Going the Distance

Going the Distance

February 1st, 2012 Merrell McGinness in Local Regional News

JOY AND ROGER GULICK

Married 50 years

Home: Lookout Mountain

Kids: Tim, 47, and Kathleen, 44

Roger and Joy Gulick are seasoned travelers, each logging more than 50,000 miles last year. As missionaries they've seen such exotic places as Uzbekistan, Turkey and Iraq. "Joy can go on a five-week trip to four countries with a carry-on...and a large purse," Roger says with a smile. But it was the travel in 1962 that's most meaningful to the couple - when he almost missed their wedding.

Joy & Roger Gulick

The two had met two years prior through Joy's brother. Working with Young Life in Baltimore, she was visiting her sibling in Philadelphia, where Roger was stationed in the Navy. The two started dating in February of 1961, but their hectic schedules caused things to cool. A full five months passed without them seeing one another, and Joy had all but given up on a relationship. But one fateful October weekend, Roger came to visit. By the next weekend, he was thinking marriage and by December, he proposed on a docked Naval ship.

Several months later, a similar ship carried Roger out somewhere in the Southern Atlantic to lay cable, scheduled to return two weeks before the wedding. A hurricane delayed the mission, making them steam in circles for a week until the winds died down. About a week before the wedding, Roger asked if he could leave early. The captain obliged but didn't offer any solutions for getting off a ship in the middle of the ocean. Roger had no way to contact Joy, and time was ticking.

Four days before his wedding while on the early watch, Roger spotted hope on the horizon - their sister ship.

As fate would have it, they'd just finished laying their cable and some high ranking civilian scientists asked to take the sister ship's helicopter to the closest Naval air base. Happily, they let Roger hitch a ride. When they landed on a nameless Caribbean island, Roger inquired about a "hop" to the States. Apparently some reservists were taking a training flight to the island the next morning out of Jacksonville. There was a small chance there'd be room on the return flight, but another officer wanted a ride back for his father's funeral. There was room for one, and the pilot ruled the funeral more important.

After much pleading, he let Roger squeeze on. Once stateside, he immediately asked for any hops to Joy's hometown. It just so happened that a recently repaired cargo plane was returning to Willow Grove Naval Air Station in Pennsylvania - less than a two-hour drive from their Ocean Grove, N.J. wedding.

Meanwhile, a very nervous bride-to-be got a long distance phone call. It was Roger's parents. After being incommunicado for months, they were asking if she'd heard from him. She hadn't. Since they were driving to the wedding they gave her the number to their hotel...in Willow Grove, Pa. Five minutes later, Roger called Joy and they finalized the final leg of his very long journey.

"Whenever we'd have some of those fights early in marriage I'd think, we can't get a divorce; God wanted us married," smiles Roger. "We wouldn't have gotten married if he hadn't just about moved heaven and earth to do it."

Celebrating their 50th anniversary this year, the couple credits their faith as the secret to their success. "A growing relationship with God changes us; makes us more into the person he created us to be," says Roger. "We're more loving, forgiving, patient and that's what really helps."

SHANNON EVERETT AND PAUL SPILKO

Engaged to be married in March

Home: East Brainerd

Kids: Harrison, 4

Shannon Everett doesn't like to admit it, but in a way she has Mark Zuckerburg to thank for her upcoming nuptials to Paul Spilko. The couple had known each other seven years ago while working together at UNUM but had lost touch when Paul changed jobs. One evening, his name popped up in her "People You May Know" section of Facebook. She friended him and the two exchanged emails for a long time before their first official date. Ironically, neither of them had romantic feelings as co-workers.

Shannon Everett & Paul Spilko

"I thought he was mean; he doesn't smile a lot," she laughs. "Well, now he does." The two went on their first date to Bluewater last December. "We parked in two different places and I saw her across the street for the first time in seven years," Paul remembers. "I saw that amazing smile and that was it."

Trouble was, Paul was set to deploy to Kuwait one month later. While working in insurance most of his career, he's been a reservist for the National Guard since 1995. A few years ago, he decided to go full-time with the Guard, in charge of the equipment at the Chattanooga Armory as production controller. Although his unit was directly responsible for the withdrawal of troops and equipment from Iraq, Shannon and Paul say they managed to talk quite a bit.

They used every possible form of communication during the yearlong deployment including text, email, Skype, snail mail and yes, Facebook. The miles apart actually brought the two closer, and on Aug. 3 while on a 15-day leave, Paul proposed. Again turning to technology, he did most of the ring shopping online, picking out the diamond when he returned stateside. "She's a very unique person and has her own style, so I knew I had to find something that wasn't just common," he says. "It took me a little bit to find it but once I saw it I knew it was the one."

Unfortunately his covert operation didn't go quite as planned. Making an excuse of running errands, he had to take her car to the jewelry store and stashed the paperwork under the seat.

A few days later it slid out, revealing his plans. For the big night, he arranged dinner at Bluewater and a proposal in the Bluff View courtyard, not realizing it closed at sunset. "I finally just had to tell her, 'Look I've been trying to create the perfect moment this whole time but pretty much what I figured out is you're my perfect moment' and I asked her to marry me. I was so nervous I forgot to get down on my knee so I had to stop and ask her again," he says.

Their year apart - which just came to an end last month - actually taught them a lot about the importance of communication, says Paul. "All we could do is talk; it's amazing the things you learn about somebody when that's all you have."

The couple plans to get married this March in Savannah, just the two of them. "We've both been married before and done the whole big wedding thing," says Shannon. "Plus we're going all out for our honeymoon - Ireland." They plan to tour castles, discover small pubs and kiss the Blarney Stone - although after their storybook beginning, they probably have all the luck they need.

MARK AND NIA NEWTON

Married 3 years

Home: Lookout Mountain

Kids: Sophia, 19 months

If there's one platitude that Mark Newton prescribes to, it's that patience is a virtue. Otherwise, he wouldn't have met his Argentinean wife, Nia. Always wanting to learn Spanish, he had just quit his job and arrived in Buenos Aires for a language immersion course. After the passing of his mother and a broken engagement, he was looking to get away and, thanks to Argentina's economic meltdown, it was less expensive to live in South America for three months than take a year's worth of Spanish courses at UTC.

Mark & Nia Newton

His first weekend in town, he was waiting for a classmate in front of a beautiful water fountain in Recoleta, a crowded downtown neighborhood. While watching hundreds of people filing past him, he couldn't help but notice an attractive woman also waiting for someone about 10 feet away. After half an hour - certain his friend wasn't going to show - he mustered up the courage to say hola, "which was about the only Spanish I knew at the time," he recalls.

"I picked up on his accent and figured he needed directions, so I said I can speak some English," recalls Nia. "We start talking about what he was doing there and his friend who never showed up. I felt sorry for him, new to this huge city you know, so I said, 'Well I'm waiting for my girlfriend but if you want to join us that would be fine if my friend agrees.' I wasn't expecting him to accept."

"I felt sorry for myself too!" jokes Mark. After a night on the town, the two became close friends, but nothing serious developed since he was leaving in three months. "I obviously felt something but didn't know what it was; he was my friend," says Nia. "But when he left I realized, yikes, I think there's something else there."

Despite Nia's "just friends" mentality, she baked Mark a birthday cake right before he left and carried it all the way on the subway to his apartment. That's when Mark began to think there might be something more. Once he returned to Chattanooga, the two emailed almost every day. He returned in September for Nia's birthday and stayed with her family until he could find a job and an apartment. It was the first "official" boyfriend Nia had ever brought home, raising the eyebrows of her parents.

Almost three years after their fateful meeting, Mark proposed in front of the water fountain, pretending to find the ring in the water. Less than five months later the two were married in a civil service with a small dinner reception for family and friends. "I never dreamt of a big wedding. It was just the way we wanted it to be. We thought why don't we celebrate when we have 10 years of marriage?" laughs Nia.

And while their whirlwind romance seems idyllic, it hasn't been without sacrifice. After six months of marriage, the couple moved from Buenos Aires (population 15 million) to Mark's hometown of Lookout Mountain. Besides having to say goodbye to family and close friends, Nia left a recent job promotion and a big-city lifestyle.

Although she had her license, she had never really touched a car, opting for taxis and the subway.

"It was painful at the very beginning," she recalls. "But that's life and you have to make choices. They're hard sometimes but it was meant to be - part of the plan."

JAY AND TERE BELL

Married 21 years

Home: Hixson

Kids: Carlos, 17, and Veronica, 11

Love may be the international language but before the Internet, sending amorous messages across continents was an arduous affair. Just ask Tere and Jay Bell, who stayed in touch for six years by letter and sporadic phone calls before tying the knot.

Jay & Tere Bell, with Carlos and Veronica

The couple met on a Cancun beach in December of 1985. Eighteen-year-old Jay was with his parents at their timeshare while 17-year-old Tere had driven six hours from her hometown of Merida, Yucatan. Spying Tere and her two friends from his balcony, Jay confidently proclaimed he was going to go to the beach to get a date. After some sign language and broken English and Spanish, they figured out each others' names.

"We were writing our names on the sand because he was saying Jay and for some reason we kept getting Jake," laughs Tere. The two set a date for later that night. When the love struck teen returned to his condo, he had some news. "I told my parents that night that I'd met the girl I was going to marry," he recalls.

After three days Tere returned home for Christmas, but the two stayed in touch by letter, which took three weeks to arrive. At the time, Mexico's phone service was so unreliable that calls only got through 50 percent of the time.

A few months later Jay returned with his parents, rented a car and surprised Tere at her house, sniffing it out in a city of 600,000 before the days of Google Maps. Jay asked Tere to visit him in the States but culturally it just wasn't going to happen, she says.

Eventually the letters stopped and they lost touch. When Tere was 20, she got a letter out of the blue from Jay. He was planning a study abroad in Mexico City and asked if he could visit. At the time she had broken up with her boyfriend and responded that she'd love to see him. But between mailing the letter and Jay's visit, Tere got back together with her boyfriend, who was less than thrilled. With no way to contact him, Tere couldn't stop Jay from coming, and he was basically run out of town in less than 24 hours.

"It was horrible," recalls Jay. "They 'invited' me to leave town."

"So a month went by and I get the courage to call him one day," explains Tere. "His girlfriend picks up the phone. Next thing I know there's this commotion where the phone breaks or something. So next day I call again and he's like 'Well, this girl I've been dating... she got mad.'"

Despite the setbacks, a couple of months later Tere made plans to finally visit the States. A friend who was with her on the beach that day was getting married in Ohio. The plan was to fly to Chattanooga after the wedding. The day before they left, her friend's fiancé called to postpone the wedding due to his father's heart attack.

At this point Tere felt horrible, and convinced her parents' to let her fly to Chattanooga chaperoned by her mother. But shortly before they were to leave the ex-girlfriend called Tere, trying to dissuade her from coming.

Her father got wind of this and forbid the trip. As a last resort, Jay called him and in his broken Spanish, asked him to reconsider. Finally, at long last, the two met at the Chattanooga airport. Two weeks after she returned, Jay called to propose. While their romance was a long time in the making, the wait was worth it. Despite their different backgrounds, personalities and interests, the couple rarely fights. "We respect each others' time and let each other do our own things," explains Jay.