It’s a Love Story

By Diane White McNaughton

Michelle (Hollander) Kauffman of Lower Paxton Township. met her future husband, Dan, on a blind date.  Almost.

She was supposed to meet him at a popular bar on Sixth Street in Susquehanna Township, but she was late getting there.  When she finally arrived, her date was nowhere to be found.  She felt terrible.  She called the next day to apologize. 

He was forced to admit that he had never shown up.  Michelle was livid, and hung up on him. But now he was interested. 

Thirty-nine years of marriage later, she and Dan laugh about the series of missed signals and crossed wires that brought them together. Over the years, they endured many major heartaches, including nine miscarriages, a stillborn baby, and a major house fire, but love prevailed.    

Whether you met your future spouse at an awkward high school dance in the ‘50s, a rowdy frat party in the 80s, or 2020’s digital version of that—an online dating service—those first close encounters are a memorable part of every love story. 

According to ABC News, a full one in three marriages today got their launch via online dating.  

But Cupid’s unpredictable arrow can strike anywhere: in a courtroom, a funeral service, a parking lot, an airplane, a war zone –it just takes two.

Here are some heartwarming love stories from local couples who connected in some unconventional ways.  

A Blind Date that Opened Her Eyes
Michelle and Dan Kauffman

After that botched blind date, slated for WINK 104 hang-out J.R’s, Michelle, then a college student working as a nanny, agreed to try again with Dan.

On that second date, they were to meet at the G-Man on Derry Street. He was 45 minutes late again, so she left. He came to her house and kept ringing the doorbell.   

When she first saw him at her door, she thought, “What a big nerd!  Why’d she (her matchmaker-friend) do this to me?”  

The first words out of his month were, “You’re shorter to me”—she is 5’ 1” and a Liza Minnelli look-alike.  She didn’t appreciate the height comment. 

He also told her not to expect a lot.  “I date a lot of women, and I don’t have a lot of time,” he warned. 

She thought with dismay and a bit of disgust, “Why are you here?”  

They later went to the old Cracker Barrel on Route 39 (not the Cracker Barrel chain) for kamikazes.

Michelle said Dan was in more love with his car–a Toyota Celica –than her.

Their first kiss was rough. She joked to him aloud: “My God, Niagara Falls just hit.”

But he kept calling, persisting.

For their next date, he showed up 45 minutes late again. Michelle put curlers in her hair and changed into pajamas, and answered the door that way. 

“I’m going to bed,” she said.

But Dan used to tell her she was like Duncan Hines cake.  “He always came back for more.”

On a date to the “Little America” train museum, they went to visit his grandmother, and he told her, “I’m falling in love with you.”

Instead of saying those fateful three words back, she replied: “No, you are not! You are in lust.”

Dan’s parents knew Michelle was the one.  His mom had even knitted her a holiday stocking for next Christmas.  She met his parents at the Union Canal House, then a hockey game

He proposed to her in 1979, and they married in 1980.  They went to Vail, Colorado for their honeymoon.  

Life has not been a bed of roses for them.  Michelle suffered nine miscarriages and a stillborn, and they suffered a devastating house fire when they lost everything in 2013. Well, almost everything. 

“We lost everything except each other,” Michelle said.

They just celebrated their 39th wedding anniversary, and have one daughter, Jennifer Baker, and two grandchildren. 

“I’m not sure when I fell in love with him, but he became a part of my life,” Michelle said.

They built a spacious house at the peak of the scenic mountain in Forest Hills.

“It was backwards the whole time. That’s how we always were, backwards,” she said. Still, “He is my rock.”

A partner in Noah’s Ark Veterinary Center for the past 20 years, Michelle just celebrated her 60th birthday.  Dan sent her 60 roses.  This time, those roses arrived on time.

Follow the Yellow Brick Road
Hunter Murdoch and Alex Bannon

Hunter Murdoch met Alex Bannon when he was 10 and she was 6. 

Alex played a Munchkin in the Central Dauphin High School musical, the “Wizard of Oz,” and Hunter went to see the production with her dad. Alex was in the Lollipop Guild, which was Hunter’s dad’s favorite part of the musical. 

She doesn’t remember this now, but her dad had told her that Alex’s family had just moved into the neighborhood. Always the welcoming neighbor, she asked if she could give him flowers.

So Alex and Hunter first met when she brought him flowers after his musical. 

“We didn’t really know each other growing up, since a four-year age gap means a lot more when you’re a kid,” Hunter said. 

“We re-met as adults at the neighborhood Christmas party.  We spent the night talking and getting to know each other better, and I found out months later that he told his parents that night that he was going to marry me some day.”  

He called it right. They are getting married October 3, 2020 in Newport, Perry County, at the River Bend Hop Farm and Brewery. 

And they’re not in Kansas anymore. Now residents of Susquehanna Twp., Alex is an audiologist in Lewistown and she works as a nurse at Geisinger Holy Spirit Hospital. 

“He’s the love of my life,” Hunter said. For them, there’s no place like home.

Kick-Starting a Love Match
Carly Simpson and Jason Leeper

Carly Simpson and Jason Leeper first met on the Metro in Washington, D.C. on the way to a kickball game.  That Metro theme later dominated their wedding theme.

In 2002, Carly was a bachelorette working for a government relations firm in Arlington, Virginia. She joined a kickball team to meet people.  Kickball games were usually followed by post-game drinks at a local bar.  

In July 2009, she was heading to her game.  She hopped on the Metro and saw two other male players by her in their kickball uniforms also.  

They kept looking at her.  She thought maybe she knew them, so she said, “hi.”

She had a Penn State hat on, so Jason asked, “Did you go there or do you just like the team?”

She told him she went there.  She soon learned that he was from the state of Indiana, working for the American Hospital Association.

He came to the bar after the game with his friends.  He remembered her name, but she couldn’t remember his. Carly sent one of her male friends over to check him out.

She didn’t get his phone number, but she thought, “We’ll see.”

She then missed several weeks of kickball around the Fourth of July holiday, when she went home to Harrisburg for a visit.  

Weeks after that first Metro meeting, both she and Jason played kickball at different times and ball fields. But again, he was at the bar for the post-game celebration.  This time, they decided to grab dinner together.

He was super-friendly.  He made her laugh.

 “It’s hard to find nice guys,” Carly said.

Jason knew how much Carly loved famous D.C. landmarks so they got engaged in June 2011 at the Trump Hotel. The ring was a simple solitaire purchased at a jewelry store in Washington, D.C.

She called her parents after he popped the question on bended knee.

She couldn’t reach them.

She turned to Jason and said, “You did ask my dad, right?” 

Turns out, he had arranged a cocktail party for friends, and her parents were there.

They got married on August 25, 2012 at a church on Colonial Road in Lower Paxton Township.  Their reception was held at the West Shore Country Club.

In a nod to that first encounter, their wedding place cards were Metro cards, artfully arranged along an enlarged Metro map.  Each table was a stop on the Metro, and the decorations on the tables were Metro poles.  One pole still beckons on her bookshelf in her Capitol office.  

Even the menu was a map of the Metro.  One stop was the first course, and so on.

They now have a one-year-old named Maggie, and are thrilled a chance meeting on public transit led to a lifelong journey.

Love Blossoming Even After Death
Nancy and John Sullivan

What better match made in heaven than a marriage uniting a funeral director and a florist?

In 1986, Nancy Sullivan worked at Pealer’s Flowers, which was going to be sold, so she transferred to a “Perfect Affair,” a flower shop located in the basement of an Enola church. A month after she started working there, it happened.  

She met Sullivan, the owner of Sullivan Funeral Home in Enola.  

When John walked in, he had just mowed his lawn.  He didn’t look like a funeral director, Nancy said. 

“He was tall, dark, and handsome. He looked like Cary Grant.”

“I went weak in the knees,” she said.  “I never felt that way before.”

I said, “Who is that?”

But she soon learned, it wasn’t just about appearances.  He was her soul mate. “I’ll never meet anyone like him again.”

Both of them were in bad marriages.  It took John a year to ask her out.

They dated for six years. 

“We clicked,” Nancy said.  She always seemed to fill a need for him. She helped decorate his funeral home.  After his hairdresser died, she started cutting his hair.

He was basically a one-man show except for the day of a funeral, so she helped in a million different ways.

The year before they married, his dad died.  That traumatic loss propelled him to ask her to marry him.  He said he knew he didn’t want to live without her.

They bought a house together in 1992 in Enola, and it is the house where she still lives. 

“This house was built out of love,” they would always say. They married in 1993.

Tragically, John suffered a heart attack at the age of 65 and died on a vacation in Florida in 2015.  Ironically, the popular funeral director did not want a funeral for himself.  

John was devoted to her.  In 2007, her intestine burst, and he took care of her. “He was amazing.” 

Their Valentine’s Day celebrations were modest—and not full of flowers.

He used to say, “Every day is Valentine’s Day with me.” 

They traveled often. Aruba was their favorite place. She hopes to scatter his ashes there someday. 

“I would always ask him, ‘Why did you pick me?’ And he would say ‘Why not?’”

Married 22 years, they came to be known as the “Barbie and Ken” of Enola.

One of the things she misses most about John is their frequent walks from Enola to Harrisburg. They could often be spotted crossing the Market Street Bridge and Harvey Taylor Bridge.

“I still miss that.”

From English Class to Life-long Chemistry
Blake and Bryttani Lynch

Bryttani Anderson and Blake Lynch were in the same English class in 11th grade in Susquehanna Twp. High School

He had just transferred to that school, and Bryttani made an extra effort to be nice to the new kid in class. 

In their senior year, they had several classes together.  He asked her to the prom, and on prom night at the then-Sheraton, he asked her to be his girlfriend.

They were friends first, dating for four years. It was that friendship that almost foiled their relationship. Bryttani at first told Blake she didn’t want to date him because it might ruin that friendship.

They married in 2010, when Blake was 22, she was 23.

They got engaged in “Paris” in Epcot Center, on the bridge overlooking the Disney version of the Eiffel Tower.  Thousands of people in Disney World seemed to stop and hold their breath as the scene unfolded. 

Blake was so nervous, he forgot to hold out the ring, which made her think he was joking about the proposal.

“The whole bridge froze, so I’m glad she said ‘Yes,’” Blake joked.

Blake picked out the engagement ring himself. The center diamond is the diamond his dad gave his mom, which is especially meaningful since Blake’s dad passed away when Blake was only 3 years old.  Other diamonds are splayed around that sentimental diamond in a gold ring.

“Disney became a big part of our life,” Bryttani said.

This past year, they returned with their two young boys—a five year-old and a 10-month-old—to that spot where they got engaged. Brytanni said the spot looked different than she remembered.  It was now dark and the Eiffel Tower seemed farther away before. 

“Nothing changed but our perspective,” Blake laughed. “We grew up.”  Their kids both matured them and solidified their bond.

 On Dec. 11, they celebrated their nine-year anniversary.

“Bryttani is my opposite, which is good. It creates balance,” said Blake, who is the popular Community Relations Director for the Harrisburg Police Department.  “I am the person I am because of her. I love her more and more every day.”  

Bryttani acknowledges that they are opposites.  She is introverted; he is extroverted. Large crowds exhaust her; he loves them.  She likes spending the day at home; he is everywhere.

Bryttani works at Herbert, Rowland and Grubic, a major engineering firm, in Human Resources. 

Throughout their marriage, they have always asked long-time couples the secret to their success. 

On their first Disney vacation in 2017, they met an older couple who advised them to “agree on the big things and the little things don’t really matter.” They live by that mantra. 

The couple often shares those insights as relief houseparents at Milton Hershey School. 

“It’s an opportunity to give back,” Blake said. They work with older students, where they are not only tending to their basic needs for food and shelter, but the burning questions of life.

“We love it.  It allows us to connect.” Bryttani was a preschool teacher at one time, and Blake worked at the Boys Club. 

Blake advises many of the younger men he meets, “You’ve gotta play the long game.” He urges them to “look at the big picture.”  

He agrees that the little things don’t matter.  Whatever Bryttani is saying, “I know she is saying it out of love.  I trust her 100 percent.”

On Valentine’s Day, they usually stay home. Blake will cook.  

“I will try to create something special,” he said. 

Clearly, they have.

A Chocolate Diamond and a Sweet Spot 
Mike Wilson and Amy Zentz

Known to many as the charismatic “Merlot Mike” from the Vineyard at Hershey and now the Chief Marketing Officer for Members First Federal Credit Union, Mike Wilson wrote to his wife on Facebook on their anniversary: “You are the ‘Hall’ to my ‘Oates.’”

Rare for their age group, they both love that 80s-era pop-music radio staple. But their link goes far beyond “Private Eyes” and “You Make My Dreams Come True.” 

Mike’s creative bent and goofball comedy inspired their entire relationship.

They married in December of 2016 in Granada and plan to spend every anniversary and holiday celebrating in some tropical destination like their first one.

They met in the Leadership Lebanon program.  Mike had enrolled in all the local Leadership programs; Lebanon was his last one.

She didn’t like him at first, he joked. 

Mike said Amy was thinking, “Who is this guy, and why does he want to be everybody’s friend?”

To Mike, he took one look at Amy and “I thought she was absolutely stunning. I felt like I needed to know more about her.”

Sadly, the table where she was sitting was the only table that was full. No insurmountable obstacle there.  Mike pulled up a chair from a neighboring table and plopped down by her.

He squeezed in his chair and ‘’appointed myself social ambassador of the total table.” 

Later that summer, they began dating. They went to Trevi 5 at Hotel Hershey and sat outside on their first date.

They had much in common, including a competitive spirit, a love of pistachio ice cream, and miniature golf. 

“Our skill sets offset each other perfectly,” Mike said. 

In Mike’s true larger-than-life fashion, they got engaged on April Fool’s Day in 2016, in a way that attracted a substantial and supportive audience.

That day was like a carefully scripted Hollywood production.  He planned a scavenger hunt for Amy, transported in a rented limousine.  They went from stop to stop, with the final stop at Hotel Hershey, the scene of their first date.

Mike said he needed to stop in and see the Food and Beverage Manager for a work-related issue.  

Amy, who works for a family-owned manufacturing business, was not surprised or suspicious….

Until they walked outside and discovered a massive 15 foot by 15 foot engagement ring made entirely out of Hershey kisses. Mike had designed it himself, sketching it out on a napkin.

“I wanted to do something that hadn’t been done before,” said the creative mind.

Guests on the second-floor ballroom could see the romantic scene unfolding. 

They entered into the giant engagement ring and he popped the question.

The live band in the Iberian Lounge that night had even learned some Hall and Oates songs for the occasion.

“Amy and I were both in previous relationships, and we both learned a lot from that,” Mike said.

He endorses “brutal, open, and honest communication” early in the relationship. 

“It’s freeing.”

Mike still has the one-pound Hershey’s kisses in his basement.  He couldn’t bear to eat them.

At their wedding, there were “Dancing in the Moonlight” was their wedding song.

Their plans for Valentine’s Day are undetermined at this point.

 “I’m sure I’ll think of something,” Mike said with anticipation.  The wheels in his marketing mind are already turning.  Wine and chocolate promise to play a starring role, along with that “kiss on my list.” 

Northern Notes and Southern Smiles
Dr. Jennifer Shannon Pyne and Jim Pyne

Jennifer Shannon and Jim Pyne, now residents of Lower Paxton Twp., were only pre-teens when they met at a religious education class at St. Catherine Laboure School in Swatara Township. 

Jen was 12, Jim was 13.  One of the boys in the class thought Jennifer was cute, so he sent his friend Jim over to tell her so.  Big mistake. 

Jen thought Jim was very cute, and the beginning of a long friendship and a string of letters was born. 

They attended different schools for high school: Jen went to Harrisburg Academy; Jim went to Bishop McDevitt, so they communicated via notes passed between them by their cousins on the St. Catherine’s school bus.  

The letters were not profound, they said.  They just shared facts about themselves –baseball, jobs, homework, and things that happened every day. 

Jim’s four siblings (three brothers and one sister) were on the same school bus as Jen’s cousins, so they became miniature emissaries for letters that basically told each other everything.  In fact, Jen’s cousin Mark was only in second grade when he informed his school “Guardian Angel” mentor that his cousin liked Jim. How do you say no to a 7-year-old matchmaker?

At Jen and Jim’s wedding in 2010 at the elegant Hotel Hershey, those handwritten squares of loose leaf letters were the running joke. 

Virtually everyone had read them before they went from Jen to Jim or Jim to Jen—cousins, brothers, sisters, occasionally parents, and maybe even other kids on the bus.

So it was no surprise to anyone when Jim asked Jen to marry him in Charleston, South Carolina, Jen’s favorite city, and the place where she had attended College of Charleston before enrolling in Temple School of Dentistry.  

Her parents suddenly appeared on the streets of Charleston to surprise her after he asked. Her roommates took pictures. 

Southern fare, including delicious hush puppies, she-crab soup and other southern touches were part of their large wedding at Hotel Hershey.

The marriage proposal was not a shock for her. She had been looking for the engagement ring for a long time. Jim hid it in his golf bag. ”She’d never look there,” he knew.

He drove all the way to Buffalo to get the ring, and got a speeding ticket on the way back.

Even though Jen and Jim communicated by letter and AOL Instant Messenger throughout high school and part of college, they dated other people—and they talked about those relationships with each other.

After nearly six years of letter-writing, they conducted a long-distance relationship for seven more years.

Finally, after Jen endured a break-up, her roommates said, “Why aren’t you dating Jim?” It seemed so obvious to them.  Jim was far away at Villanova. 

They finally had their first “date” in 2003, the summer after their freshman year of college. They went to the movies. They can’t recall the movie, but they remember eating peanut M & Ms. 

There was never an “ah ha” moment when they realized they were meant for each other.

“We are always so comfortable together,” Jim said.  “Our personalities just meshed.”

For Jen, the sudden death of her beloved grandmother was a turning point. Jim was so attentive. He even stocked the refrigerator for them at her parents’ house.  She knew he would be a good family man.

They also liked to have fun. Their first years were spent taking spontaneous trips to Philly and State College, going to concerts, football games, wine festivals, and parties. 

With daughter Maddie, now 4, and Gavin, 18 months, much of that social life has slowed.

Their love of football—and indeed all Philly sports—and their love of family solidified their union.

“We have always been inclusive,” Jim said. Their relationship was rarely just them. It was always brothers, sisters, friends, and those cousin-carrier pigeons all along. It was a group affair.

Jen now operates her own dental practice at Smiles by Shannon in Susquehanna Township, and Jim is a benefits consultant at Conrad Siegel.

Jim believes the secret to a good relationship is to always be each other’s biggest advocate.  He believes in talking, and Jen adds—“Listening!” And laughter.  

“Be with someone who makes you smile and grounds you a little,” Jim said.

They still do date night, and both his parents and hers babysit. 

And as daughter Maddie crawled happily all over him and Jen, wearing matching Eagles sweatshirts, they were all wearing big smiles.