Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 36° Partly Cloudy
News >  Voices

Love story: Globe-trotting romance

Frank and Hilde Schoonover laugh while recounting stories of their early courtship, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, at their North Spokane home. The couple has been married more than 60 years. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Frank and Hilde Schoonover laugh while recounting stories of their early courtship, Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2015, at their North Spokane home. The couple has been married more than 60 years. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

The story of how a girl from Czechoslovakia met a boy from New York City in Houston spans six decades and covers the globe.

The romance began at a Greyhound bus station in Houston, where Frank Schoonover first caught sight of his future wife, Hilde.

Well, actually, he noticed her friend first.

Frank was returning from Christmas leave to Ellington Air Force Base where he was finishing up officer and advanced navigator training. He saw two beautiful women waiting for a bus.

In their North Side living room Frank, 82, glanced at Hilde, 85, and said, “I was putting the moves on her friend. We got on the same bus and I managed to sit behind them.”

Hilde rolled her eyes. “He harassed us,” she said.

His harassment didn’t bother her a bit. In fact, she’d already made up her mind about the brash, young Air Force officer.

“I told my girlfriend to keep her hands off him because I was going to marry him.”

Frank however, doggedly flirted with her friend until Hilde finally spoke.

“I heard her accent and switched horses,” he said, grinning.

That accent is still apparent, as is his own New York inflection. Though born in Czechoslovakia, Hilde and her family were forcibly relocated to Germany at the end of World War II.

Frank had graduated from high school in Germany where his father, an Army soldier, was stationed. You might say they spoke the same language.

“I didn’t have anything in common with her friend and before I got off the bus I made a date with Hilde for the next weekend.”

“It was that smile he had,” Hilde confessed. “I said, ‘He looks sooo nice!’ ”

Apparently, too nice. When the night of their scheduled date arrived, Hilde did not.

“I was stood up,” said Frank.

Hilde explained, “He was so nice, but I guess I wasn’t sure enough to trust him. I have a big mouth. I say things I probably shouldn’t. I felt comfortable with my girlfriend there, but alone …”

Frank wasn’t sure what to think, but he was willing to give her another chance and invited her to the Houston Symphony.

“I didn’t know it was my last chance!” Hilde said.

The date went well and was followed by a couple more. Then one day Frank got a flier from a jewelry store in Houston. “I was the only cadet who got it,” he said. “I took it as a sign.”

He bought a ring and put it in his pocket for their next date, but didn’t get around to proposing until Hilde had already boarded the bus headed to her job at a pharmacy.

“I ran along the sidewalk trying to propose as she hung out the window. I remember her words – ‘Hurry up and give me the ring!’ So I handed it to her through the window.”

A grin split his face. “The next date she bought me a car – a 1949 Chrysler!”

Hilde shrugged. “I was tired of taking the bus.”

With a weekly salary of $25, Frank appreciated her generosity, and they married on April 22, 1955, after just six dates. It was a busy day. At 10 a.m. Frank was commissioned a second lieutenant and Hilde pinned his navigator’s wings on him. They married three hours later.

After four weeks of marriage, Frank left for Germany, alone. Hilde couldn’t accompany him because she wasn’t yet an American citizen.

They spent the next six months apart and their long-awaited reunion was complicated by repeated flight delays which used up most of Frank’s carefully planned three-day leave.

When she finally arrived in Frankfurt, Frank almost didn’t recognize her.

“The flight attendants came off holding this woman with a black eye and torn blouse!”

Shaking her head, Hilde explained, “I fell in the restroom and knocked myself out.”

She was in there awhile before disgruntled passengers convinced the attendants to open the door.

“To this day I hate flying,” Hilde said.

It was a seven-hour drive back to the base and Frank had to report for duty. He dropped her off and said, “Here’s your house, I’ll see you next week.”

That was to become a pattern. Frank estimates he was away from home for 10 of their next 20 years of marriage.

However, during their three-year tour, the newlyweds visited Austria, Belgium, Denmark and a host of other European countries, making up for their non-existent honeymoon.

While stationed at Mountain Home Air Force Base in Idaho, they adopted three children, two girls and a boy. Hilde had her hands full with frequent moves and her husband’s absences.

“I just made sure the kids know I am the boss,” she said.

Frank laughed. “That’s for the whole family, including me!”

They finally decided to put down roots and chose to settle in Spokane. Frank retired as a lieutenant colonel and master instructor navigator with many decorations, including a Distinguished Flying Cross.

While he pondered his post-military career, he wrote Hilde’s resume and she got a job at a local pharmacy. Frank worked in public relations for two local banks and graduated from Leadership Spokane.

Though Hilde loathes flying, they continued to travel in retirement and can’t count the number of countries they visited. Their home is filled with collectibles from their travels and while they talked a clock struck the hour, softly playing “Edelwiess.”

The past 60 years together haven’t always been easy as they merged different cultures and temperaments.

“When I was younger I was stubborn sometimes, I guess,” Hilde said.

“She was a spitfire!” said Frank.

They attribute their long union to taking their vows seriously and choosing their battles wisely.

“I’m more impulsive, he’s more settled,” Hilde said.

Frank smiled. “She’s the sails, I’m the rudder.”

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.