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Washington Voices

Love Story: Couple reconnect after being an item in ’50s

Thu., March 20, 2014

There’s something about the magic of first love that time cannot erase. Years may pass, but most of us never forget the first person who captured our hearts.

Ollie and Nancy Bowman are no exception.

They met in the late 1950s at Wenatchee High School. “She chased me down the hallway,” Ollie teased.

By their junior year they were an item. Ollie recalled, “We used to walk home from school together.”

More importantly, Nancy’s nine brothers and her parents liked her beau. Their first “official” date proved unforgettable. Ollie had purchased a 1936 Dodge. “The first time we went out in it, it quit,” he said. “I drove to the closest house and was able to fix the broken oil line.”

He also got her home in time for curfew. “He was worried about what my family would think,” said Nancy.

When they graduated in June 1957, Ollie bought her an engagement ring. But before they made any wedding plans, something happened. While both are adamant that they don’t remember the details, the relationship ended. “We drifted apart,” Nancy said. “He went one direction and I went another.”

His direction was the Army. He joined in 1958 and on his way to a posting in Alaska, he stopped by his sister’s home in Wenatchee. Nancy happened to be there. He asked her out. She declined. Fifty-two years would pass before they saw each other again.

Ollie spent 17 years in the Army. He married Carol in 1960. They had two children and settled in Spokane in 1975. They spent 48 happy years together, before she died of cancer in 2009.

Nancy became a world traveler. She worked for a Chinese company based in Guam. Her job took her to Hawaii, Singapore, Hong Kong, Jakarta and Taipei. Her first marriage ended in divorce, but she found happiness with her second husband. They were married for 29 years before he died in 2004.

After his death she returned to Wenatchee where her mother still lived. She had a brother who lived in Spokane and had heard that Ollie had moved here. But she never tried to get in touch with him.

Ollie often thought of her when he visited his sister in Wenatchee. “When you cross the bridge going into Wenatchee, you can see her house,” he said.

Lonely after his wife’s death, he wondered what had become of his high school sweetheart. Knowing she had a brother in Spokane, Ollie went through the phone book, found his number and gave him a call.

“Do you have a sister named Nancy?” Ollie asked. Her brother didn’t remember him, but agreed to pass his number on to Nancy.

She was stunned to hear he’d called. Fifty-two years had passed since they’d last spoken, but she picked up the phone and gave him a call.

After some initial awkwardness, they caught up on the past five decades, and then Ollie asked if he could come see her. He warned her, “I’ve got gray hair, am fat and wear hearing aids.” Nancy laughed and said, “Me too!”

When he pulled into her driveway and got out of his truck, Nancy said, “My heart jumped out of my chest. All the love I’d had for him came flooding back.”

Ollie felt overwhelmed as well. “Wow!” he said. “I was speechless. I told her, ‘I’m so nervous; I don’t know what to do!’ ”

He stayed just an hour, then turned around and drove back to Spokane.

“I didn’t think he liked me because he was so quiet,” said Nancy.

A week and a half later, he returned. He had something he needed to show her. Slowly, he rolled up the sleeve of his shirt to reveal a tattoo he’d gotten in July 1958. It was a single word – Nancy.

Asked why he’d gotten her name tattooed on his arm after they’d broken up, Ollie shrugged. “I guess in my mind she was still my girl.”

Nancy said, “I couldn’t believe it. I just got up and put my arms around him.”

Then she took him to see her mother. “Oh, I always liked him so much!” her mother said. She got up and gave Ollie a big hug, then sat down and picked up the phone to call her daughter in New Mexico.

The memory made them both laugh. “My mom said, ‘Nancy and Ollie are here! He has a beautiful head of white hair and the BIGGEST feet!’ ”

While visiting with her mom, Ollie invited Nancy to come to Spokane to meet his children and grandchildren. Her mom answered for her. “OK,” she said. “We can go on Friday.”

That week when Ollie arrived at her brother’s house to pick Nancy up for a date, her brother said, “What time are you coming back? We go to bed around 9:30.”

Ollie replied, “OK, I’ll have her back by then.”

Turning to his 72-year-old date, he said, “You’ve got a curfew? You used to be able to stay out later in high school!”

Their relationship continued with frequent phone calls and visits. One day Ollie called and said, “Can I come over, I’m just a few minutes away?” Somewhat flustered, Nancy agreed. “He walked in with a purpose in his step,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t know how to do this. I’m afraid if I get down on my knee I won’t be able to get back up. I just want you to marry me.’ ”

She threw her arms around him and said, “Yes, I’ll marry you!”

Ollie said, “Let’s go get the rings and tell your mom!”

They married in Wenatchee on Oct. 9, 2010, and Nancy moved to his Spokane Valley home.

“We laugh and joke about everything, just like in high school,” Nancy said. She looked across the kitchen table at Ollie. “He’s the man I always knew he’d be.”

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