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Fox trot, waltz brought Spokane Valley couple together

Thu., Aug. 27, 2009

Mert and Suzanne Bollman dance most every Wednesday at CenterPlace in the Spokane Valley. (J. BART RAYNIAK / The Spokesman-Review)
Mert and Suzanne Bollman dance most every Wednesday at CenterPlace in the Spokane Valley. (J. BART RAYNIAK / The Spokesman-Review)

After the death of her first husband in 1964, Suzanne Bollman said, “I spent many years looking for Mr. Right.” Five years ago, she found him on a dance floor in Las Vegas.

“All my life I’ve done ballroom dancing,” she said. “My brother was a saxophonist in a band, and he taught me to dance.” In March 2004, she’d signed up for a senior dance tour to Las Vegas. Not a fan of bus travel, she chose to fly to Vegas from her home in Southern California to join the group.

As she watched the dance tour, members emerge from the bus, she said, “I saw all these lovely girls. And then I saw this gorgeous hunk of man. I thought, ‘Oh, he’s married to one of these girls.’ ” But when the dancing started that hunk didn’t have a partner. With a smile Suzanne Bollman recalled, “I went up to him and said, ‘Aren’t you going to dance?’ ”

The tall, handsome man looked down at the petite redhead in surprise. Somehow he’d missed her when he scanned the room, looking for a partner. “Well. I guess so,” he replied, somewhat flustered. But one dance was all it took for Merton “Mert” Bollman to know he’d found someone special.

Bollman, a 1948 West Valley graduate, was no stranger to the dance floor. “I started taking lessons in the mid-seventies,” he said. “It took me four years to get over being nervous.”

Suzanne Bollman interjected, “He certainly learned well. He’s a wonderful leader.”

Her husband smiled and shrugged, “Pretty much anything you do looks good if you keep time to the music.” Single since his divorce in 1976, Bollman had worked in the aerospace industry in Southern California.

Meanwhile, Suzanne had pursued an acting career as a member of the Santa Monica Theater Guild. She also worked as a clerk and typist for the Veterans Administration for many years. Both had gone on several senior dance tours before fate brought them together in Las Vegas.

The pair danced exclusively during the weeklong tour. Their footsteps matched perfectly as they swayed to the rhythm of the fox trot and waltz. They said they felt as if they’d always known each other.

When the trip ended, Suzanne Bollman flew home and eagerly awaited a call from her new beau. Unfortunately, his bus took a wrong turn, delaying Bollman’s return. “I got home and said, ‘He’s going to call me – of course, he’s going to call me,’ ” Suzanne recalled, tapping her manicured fingernails on the kitchen table.

Bollman grinned. “I called her as soon as I got off the bus.” Soon every week he was driving the 15 miles from his home in Torrance to Suzanne’s home in Santa Monica.

“We danced at the Elks club every Sunday,” she said. After they’d been dating a while, Mert told Suzanne California property taxes had grown too steep and he was having a house built in Spokane Valley. She’d never been to Spokane, so later that spring they flew into town to see the newly finished home.

“We were standing in the middle of the living room,” Suzanne said, pointing to the exact spot. “He turned me around, grabbed me by the shoulders and said, ‘Will you marry me?’ ” She laughed – surprised he had to ask. In her mind their marriage was a given. “I said, ‘Of course I’ll marry you.’ ” What happened next? “Smack, smack, smooch, smooch,” she said as she mimicked kissing sounds.

The couple married Sept. 4, 2004. By October, they were settled in their new home and ready to begin married life.

They enjoy travel, and Mert, 79, keeps busy as the archives manager for the Armed Forces Aerospace Museum. He also crafts intricate remote control model planes in his basement workshop, and his wife delights in watching him fly them on their spacious front lawn.

Suzanne demurely declines to reveal her age but said, “If you have to tell my age, let’s just say I’m 88.”

But they have no plans to hang up their dancing shoes.

They’ve found many local places to pursue their ballroom passion including the Valley Eagles Club, the senior center at CenterPlace at Mirabeau Point Park and the Sons of Norway in north Spokane.

However, they don’t even need to leave their property to dance. Before he’d met his bride, Bollman had part of the 1929 barn on his property transformed into a gleaming dance floor. He took his wife’s hand as they showed a guest their private ballroom.

Austrian writer Vicki Baum once said, “There are short-cuts to happiness, and dancing is one of them.” That has proved true for the Bollmans. When asked if they have a favorite dance, Suzanne Bollman said, “We like the waltz.” She smiled at her husband. “You can do beautiful things with a waltz.”

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