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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Love story: Ageless romance: Spokane Valley couple in their 90s committed to each other in 2019

UPDATED: Thu., April 22, 2021

By Cindy Hval For The Spokesman-Review

The loss of his wife in 2018, left Norman Samish bereft.

“I was lonely and depressed,” he said.

He thought of Rita Cencich, a pretty lady he’d met 20 ago years at a writing class for adults.

“She’s nine days older than me, so she was somebody I could talk to,” he recalled. “We quickly became friends.”

Norman and his wife used to help Rita with computer problems.

He smiled.

“Computers and Rita didn’t get along.”

Knowing she’d been widowed several years ago, he dug out her number and gave her call.

They chatted for a bit and then he asked her to dinner. She agreed to have dinner with him at Dave’s Bar and Grill, an iconic Spokane Valley eatery. It was a Friday night, and Dave’s, which is famous for its Friday fish and chips special, was packed.

Unfortunately, Samish has some hearing loss, so the small venue packed with chattering guests made conversation difficult.

“Our first date was a disaster,” Cencich said.

Samish nodded.

“I was so nervous, and I couldn’t hear her.”

Nevertheless, Cencich decided to give him another shot.

“Our second date was better,” she said, grinning. “Where could you go but up?”

They drove to Steptoe Butte, and the quiet of the car offered a much better background for conversation.

“I didn’t have romantic inclinations toward Rita when I called,” Norman said. “I just wanted someone to talk to.”

It didn’t take long until they were talking every day, and he was smitten.

“I asked her to move in with me,” he said.

Her reply?

“I told him no. I’m not interested unless you become Catholic,” she recalled.

Undaunted, Samish asked who to call. She handed him a church bulletin with the information listed.

“He picked up the phone and called then and there,” Cencich recalled. “I was flabbergasted!”

Samish shrugged.

“That’s just the way I am,” he said. “I thought it was the price I had to pay to get what I wanted, but through the classes I got interested in theology – an interest that persists to this day.”

He’d always been a man of science. After a stint in the Air Force, he graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in chemical engineering. A 59-year career with Shell Oil took him all over the world, and his name is on several patents.

However, his personal life was less successful. A couple of divorces left him heartbroken, but he found happiness with his third wife. Which is why he was willing to try again.

Faith has been the foundation of Cencich’s life. She and her husband raised seven children and had been married 60 years when he died in 2003.

“There wasn’t attraction right away,” she said of her budding relationship with Samish “But I have a genuine respect for him that turned into a genuine love.”

On Nov. 29, 2019, they celebrated their commitment in a ceremony at St. John Vianney Catholic Church.

Sitting across from each other in the home they share not far from Mica, they chatted about what it’s like to find love later in life.

Both are 90, but since she’s nine days his senior, Samish says he’s her “boy toy.”

Cencich chuckled.

“I can be very temperamental, but he’s so level-headed,” she said. “He’s always there for me. He’ll pull me down into his lap and cuddle me and just be what I need.”

For Samish it was simple.

“Life with Rita is happy and life without her was unhappy.”

Despite that awkward first date, they’ve yet to run out of conversation.

“We always have something to talk about and laugh about,” she said. “We can talk about anything under the sun. This is real companionship and what bonds us.”

They also enjoy reading together.

“We read to each other,” Samish said.

A Bible opened to their daily reading, and a stack of theology books nearby, show their literary preferences.

“She led me to become a Catholic, and I’m so glad,” he said.

He delights in caring for Cencich.

“I enjoy loving her and doing all I can for her,” said SamishN. “Being with her gives me a purpose in life.”

They’re keenly aware their love story may be briefer than some.

“We knew our time together may be comparatively short, but we were willing to take that risk,” Cencich said. “We were meant to be together. We really and truly were.”


The couple, who live in southeast Spokane, made a commitment to their bond in 2019. 

This version corrects the location of their home and year of the commitment celebration.

Cindy Hval can be reached at

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