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From This Day: Patients find love during cardiac rehab

Gerry and Betty Spies considered getting married abroad, but preferred to have family close at hand.

Courtesy of the Spies family

Gerry and Betty Spies considered getting married abroad, but preferred to have family close at hand.

ST. PETERSBURG

They call it love on a treadmill.

Gerry Spies was going to cardiac rehab three times a week after having a stent put in his heart last year. Three times a week, he'd see Betty Davis, who'd had a valve replacement.

On a whim, he asked her to have a cup of coffee after a workout. That's how they got to know each other — in one-mug increments — until they finally went on a formal date at the Columbia on the Pier.

But later that summer, she went to New York state and he traveled to Europe. Gerry, who is semiretired from a family business that sells heating and cooling equipment, thought about Betty while he was taking in the sights of Croatia. "But at that point I had no clue we were headed for a serious relationship," he said.

Betty, a retired accountant, kept them on track. She knew when he was getting back in town and sent him a welcome home e-card that played Strauss music.

"Gosh, this is interesting," Gerry thought.

He thought she was educated and sophisticated — but not so much that she wouldn't laugh at his silly jokes.

She noticed how considerate he was, like the time in rehab when he offered his hand to help her up after one of the exercises.

Love came unexpectedly for both of them. Gerry is 85. He lost his wife of 63 years about two years ago, but he's still eager for new experiences. Betty is 74. She divorced her first husband and buried her second. She was surprised at how swept up she got in a new romance.

"Folks . . . think love at my age is ridiculous," Gerry said. "The thing it's teaching us is it can happen at any age."

Their relationship works primarily because they're both devoted to it — none of this commitment phobia that plagues the young. Their priorities match up: faith and family. And they can always find something to laugh about.

They decided to marry at the end of this year, but then kept moving the wedding date up.

"At our age, we want to take advantage of the years we have," Betty said.

It turned into a much bigger production than Gerry expected.

"As far as I was concerned, all we needed was Betty and me and the pastor and God. I've learned that a wedding has a body and soul of its own," he said, sounding like any young, overwhelmed groom.

At one point during the planning, he tossed out a wild idea: "You want to go to Prague and get married?" he asked his bride-to-be.

But they knew they wanted to forge their new union with their families around them. They chose a Lutheran church in Ormond Beach, where Gerry's son has a vacation home. On their wedding day, July 9, she insisted he not see her until she stepped into the aisle. She wore a new white lace dress, the first one she tried on in the first store she walked into.

They gave themselves to each other and exchanged matching gold bands. Then the happy couple and about 40 family members headed to a dinner reception where the place cards alternated one from his side, then one from her side, so everyone would get to know each other. Between them, they have six grown children, 15 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

As for Prague, they didn't let that idea escape.

They're going in September, with a week in Paris and who knows where else.

They don't know yet when they'll return, these newlyweds with separate histories on an adventure they're scripting together.

Molly Moorhead can be reached at moorhead@sptimes.com.

From This Day: Patients find love during cardiac rehab 08/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, August 15, 2011 1:12pm]

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