Second Chance At Love

Dorothy Messmer Mendel and Stuart Campbell in 1990.

When we find our true love, too often, we fail to recognize it until it’s gone.
But, on occasion, fate smiles favorably upon us, reuniting us one more time.

By Herald Staff

It seems Joni Mitchell may have been correct when the singer-songwriter observed, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” Many have first-hand experience, and share her lament. For them, knowing is merely a frustrating reminder, a source of loneliness, a reality that an opportunity has been squandered, lost, quite probably, forever.

But some who have come to the realization have gone beyond accepting that something in their life they once cherished is lost to time and circumstance. For them, there just may be a second chance, a way to turn back the clock. A way, given the benefit of hindsight, to reclaim what they once had before it was gone from their lives.

For at least two Dubois County couples (one of which works at The Herald), life and art are not just imitated, they are the same. Their lives are testament to not only Mitchell’s lyrics, but also those of Frank Sinatra. For it was Ol’ Blue Eyes who crooned that when couples are able to recapture a love lost, that love is lovelier and is more comfortable the second time around.

 

For Stuart Campbell and his fianceé Dorothy Messmer Mendel of St. Anthony, theirs was a romance, figuratively if not literally, created in heaven.

Recalling the two years they dated in the 1990s, Stuart knows when his life — and his relationship with Dorothy — changed. It was because he had fallen in love with her, and it scared him. And as soon as his words reached Dorothy’s ears, words that told her he wanted to date other women, he realized it was a mistake.

He paid for that mistake for 22 years.

From 1992 until 2008, Stuart realized there was no other woman for him. “But there was always Dorothy. I compared everybody to her.”

But he had no idea where she was.

That’s when he sought divine intervention. “I literally went home, got down on my knees and prayed to God: ‘If [Dorothy] is still alive, still single, still wants me, please bring us together.’ And I kept doing this, for years. I realized she was the best person I’d ever met. Didn’t know where she was, couldn’t find her. Couldn’t find her on Facebook, anything. All I could do was pray, so that’s what I did.”

Stuart, a 1976 graduate of Barr-Reeve in Montgomery, and Dorothy, a 1977 graduate of Northeast Dubois, met in January 1990 quite literally by chance. They were both coming out of the Jasper Kmart and exchanged pleasantries. As they walked across the parking lot, they realized they were walking in the same direction, and they continued to chat. Then they found that their cars were parked almost next to each other. And they continued to chat.

“We kept talking, and talked, talked, talked,” Stuart remembers. “We talked for probably an hour. That’s how we met.”

When they finished talking, they left the parking lot ... with each others’ phone number.

“There was just this kind of spark,” Dorothy says.

The following day, Dorothy called Stuart, and “we talked for, like, three hours.”

Day after day of telephone conversations led to their first date. “Then we just started seeing each other every weekend,” Stuart says.

Dorothy Messmer Mendel and Stuart Campbell in 2019. Herald photo by Sarah Ann Jump.

But the scars remained from the 1989 divorce that ended his nine-year marriage, and Stuart started having second thoughts.

“We dated for two years, and then, I kept thinking, ‘I am really messing up here. Here I am, falling in love again, and I’m really screwing up.’ That was my dilemma,” he recalls. “And through all that, I just quit seeing her.”

“He wanted to check out the field,” Dorothy interjects. “He came out and said he wanted to date other girls. He said, ‘There’s a lot of girls in Spencer County (where he had recently moved).’ He wanted to test the field. He wanted to see what was out there. He wasn’t ready to settle down.”

Stuart soon found out “the field wasn’t pleasant, let me tell you.”

In hindsight, Stuart realized his mistake almost immediately. “I realized it when I broke up with her,” he says. “If I didn’t fall in love with her, I probably still would have dated her.”

It took him 15 years to come to terms with his mistake, which is when he turned to God ... and social media.

Stuart began his search on MySpace, the precursor to Facebook, but Dorothy was not part of that social media site. By 2014, Dorothy was on Facebook, but her account was under Dee Mendel, her nickname and her married name, and Stuart only knew her maiden name.

And she was no longer in Indiana. After her six-year marriage ended in 1999, she moved in 2002 to Jacksonville, Florida, where her son was getting married. She still has four grandchildren in Florida.

Then something happened Stuart could not have foreseen. He attributes it to God answering his prayers.

“She contacted me,” he says.

“Through Facebook,” she adds. “I saw [his photo] on Facebook, but he was with another girl. I just wanted to say hi, and see how he was doing. I never expected any of this.” Because of the photos on his Facebook page, “I kept holding off, because I kept seeing [photos of him] with somebody else. I figured he was with somebody. I had no expectations.

“So, finally I sent him a message,” she says, which was from Dee Mendel, so she had to tell him she was Dorothy Messmer. That was on Sept. 25, 2014, her son’s birthday.

For the next six weeks, “we talked on the phone every night, and we messaged on Facebook all the time,” Dorothy says.

“Whenever she first contacted me, I thought ‘OK, God, I hear your answer to my prayer. However, I gotta make sure.’ And my thing was, I am gonna talk to her every night for an hour or so, make sure she’s still the same person, ‘cause I’ve been through this for years.”

It didn’t take him long to realize “she’s the same person.”

Then in November 2014, Stuart quit his job in Evansville and moved to Florida.

“I called her up and told her one day, ‘I’m quitting my job and I’m gonna move down to Jacksonville and date you.’ She thought I was crazy. But I did.”

Stuart and Dorothy became engaged on Jan. 1, 2015, and are looking to get married in 2019. They decided to return to their Dubois County roots in September 2017, where Stuart has pursued a career in sales, and Dorothy has continued hers in banking.

“The main thing is, we’re together, and we’re having the best time of our lives,” Stuart says. “We’re pretty religious people. We feel very strongly — there’s a lot of what-ifs and howevers — but it was God’s plan that it worked this way. We’re both certain of it.

“There was never any way we could have imagined appreciating each other as much as we do now. The appreciation we have is through the roof. I wouldn’t change a thing in the world. Well, I guess I would. I would have probably had more talks with God before I would have decided not to continue the relationship years ago.”

Stuart says Dorothy is “the nicest person you’ll ever meet in your life, she really is. She is the best human being, and I’ve always said that. She’s the best person I’ve ever met. I’m thankful. We have the rest of our life together, now.”

 

Brenda and Lynn Adams in 1973.

For Lynn and Brenda Adams of Jasper, their story of love discovered, love lost and love rediscovered was 20 years in the making, followed by another 25 years of celebrating their love story.

“I’d like to say it was love at first sight — it was something at first sight — but it was a love that stayed with me,” Lynn recalls of the short-lived romance cultivated with Brenda Pettigrew in 1973 during the first semester of their freshman year at Oklahoma College of Liberal Arts (now University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma). “She was effervescent, playful, beautiful, tall — the kind of woman I had pictured in my mind’s eye. To be sure, however, she was out of my league — and still is.

“She was always the standard by which I ended up measuring all other women,” Lynn reveals, previewing the 20-year gap in their romance.

OCLA was a small, liberal arts college in Brenda’s hometown of Chickasha, Oklahoma. It was by chance that Lynn chose to attend the then-65-year-old university after he graduated from Waurika, a tiny southern Oklahoma county-seat town. He had considered other small universities, but then he heard OCLA was starting an intercollegiate basketball team to compete on the NAIA level. Since he and his future college roommate had finished their high school playing careers the previous spring with an undefeated, state championship season, trying their hand with an upstart athletic program seemed the perfect opportunity.

As fate would have it, Brenda was also associated with the university’s first basketball team. She was a member of the first squad of cheerleaders, a link to athletics she continued each year through graduation. The closest she’d come to being a cheerleader in high school was as a member of the precision drill team, but she was in on the ground floor as her local university launched intercollegiate athletics.

Although they had common ground on the gymnasium hardwoods, it was in the hallways outside classrooms — as well as a freshman English class in which they were both enrolled — that they became acquainted. They saw each other across the basketball court during games, and even managed some occasional social time, often after games. But the one date that stands out in their minds — the holiday Tinsel Ball — is the only photo of the love-struck couple from 45 years ago that has survived the years.

Brenda had an on-again, off-again relationship with the guy to whom she would end up being married for almost 20 years, and Lynn had managed to show up in her life at a time when Brenda was “available.” Although Lynn seemed to have the inside track — Brenda points out he checked off several boxes: “he was a jock, was good looking and he could dance” — when he shared his plans to transfer the following year to the University of Oklahoma to study architecture, Brenda had to make a choice.

“I knew that when he got to OU, he’d be around all those sorority girls and I’d be 35 miles away,” Brenda recalls. The early 1970s was a time before wide-area dialing, and decades before cellphones, so Brenda saw the distance as a gulf she would not be able to span. And while she was not one to stand on ceremony or be deterred by obstacles, she observed that it was a time “when girls didn’t call guys,” and she doubted Lynn would make the long-distance call to her. After all, in her mind, he’d be busy dating sorority girls. As it turned out, that’s exactly what he did, and it was a sorority girl he ended up marrying.

So Brenda ended what had been a budding and promising romance. And while Brenda was Lynn’s ideal, Lynn always remained in Brenda’s heart. She admits that 21⁄2 years after they went their separate ways and as her wedding to her long-time on-again, off-again husband-to-be approached, she found herself trying to find Lynn before she walked down the aisle. Unsuccessful, she remembers sitting outside the university chapel where her wedding would be held and crying.

Fast forward 20 years. Both Lynn and Brenda married someone else after graduating from college, and had families of their own (Lynn with two children, Brenda with three). But the marriages didn’t last — some might say because “what might have been” lingered in the recesses of Lynn’s and Brenda’s hearts.

But it had been two decades since they’d last seen each other, and the world was a bigger place in the 1990s before the internet became omnipresent. Neither Lynn nor Brenda knew they lived only 45 miles apart, and wide-area dialing was now available in the Oklahoma City area.

That’s when basketball played another significant role in their relationship.

The university was hosting a 20-year anniversary marking the start of intercollegiate athletics, and Lynn received an invitation to the festivities. Brenda, as it turned out, was on the committee organizing the anniversary. And when they saw each other again at the event, the connection from 20 years earlier was unmistakable. When they met socially the following week, the fire that was merely a spark two decades before — a longing that smoldered as an unremitting ember — had become an inferno.

Brenda and Lynn Adams in 2019. Herald photo by Sarah Ann Jump.

Less than two years later, they were exchanging nuptials in their first — yes, the first of two — wedding. After all, they’d missed being together for the first 20 years of their married lives, so one ceremony just wouldn’t do. So, a trip to Virginia’s colorful Shenandoah Valley to enjoy autumn’s blaze was a perfect setting for an intimate outdoor wedding in the mountains overlooking the valley at, appropriately enough, Honeymooners Overlook. And for the initial five years of their first marriage to each other — all but four months of which overlapped their second marriage to each other — the elopement was a secret uniquely theirs. (But two dozen roses seemingly randomly appearing in October raised questions from Brenda’s oldest daughter, so the cat — as well as the secret — was out of the proverbial bag.)

Then came the second wedding four months after the elopement, which included their combined five children as part of the wedding party. Held in the chapel at the university where they met, the night of the ceremony turned out to be the coldest day of February 23 years ago. The 15-degree high that day stands as a record for the date’s coldest maximum temperature, but that was dwarfed by the 2 degrees and minus-20 windchill during the ceremony.

“We enjoy celebrating two wedding anniversaries each year,” Lynn proudly admits. “Although our families now know about the first wedding when we eloped, it still feels special like it did for the first five years when we were the only two who knew about it.”

Brenda interjects that one of the reasons the elopement stayed a secret so well was that during the four months between the weddings, they both portrayed their relationship as they had prior to the wedding — they continued to live separately, Lynn in his apartment in Oklahoma City and Brenda 45 miles away in her house in Ninnekah.

Why such a secret? The couple had already announced to their children the wedding was planned for February, and the children were not only going to be in the wedding, but the nuptials demonstrated that the two families were merging, not just Lynn and Brenda.

“But we prefer being able to live together under the same roof,” Brenda says, which was not always the case on several instances during the past two decades. Both Lynn and Brenda are in the newspaper business — and both work at The Herald — and there have been multiple times when career transitions necessitated them living in different states — usually for only a few months, but once for more than a year — as one would begin a new job while the other tied up loose ends before finishing the move.

“We’ve been through a lot during the past 20-some-odd years, moved more times than we liked, and changed jobs more times than we ever thought we would. But through it all, we always had each other, and that helped us make it through some trying times,” Brenda says, noting how her life with Lynn is reminiscent of the Gladys Knight song, “You’re The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.”

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 25 years since we got back together,” Lynn concedes. “It seems like only yesterday that we were reunited, only yesterday that we were married — twice. It’s as if we’ve always been together, that the 20 years we spent apart never really happened. I guess that’s because Brenda was always in my heart.”

Lynn and Brenda live their love on their sleeve, as it were. The world stops whenever the movies “The Bridges of Madison County” or “The Notebook” are on TV, and they watch them — and cry — yet again for the umpteenth time.

“We were made for each other, we belong together,” Brenda says. “We missed out on 20 years together, but I can’t say that I would have changed that. We found each other again at the right time, and we’ve made wonderful memories since.”

Lynn, who sang “Beautiful In My Eyes” to Brenda in their second wedding ceremony, borrows a quote from the Joshua Kadison song to sum up their life together: “True love never dies.”




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