NORTH PORT — This Valentine’s Day, it turns out some area couples’ love stories are not all Hallmark Channel-perfect.

Jay Graham and Jean Dutcher, of Venice, plan to tie the knot March 9, in Venice Presbyterian Church.

It will be 47 years since their first date.

“I met her when I was helping incoming freshmen at Eastern Kentucky University”, Graham said. “We dated for four years. She wanted to get married, but I didn’t. She was madly in love with me and I was madly in love with me. We broke up in 1976.”

Over the years, Jean moved back to her home in New Jersey and Graham took on sports coaching gigs in Alabama and Tennessee. He called her one day to see how she was. She told him, “I just got married a month ago.”

They did not have a face-to-face meeting.

“I would hear some things about her over the years from friends,” he said. “I knew she had three daughters and that her husband had died.”

In 1990, Graham moved to Louisville and divorced in 2016. A year later, he learned that Dutcher had divorced her second husband.

“We reconnected and she agreed to fly to Lexington for a dinner date. When we met, I immediately fell back into love.”

Then he added: “But she didn’t.”

Dutcher told him she was now an independent woman and did not need a man in her life.

“I knew I had some work to do,” he said. “So when she came back into town, I put it in full gear.”

He said they talked about the past, the present and the future.

“She lived in Venice and I decided to commute between there and Louisville. But then in November 2018, I invited some friends over to the Jetty Villas. Then, at sunset, I got down on one knee and proposed. She accepted.”

The Kisser

John Baldwin, of Venice, didn’t take 47 years to find love. He took much less.

“My wife died in March, 2011,” Baldwin said. “We had 44 years of marriage.”

But after six months, he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life “knocking around in house.”

So Baldwin, 76, tried online dating.

“But the problem was that most of the women in my age group would tell me ‘well, I have two dogs, so you’ll be No. 3 in my life.’ I didn’t like that. So I backed off online dating for a while.”

But the dating site suggested he meet Barbara. She was looking online for a “normal guy.”

Baldwin believed he was “fairly normal.”

A few days later, they decided to meet. She sat in the Saltwater Cafe in Nokomis.

“I was watching the main door,” she said. “And he came in the side door. He came up behind me and said: ‘Are you Barbara?’ Then he kissed me right on the lips.”

“Yes,” John said. “I really planted one right on her.”

She always had a rule that limited online dates to 20 minutes, “but two and a half hours later, we were still there.”

Then, 13 months later, they were married.

“He proposed in such an unusual way,” Barbara said. “He told me he thought it was time his cat moved in with my cat.”

Love outlives death

Gai Barrett lost her husband David back in 1978.

“But loves live on,” she said. “It certainly does.”

Barrett, of North Port, still smiles as she remembers how she met her husband while both were stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

“We didn’t know each other and I went out to look at an off-fort bedroom for rent. He showed up to look at it at the same time.”

The pair stayed up and joked about the room which had a single bed.

Finally, it became late.

“I said: ‘Well, I am going to bed.’ So I went into the room. I laid in the bed and set out a sleeping bag for him. He came into the room and did not see me and stepped right on top of me.”

Gai said she told him: “Look, if you want a back rub, tell me now. Otherwise, I am going back to sleep.”

Without hesitation, he asked for a back rub.

“And that was it,” she said.


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