It wasn’t her eyes or her smile that captured his heart – it was her comic books.
Sixty years ago, Laurie and Sheri Zapf met in the third grade in Spearfish, S.D. Laurie was passionate about comic books and Sheri had a great collection featuring the superheroes and cowboys he admired.
He’d just moved from Canada. Sheri reported the news to her mother, “There’s a fat boy at school, and everybody is picking on him,” she said, “but I’m going to be nice to him because I like him.”
Laurie chuckled at the memory. “She was nice alright. But she had the best comic books. That was a real turn on!”
They walked to school together every day. “I became his girlfriend officially in third, fourth, fifth and sixth grade,” Sheri said. “One time he tried to hold my hand.” Her eyes widened. “Scandalous!”
When Laurie moved back to Canada in seventh grade, the separation saddened them. “I lost my best friend and my source of comic books,” he said.
They kept in touch through letters. He wrote about his clarinet lessons and family doings and she wrote about their mutual friends and life in Spearfish. When he moved back to South Dakota in 10th grade, he was eager to resume their relationship.
But things had changed for Sheri. Namely, she had a new boyfriend. She said, “I told him I just want to be friends.”
Though they weren’t dating, they still couldn’t be trusted to sit next to each other in class. Sheri recalled, “Our teachers had to separate us because we talked too much.”
By senior year, Laurie, wearied by Sheri’s continued indifference, found a new girlfriend. At first Sheri didn’t blink an eye – she was certain it was a short-term romance. But when the relationship didn’t appear to be ending, she took matters into her own hands. She told him, “We need to get back together and you need to break up with Linda.”
“OK,” Laurie replied.
They attended Black Hills State University together and married May 29, 1965, in their sophomore year. “We were both 20,” Sheri said.
After graduation, they moved to Nebraska where Laurie had taken a job as a school band director. Sheri focused on starting their family. “I told him I wanted four kids and two dogs.”
Neither venture proved successful. Sheri suffered three miscarriages and Laurie found his love of music didn’t translate to a love of teaching it. “My whole life was music, but I really hated being a band director.”
His parents had moved to Olympia, so he and Sheri joined them. The move didn’t bring employment. Laurie shook his head. “You’d be surprised at how few people want to hire an out-of-work band director.”
Finally, he was offered a job at Lakeland Village in Cheney. Sheri’s hope of becoming a mother was fulfilled shortly thereafter when she gave birth to their first son in 1970. Over the next 13 years, four more sons would follow.
When Laurie accepted a position as assistant superintendent at Rainier School, the family moved to Enumclaw, Wash., for nine years. He earned his master’s degree in education and found a new passion in working with the developmentally disabled.
They returned to Eastern Washington when Laurie became CEO of Interlake School in Medical Lake. When their youngest son entered third grade, Sheri took a job at Medical Lake Elementary School and worked there 10 years.
Laurie served as regional administrator for Region 1 of the Division of Developmental Disabilities for many years. With the kids grown and gone, he eyed retirement; however his version of retirement was different from most.
“We moved to Arizona where I took a similar job in regional administration.”
The move proved difficult. “I had a romanticized view of life in Arizona,” he said. “I didn’t realize how much I’d miss my kids.”
His wife’s unhappiness was clear. “I spent the year crying!” she said.
After a year in Arizona, they returned to Cheney. Laurie shrugged. “Sometimes life is not what you think it’s going to be.”
His marriage, however, turned out to be all he’d hoped for and more. They stay busy volunteering with Prison Fellowship Ministry and Feed Cheney, and spending time with their six grandchildren.
Music is still part of their lives. They’ve sung together in church choirs since they were children, Sheri said. “We still do.”
Laurie, who is in the process of becoming a lay minister in the United Methodist Church, said he has a formula for a happy marriage.
• If at all possible, try to fall in love with someone you really like. If you can fall in love with your best friend, it’s really nice.
• Build and maintain mutual respect as the foundation.
• If you’re willing to put Christ at the center of your life and marriage, he will teach you everything you need to know – but it won’t always be pleasant.
Sheri looked across the table and grinned. “You should write a book!”
They laughed. “It takes a long time to build up inside jokes and knowing glances,” Laurie said and wiggled his eyebrows at Sheri.
Although the comic books are long gone, Sheri said, “We’ve always loved being together. We have a lot of fun.”