It took decades to find and marry his ‘very first love’

Crack open Karen Lehmann’s 1960 high school yearbook. Turn to the inside cover where friends signed it. One boy’s message, in not-so-neat penmanship, stands out.

With his sign-off, the writer’s breezy tone turned serious.

“Hi Hon,” the Brownton High School sophomore wrote. He mentioned his hope for a prom date. Then, in blue ink, the boy revealed his heart: “So for as long as I have been going with you I enjoy every minute of it. With all my love, Dennis.”

Lehmann was a high school freshman in the small town of Brownton, Minnesota, when her boyfriend wrote that. Now, at 69, the Monroe woman is a new bride.

She and 71-year-old Dennis Vinar were married Jan. 22 in the Everett Municipal Court building. Judge Timothy Odell officiated at the ceremony, joining a couple whose courtship began on walks home from school. “He carried my clarinet. He would be late for football practice,” Lehmann said.

“She was 13, I was 15. It goes back a long time,” said Vinar. “I’ve always had a special place in my heart for Karen. I thought I would never see her again.”

They didn’t get to spend this Valentine’s Day together, but have the rest of their lives to celebrate a romance only recently rekindled. It was late October when Vinar, after finding Lehmann online through the LinkedIn network, called her workplace, the Bramble Home Store in Everett.

They hadn’t seen each other in decades. That call sparked a relationship that grew via email and more conversations.

Lehmann, who moved to Washington 17 years ago, was widowed in 2010. Her home is on 10 acres in the Monroe area, where her first husband had a hobby farm. Vinar was divorced 15 years ago. He lives in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, where for 40 years he has operated a business selling furniture to hospitality and gaming establishments.

Both are ready to retire. Vinar plans a move here, but they are talking about a new life in a new place, maybe California. “I’m tired of the Minnesota winters,” said Vinar, who has two sons, a daughter and six grandchildren. Lehmann has one grown son.

This Valentine’s Day, Vinar was back in Minnesota, selling his business and his house.

Twice in their past, Vinar popped the question. For Lehmann, the time wasn’t right. “The first time he proposed, I was 15 and he was 17. My parents and his mother would have objected,” said Lehmann. “He thinks now we would have made it.”

After high school, Vinar served in the U.S. Army in Germany. Lehmann earned a degree in interior design at the University of Minnesota. At 24, home from the service, Vinar again asked Lehmann to marry him. Still in college, she said no.

“That was hard on me,” Vinar said. He was the first to marry and have a family. Lehmann didn’t get married until she was 35.

A few times they had coffee or lunch. By the time Lehmann moved here, they had lost track of each other. Vinar recalls the moment he knew he had to find her.

He was at a Republican dinner when a woman suggested people take turns answering this question: “If your doctor gave you 60 days to live, who would be the one person you’d like to meet?”

Vinar said replies included politicians and movie stars. “When it came to me, just without a doubt, I said Karen Lehmann,” he recalled. “She was my very first love.”

“The next day, on a Sunday, I was watching the Vikings lose again,” he said. On LinkedIn, he noticed the search bar. He typed in “Karen Lehmann” and found her working in Everett. “That’s my lady,” he said.

In their talks, it didn’t take long for the subject to turn to marriage. At first, Vinar told her his heart had been broken and he didn’t plan to marry again.

“Karen said, ‘Would you ask me again?’ I said no — because it’s like baseball, three times and you’re out,” Vinar said. Lehmann said she countered by telling him “third time’s the charm.”

So he asked. She said yes.

There was talk of an April wedding during a trip to Las Vegas. They decided not to wait. Vinar was planning to visit Jan. 20 for what would be their first time seeing each other in at least 25 years. In Minnesota, he had downloaded a Snohomish County marriage license application, had it notarized and mailed.

They had waited long enough. They weren’t strangers.

“Growing up in that small town, we share our core values,” Lehmann said. Her husband agrees. “I just knew — just knew — we were really meant for each other,” he said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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