August 23, 1999
Alma and Wes at the Sno-Valley Senior Center picnic last week. Their wedding on Saturday was featured in a KOMO-TV news broadcast.
by Richard A. Foley, special to the Valley View
CARNATION--It is often said that in a small town, everybody knows everybody else. And though the occasional complaint about lack of privacy may suggest a downside to small town living, there are many strong arguments that the benefits far outweigh the shortcomings.
To be sure, the residents of small communities find it easier than do their big city counterparts to come together for a cause, or to rally around one of their own in a time of trouble or great need.
We also hear it said that a small town setting is a very nurturing place in which to grow older. But for those who find themselves alone late in life, can a small town provide an antidote for loneliness?
Alma Schmidt and Wes Raynes, two residents of Carnation, would almost certainly answer in the affirmative. Alma, who is 72, had been married 44 years and reared five children. Her husband died eight years ago and, though four of her children live nearby and offer support, the absence of her life partner had left a void that Alma thought could never be filled.
She most certainly felt that she'd never marry again. Looking for ways to stay busy and productive, and, maybe to meet new friends, Alma began visiting the Sno-Valley Senior Center, volunteering in the nutrition program and serving as part-time receptionist.
Wes, 67, had been married for 34 years and has four grown children. Wes had been alone since the passing of his wife five years ago and, in his case also, loneliness loomed as a major issue. Like Alma, Wes began spending time at the Senior Center, also volunteering in the nutrition program.
He and Alma became acquainted and shared some tasks at the Center, but somehow the idea of dating never occurred to them. Wes was too shy to express his interest in Alma, and she had grown up in a time when women weren't the ones to initiate a relationship.
The staff at the Center, however, began to recognize the potential for Wes and Alma as a couple. They began dropping hints to Wes that, if indeed he were attracted to this lady, who by now had become a friend, it would be up to him to make the first move.
Meanwhile, when he didn't show up at the Center one day, it was Alma who called, just to see how he was doing. The other seniors at the Center also recognized a budding romance and may have helped set the stage.
Finally, Wes suggested to Alma that they spend an afternoon attending an auto race in which Wes's son was to be driving. Alma, saying she didn't much care for car racing, declined.
Undaunted, Wes told Alma he'd like to take her shopping for antiques in Snohomish. This time, Alma accepted, and the relationship quickly blossomed. Soon they became inseparable and, after dating for only three months, Wes proposed marriage.
Alma put off giving Wes an answer at first, but when she took some time to think about it, her answer was the one Wes wanted to hear.
Alma's daughter became concerned about the seeming suddenness of this December-December romance and urged her mom to put off marriage for at least a year. Alma, however, was convinced that she and Wes had found something special--something much more than just a cure for loneliness.
Wes clearly felt the same, and they both concluded that at this stage of their lives, waiting would be a waste of time.
Wes, who is not a regular churchgoer, is now preparing to teach Bible School with Alma. Alma always loved cooking, but in recent years, hadn't been motivated to spend much time in the kitchen. Nowadays, she's cooking dishes that help Wes to manage his diabetes and even creating new dishes that she takes to the picnics they attend together.
And, says Alma, "I've even come to rather enjoy car racing."
The idea of having someone with whom to share experiences is what is making this relationship special for these two older adults. Alma says the idea of feeling this way again in her 70s was "a little scary at first." But now, she says, "music seems to sound better and life just seems a little nicer."
Alma and Wes were married last Saturday in Fall City Methodist Church, and a reception followed at the Sno-Valley Senior Center. Folks from Carnation turned out with great enthusiasm to help celebrate the choice their neighbors have made to grow old together.
Wes and Alma are almost smug in finding that they didn't have to look far and wide to find romance ... they found it right at home.