as I did about drinking,” he said.
The couple finally parted ways in 1946.
Both moved on, were married, and started their lives over without each other. They had absolutely no contact over the years they were separated, and lived “completely different lifestyles,” as Carolyn worked as a special education teacher, going on to earn a master’s degree, and had married a man with a doctorate in history. Carolyn moved six times, landing in Colorado to start a family of five daughters with her husband. After the war, Bill traveled the world as a cattle attendant, then running a gas station in California, before settling back down in Dakota, Ill., where he married in 1951, raised two sons, got over his alcohol issues and worked long weeks on Angle Farms.
So when he saw that obituary nearly 60 years after he and Carolyn had broken up, it seemed like fate. After talking on the phone, Bill flew to Colorado to meet her in April 2006.
“We met in the airport. We both had cellphones and didn’t know how to use them,” Bill said. “I thought maybe she’d stood me up. She came around a corner, said my name, ‘Bill,’ and that was it.
“If she hadn’t spoken I don’t know if I would have recognized her, but I probably would have.”
After that, the two rekindled their friendship, growing closer, and Bill asked if she’d be willing to return to Illinois. She was, and they were married on Sept. 1, 2007.
Bill said that he and Carolyn always joked about how much practice they’d had at marriage made them good at it: “112 years of marriage combined between us.”
But it wasn’t just two seasoned veterans of married life that made Bill and Carolyn’s relationship work so well the second time around.
“Carolyn was a very good woman — ironed my clothes, kept the house neat, was a good cook, kissed me goodnight every night.
“Most of us have an ego and are a little bit selfish maybe. But she would walk up to you and make you feel like a million dollars — tell you how pretty you were and how pretty your hair was.”
During his first marriage, Bill hadn’t been able to spend much quality time with his wife. “I worked almost a hundred hours a week sometimes on the farm, if you can believe it.”
“I don’t think it would have worked between Carolyn and me the first time. The second time our relationship was very good, we never had a fight or argument. She was a wonderful woman.”
Partly because his son was helping on the farm, Bill was able to devote time to the relationship and to enjoy the time he and Carolyn shared together. They spent Sundays at church, then out to eat and on drives through the countryside.
“She appreciated it, and so did I.”
Carolyn passed away on Feb. 5, 2013.
“I just loved to talk to her,” Bill said.
At her funeral, “Moonlight Serenade” was played. “We were big band people.” Near what would have been her 88th birthday, two of her daughters stopped in a restaurant in South Africa, halfway around the world. “Moonlight Serenade” was playing.
Moments like that keep Carolyn fresh in Bill’s thoughts.
“It’s really a true love story. We really loved each other,” Bill said. “I think so many people are afraid of marriage. You see so many people alone and I think that’s so sad. We got married when we were 82 and we enjoyed our time together.”