Love at first bite
Love is complex. It knows no distance, no age and no bounds. As much as we might set ourselves up for success or even failure, love isn't something we can tame or curtail to fit our own personal expectations.
When it's there, you just know, and you can feel it in your heart.
Neither Rosemarie Acker or Frank Walsh were looking for love, but love found them.
Acker, 87, and Walsh, 94, are both regulars at the Wilsonville Community Center. They often attend tri-weekly lunches there, where Wilsonville seniors converge to socialize, eat and take part in a variety of activities the center hosts.
One day about a year ago the two were seated next to each other for lunch and through sparkling conversation, they hit it off.
"It's hard not to notice Rosemarie's beauty," Walsh said. "The next thing I noticed was how everyone she knows genuinely loves her. She just has so many friends, more than I ever would have, and she's more interested in learning about you than she is talking about herself."
Something about Walsh, a World War II veteran and teacher of 40 years, intrigued Rosemarie.
"Our first date we went to go see Barbara Hale perform over at Brookdale (senior living) for a luncheon," she said. "It was a very good date. We just enjoyed each other's company so much."
Over the past year, Walsh and Acker have built a special relationship. They sit next to each other at lunch almost everyday. A few times a week, Frank will walk over to Rosemarie's apartment and take her for a walk, side-by-side with their walkers, through the paths that navigate the Town Center loop. On occasion, Acker will invite Walsh over for dinner at her Creekside Woods apartment.
Neither of them drive, so if they want to see each other they have to either take the bus or walk the mile stretch down Memorial Drive between their two homes.
"He'll walk the whole way just to come see me," Acker said. "It reinvigorated that spark. He's quite a guy, I'll tell you. He's a very smart man."
Walsh was born in Los Angeles, but moved to Portland with his family at a young age. He spent his formative years in Portland and upon graduating high school he joined the military.
In 1944 he was sent to Europe during the waning days of World War II. He spent seven months in active combat, and finished out his service in General Patton's army of occupation in Munich.
His charge was to find Nazis hiding among civilians. By befriending local citizens in Munich and through peacekeeping missions, Walsh's division was able to sniff out most of the Nazi officers in hiding.
He returned to the United States following the war and enrolled at Vanport College, the precursor to Portland State University. He eventually transferred to the University of Oregon where he earned a degree in education.
He taught for more than 40 years at Marshfield High School in Coos Bay. It was there he met his wife and was married for 62 years until she passed away in 2016.
Acker took a different route in life. She married and took on the hardest job in the world, becoming mother to five children.
At just 35 years old, Rosemarie's first husband died, leaving her a single mother of four with one on the way.
"When you believe in something, you figure out a way to do it," she said of motherhood.
She moved to Corvallis, where her eldest son was set to attend school at Oregon State University.
"It was good place to raise a family, and I did remarry, but it didn't work out. The man I married had two teenage sons and I had two teenagers myself, so there were nine of us in the house," she said. "It didn't turn out like the Brady Bunch on television."
Rosemarie eventually did happily remarry, and was married for almost 28 years until her husband passed away around the same time as Walsh's wife in 2016.
"When you're married for a long time and then it's gone, it's just unbelievable how much your life changes," she said. "I went through so many different emotions. I was lonely, and I didn't like that."
Although Acker and Walsh have found love again, they don't plan on marrying at this point. They're just enjoying each other's company and helping each other to learn more about themselves. For instance, Acker is currently helping Walsh deal with some bottled up emotions regarding his time served in Europe during and after World War II. He opens up to her in ways he has with very few people in the past, and it feels good for her to be able to support him.
"I admire him, I really do because of everything he's been through," she said. "He often says, 'Well you've had to raise a whole family nearly by yourself,' but really that's nothing compared to war. It's got to be rough."
Spending every moment together they can, Acker and Walsh are enjoying the relationship they've built over the past year, and are excited to continue that relationship as the days press on. As they sit together at lunch, their fellow seniors and friends can't help but dote on the pair of love birds who have found love in a time and place where most believe that love is a foregone conclusion.
At 87 and 94, Acker and Walsh are proving to themselves and the world that love can strike anywhere, at any age.