When Pauline Renshaw Reinhart Dawson Spangler turned 90 last month, candles were being blown out in her honor on cakes from Florida to California, from Oregon to New York. And, in fact, the party is continuing.
It was her "Birthday Across America," the brainchild of her (third) husband (of a year and a half), Dan Spangler. He even offered to buy the cakes for the far-flung parties. No one took him up on the offer, but they did use Pauline's birthday as a good reason to celebrate.
Pauline and Dan met at church. Really.
Almost two years ago, when Pauline was living at an assisted living facility in Palm Harbor — she didn't need assistance; she had moved there with her second husband and continued to live there after he died — she decided she wanted to get back into her lifelong habit of going to church.
Someone suggested North Bay Community Church, two blocks from where she lived.
And so she walked the two blocks — blocks get longer as we get older, she said — to church. The pastor introduced Pauline as a new member of the church, and after services were over, she mingled with the greeting committee, never suspecting that her future husband was among its members.
When the committee members realized that Pauline had walked to church, they wouldn't hear of her walking back home. Someone offered up a member of the committee — a man several years younger than she who wears big glasses and an event bigger smile — standing off to the side.
He accepted, and on the short ride home, Dan Spangler told Pauline Dawson about an upcoming symphony concert at the church. He asked her if she wanted a ride there, adding that she was welcome to bring a friend.
"I thought, 'This looks like quite a nice man,' " Pauline said. She told him yes.
She did bring a friend, who wanted to go home right after the concert, so they dropped her off and went to what would become their favorite date spot — DQ.
That was Nov. 7, 2011.
Three months later, they were married — in front 100 people at the church where they had met.
• • •
He's originally from York, Pa.; she's from Pontiac, Mich.
He had three children; she had five, but one died.
He worked as a college director of student activities; she taught first grade for 30 years.
His wife had died a year before they met; her husband had died four years before — and both from congestive heart failure involving the same valve.
A seemingly perfect match.
• • •
They moved into his neat and tidy Palm Harbor home.
Early this year, Spangler, realizing his wife would be 90 on Aug. 2, started thinking about what to do.
He asked her what she wanted.
Want a big Florida party in a state park or church?
No way, she said.
"Everybody kept asking me what I was going to do to celebrate," Pauline said.
"It got kind of obnoxious," her husband, 81, said.
• • •
And that's when he got the idea of a "Birthday Across America." Dan — so organized he color-coded not only the "guest" list to keep track of who was having parties when, but also the pins on the party-locator map — went to work.
He sent letters to 60 people, detailing his plan to have all of Pauline's friends and family members celebrating her birthday at the same time.
He got 50 responses to the event that has turned into the party that won't quit.
The first birthday celebration took place at a gathering of Zephyrhills snowbirds in Pontiac, Mich., in July; the last won't be held until November.
All for a woman who never suspected the bonus she would get for going back to church.
• • •
They probably knew they were meant for each other on that first DQ date. So taken with each other, they didn't even realize the place had cleared out while they sat there. Closing time, they were told.
She climbed in his car and he drove her home. They were almost there when she realized she had left her purse in the DQ.
When they pulled back into the parking lot, employees were waiting at the door for them to come back. One was holding her purse.
Their first shared stroke of luck.
Hmm. Funny how it seems as if all great love stories start with an unforgettable episode like that.
Patti Ewald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8746.