02-14-2019 Three stories of love tied together with red threads; Spellers from Grace Christian Schoo

By Kristy Noack There is an ancient Chinese legend called the “Red Thread Theory.” Storytellers weave a descriptive tale in which a matchmaker named Yue Xia Lao determined which person fell in love with another person and married. In the story, an invisible red thread was tied to the ankle of the person to whom they were connected. No matter what circumstances occurred during their life, the red thread would connect the two people, like destiny. This Valentine’s Day, three couples sat down to share how they met, fell in love, and stay connected in this year’s edition of the Tri-City Record’s annual celebration of love. Between Al and Sue Nilson of Watervliet, Gordon and Judy Noack of Coloma, and Bob and Lisa Kuehnle of Hartford, 151 years of love, memories, trust, and respect have been shared. Each couple vividly remembers how they met, how they initially felt about their partner, the best part of marriage, and their advice about growing together as they grow older.

SUE AND AL NILSON Al knew Sue was right for him from the moment they met Al Nilson moved to Watervliet from Chicago in 1957. His father opened Nilson’s Body Shop, which is where Al tinkered and helped his father after school. Following school, Al was drafted by the U.S. Army and, following basic training, was stationed overseas in Vietnam. He completed a tour and then was stationed stateside in Georgia. After his separation from the service, Al returned home.

YOUNG LOVE… Al and Sue Nilson pose with a photo taken at their wedding on July 1, 1972. Sue was just 18 years old and three weeks out of high school when she married Al. The couple will celebrate 47 years of marriage on July 1 this year. (TCR photos by Kristy Noack)

“My idea of a fun night was staying at home in front of the TV with a six-pack of Budweiser,” Al relayed. Which is where Al and Sue’s fathers enter the picture and the red thread theory takes hold. The twosome was bowling buddies and good friends and set up Al with Sue. Al swept Sue off her feet with a movie at the Liberty Theater in Benton Harbor. “I was 16 when we got together!” Sue laughed. On their third date, before they had even kissed, each one’s sister, who was 10 years old at the time, exclaimed, “You’re going to get married,” much to the chagrin of Al and Sue. But, “they were right!” Sue exclaimed. Al knew Sue was right for him from the moment they met. “She had a good head on her shoulders. She knew what she wanted,” he said. For her part, Sue fell in love fast but was still in high school when she met Al. She knew, “he had just come back from a war and we wanted to start a family.” Three weeks after graduating high school, Sue, 18, and Al, 24, were married at Immaculate Conception church in Hartford. “My mom made all our wedding gowns and baskets and ribbons.” “Our basic values are the same,” Sue commented. “We had a strong base. I saw that he was a kind person and hard-working and so quiet. Al always has to have a joke or quip and I always liked that. And, he gets my jokes when no one else does.” “And then sometimes they go whoosh,” Al says as his hand skims over his head. “That’s why my hair is so thin on top.” They both chuckle. Thirteen months following their wedding, their family grew to include a daughter and then, later, a son. Reflecting on their 46 years of marriage, Sue said, “I think [marriage] is enduring, lasting, and being there for each other.” Al agreed, “You’re there for each other, through good times and bad.” “You think ‘the person I really care about will be there.’ [Al] never thwarted anything I did,” Sue explained. That included Al supporting his wife when she fulfilled a teenage promise to her parents to enroll in college and get her bachelor’s degree, a feat she accomplished in 2000. Al, who owned and retired from Nilson’s after 35 years, and Sue, formerly the food services director at St. Joseph Catholic School and now at Graceway at Countryside Rehabilitation in South Haven, are very involved in the community. From scouting to the Knights of Columbus to church, the duo finds time to support and enjoy the company of each other. Although they don’t have big plans for Thursday’s holiday, Al thought maybe he would give Sue “a card.” Sue responded, “When we were broke, he would say, ‘I’ll do the dishes today. Happy Valentine’s Day!’” With two kids and four grandkids to cherish, Sue and Al wouldn’t change a thing. Sue remarked, “God sends you where he wants you when he wants you there and you don’t even know it at the time.” They didn’t know it at the time, but their fathers – and their Father – certainly knew a good thing when they saw it.

JUDY AND GORDON NOACK “She was a very attractive young lady. She had a nice smile.” The Noacks’ red thread was held by a mutual friend and proved that often it’s all in who you know. On July 4, 1961, Judy Zachary was enjoying a picnic hosted by Paul McLaughlin. Gordon Noack was a schoolmate of Paul and actually roomed with him at Western Michigan University. Paul invited Gordon to the picnic and the fireworks in the sky weren’t the only ones sparking that night. Gordon gazed at Judy fondly as he remembered their first meeting. “She was a very attractive young lady. She had a nice smile.”