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Love Story: Letter from friend paved way for Brenneckes

Ron and Sybil Brennecke of Spokane Valley have been married for 50 years. They met in North Carolina while Ron was in training for the Coast Guard, and Sybil followed him back to the Northwest. (Jesse Tinsley)
Ron and Sybil Brennecke of Spokane Valley have been married for 50 years. They met in North Carolina while Ron was in training for the Coast Guard, and Sybil followed him back to the Northwest. (Jesse Tinsley)

In the summer of 1962, Ron Brennecke wandered into a drug store in Elizabeth City, N.C. The West Valley graduate had been sent to North Carolina by the U.S. Coast Guard for technical training.

He and a buddy were hungry, and the promise of a burger at the soda fountain drew them in. Like young, single men everywhere Ron said he and his friend asked the girl behind the counter the all-important question: “Where are the girls in this town?”

After visiting with them for all of 30 minutes, the girl wrote them a note of introduction to her friend. It read, “Dear Sybil, I would come introduce these guys but I have to go to Virginia. They are nice guys.”

So, armed with their handwritten talisman they went to the address provided by the drug store gal.

“They had a letter of introduction, so I let them in,” said Sybil Brennecke.

Ron’s first impression? “She was a tall, long-legged redhead wearing a white tennis skirt. I’d never dated a redhead.”

As for Sybil, after a few words of conversation with Ron’s buddy, she turned her attention to Ron. It seems his friend let fly a few words that she felt gentlemen shouldn’t use in a lady’s presence. She said, “I thought Ron was a kind, gentle guy.”

Ron took her to see “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” at a local drive-in, and from then on they were a couple.

“I started taking him home to my mom’s,” Sybil said. “I went home a lot. I had nine brothers and sisters.”

They would all gather for Sunday supper and the easy affection and rowdy noise of Sybil’s extended family amazed Ron.

“It was the most fun family I’d ever met,” he said. “My upbringing was kind of controlling and I just had a brother and a sister.”

What really impressed him was their Southern traditions. “The men ate first and the ladies served.” He shook his head. “It made quite an impression.”

He found out after his marriage his wife had no intention of carrying on that particular tradition. But marriage was a ways off. “Ron does not make quick decisions,” said Sybil.

Though he loved her, he said, “There was a lot of procrastinating, deliberating and uncertainty.”

Sybil had a young daughter from a previous marriage and Ron had always sworn he’d never marry a woman with a child.

After six months he returned to Port Angeles, Wash., were he was stationed. The separation proved difficult for Sybil. “I was in love with him,” she said.

It turned out it wasn’t any easier for Ron. “I was there a couple weeks and missed her too much. On Christmas Eve I called and asked her to marry me.”

When asked what happened to his vow of not marrying a woman with a child, he grinned. “The redhead happened.”

Little did he know that after he left Sybil had said, “I’m giving this guy to the end of January!”

Upon accepting his proposal, she packed her belongings and took a train to Spokane. Her family worried. They loved Ron but Spokane was so far away.

On Jan. 13, 1963, they married at First Christian Church in Coeur d’Alene. Sadly, no photos exist of the wedding. Ron shrugged. “My mom said the film had been exposed.”

Talk of their honeymoon caused them to burst into laughter. Sybil said, “The day after the wedding I woke up with the mumps and he had the flu!”

Ron said, “That whole thing about ‘in sickness and in health’ was tested right there, the next day.”

After a short stay in Spokane, they returned to Port Angeles. In November 1963, Sybil gave birth to their son. She relished the Coast Guard life and enjoyed the adventure and the travel.

One of their most memorable postings was Annette Island, Alaska. “It was a primitive, rustic environment but the ‘Coasties’ had nice accommodations,” she said.

Ron retired in 1976 and settled his family in Spokane Valley. He attended Spokane Community College to study automotive mechanics and Sybil went to work for Safeco Insurance.

Corvettes had long fascinated Ron, so he bought Corvettes and Cars and ran it for six years. He still tinkers with motors and engines and is a drag racer at Spokane Raceway Park. “Retirement doesn’t take real well with us,” he said.

Indeed, Sybil works for Weight Watchers and enjoys water aerobics, while Ron still plays tennis – just not with Sybil.

Though his first glimpse of her was in a tennis skirt, it turns out Sybil wasn’t all that interested in the sport. Ron laughed. “She was used to guys who just lobbed the ball to her.”

They grow serious when talking about what it takes to have a lasting marriage. “After 23 years, we almost divorced,” said Sybil. “We went to a Christian counselor and it’s why we’re still together.” She looked at Ron, “Not many men would go to counseling, but Ron did.”

Taking a deep breath, Ron said, “Part of the reason our marriage has worked is because we’re people of faith. That’s helped us through some really rocky times.”

He’s frank about their differences. He’s quiet and introverted. She’s a fiery redhead. “I’m learning to communicate and I’ve learned to have fun. I’m still learning from her.”

Sybil smiled across the table at him and offered these words of advice. “Don’t give up. Every day, I’m glad I didn’t give up. We are blessed.”