Lessons in love

Monday, February 14, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:58 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Love actually abounds in Columbia. Valentine’s Day reminds young and old that love makes the world go ’round. But what keeps the prime mover — love itself — going? The Missourian sent four reporters looking for love, and they returned with tales of devotion from four Columbia couples, each doing its best to keep this love-driven globe spinning.

“After love, tolerance is most important.”

Dennis and Janet Dierker

The first time Dennis and Janet Dierker met, almost 40 years ago, their relationship was purely clinical. Dennis, who grew up in Concordia, had recently started a medical practice in Janet’s hometown of Lebanon, Mo. Janet had been teaching in Tucson, Ariz., and came home before going to graduate school. She asked her sister to make a doctor’s appointment so she could get a health form filled out for school, and her sister thought it would be fun for Janet to see Dennis, the new doctor in town.

“That was when we first met,” Dennis recalled last week, “but I didn’t really think anything of it.”

Not long after, Dennis and Janet met again at a United Church of Christ picnic. They discovered they had been at church camp at the same time in junior high but had never met.

“That was in August, and then we had a date or so before I came up to the university in the fall,” Janet said.

They continued to date, seeing each other when Janet was home on weekends and when Dennis visited her at school on his days off. One night at Christmas time, Dennis slipped a ring into Janet’s coat pocket. They were married the following June. Both were 28.

The Dierkers have a difficult time pinpointing when they knew they were in love. Janet suspects she first knew when she realized she didn’t want to go back to Tucson. Dennis said he had an inner feeling. Both are sure the feeling was obvious.

“The spark is there,” Janet said. “You just know.”

After nearly four decades of marriage, the Dierkers say they have a quiet, strong relationship. They do simple things to keep their love alive. Janet cooks foods that Dennis likes to eat. They play with their grandchildren. When the weather is nice, they spend their leisure time outside, riding bikes, traveling, hiking and working in the yard. They also volunteer with the Columbia TreeKeepers program.

“You each have to have your own interests and be able to do those, but I think it helps to have things you enjoy doing together,” Janet said.

For the Dierkers, the key to maintaining their relationship is the effort they put into it. Communication, understanding and flexibility are essential to a marriage, they said.

“After love, tolerance is most important,” Dennis said. Janet has been understanding in many ways, he said, particularly in putting up with the sometimes long hours of his job as a doctor.

For Janet, selflessness is an important factor in a strong marriage.

“Your spouse should always come first,” she said.

— Kate Carpenter


Woody and Lynn Woodward — a weeklong courtship

“She’s my best friend. We’re always together.”

Woody and Lynn Woodward

Woody Woodward and his wife, Lynn, didn’t have a traditional courtship. “The first thing Woody ever said to me was, ‘I love you. Will you marry me?’” Lynn said.

The year was 1981. Woody Woodward and Lynn Pullen were in the Marine Corps, stationed in Tustin, Calif. Lynn inspected survival equipment and Woody was a helicopter crew chief. Woody was on monthlong mess hall duty when he saw Lynn for the first time.

“I just knew, right then,” Woody said.

A week later, they drove off on Woody’s motorcycle and got married. They’ve been inseparable ever since.

“She’s my best friend,” Woody said. “We’re always together.”

Since the Marines, Woody and Lynn have continued to work together. They spent time working in the MU math department, the Columbia Athletic Club and most recently at The Gauge Cage and Olde Un Theatre.

“We’ve always had the same interests,” Woody said. “We got into piercing, so we went out to San Francisco and got our training.”

First as Marines, now as piercing artists, Woody and Lynn have worked side by side for more than two decades.

“We fight once in a while, but not for long,” Lynn said.

“She tells me I’m wrong, I say OK,” Woody said. “I’m agreeable.”

Although their story might make them Columbia’s most romantic couple, they have no special plans for Valentine’s Day.

“We’re happy every day,” Woody said. “We don’t need a special day to celebrate.”

“Besides,” Lynn said, “it’s probably our busiest day of the year.”

Lynn and Woody Woodward live in Columbia with their two sons, Dennis and Jonathan.

— Nick Altschuller


Matt and Sarah Knoll-Williams — married last summer

“It’s ... being thoughtful of how they feel, being patient and gentle.”

Matt and Sarah Knoll-Williams

Sharing a booth at Jimmy John’s on Broadway one evening last week, Sarah and Matt Knoll-Williams happily sucked orange Tic-Tacs. Matt pulled off his sweater and Sarah immediately slipped it on, saying, “It was my grandfather’s sweater, but now it’s for Matt.”

Recently, this couple agreed to share much more than a booth and an old sweater. Married last summer, Sarah and Matt agreed to be in love.

“Love is a daily choice,” Sarah said. “I chose Matt because he was somebody that I wanted to work on a relationship with.”

The work is steady.

“It’s showing somebody that you love them, being thoughtful of how they feel, being patient and gentle,” Matt said.

“And knowing that you’re not always going to get your way,” Sarah added.

The couple met in English class during their freshman year of high school in Topeka, Kan. Using homework as an excuse, Matt got Sarah’s number for help with an essay. They dated on and off, but Matt said he felt there would be more.

“I had a strong intuition that I would marry her,” he said.

Though intuition was on his side, life was not. After high school, Matt moved to St. Louis, creating the obstacle of distance. With college, travel and career goals on the agenda, a relationship wasn’t penciled in. Well, not until the fall of 2002.

As late summer melded into autumn, Sarah and Matt felt a similar connection. One unforgettable weekend together marked a turning point for college plans.

“Deadlines came and went, and we only thought about our relationship,” Sarah recalled. A few months later, on Valentine’s Day, Matt popped the question.

Sarah and Matt married last summer. For Sarah, Matt’s humor has always kept her close to him.

“Left to my own devices, I’d rip my hair out,” she said. “But he mimics me, showing me how crazy I’m acting.”

Likewise, Sarah balances Matt with her eagerness to talk.

“I like that she talks to me for a long time,” he said. “Talking with people makes me feel valuable and loved.”

Simple things like joking and talking are daily choices Matt and Sarah make.

“People think that after marriage, the honeymoon period ends and then there’s reality,” Sarah said. “It’s not true. I love Matt more and more every day.”

“It’s true,” Matt added.

— Tasha Bjelic


Jeff Mueller and Ruth Acuff — joined through music

“Her words spoke to me like it was my own voice...”


eff Mueller and Ruth Acuff

Squinting from the glare of the stage lights, Ruth Acuff saw a vaguely familiar face in the audience. Jeff Mueller had returned for her encore guitar performance at Music Café because, he recalled last week, “Her words spoke to me like it was my own voice speaking to me.”

A professional bassist, Jeff began identifying the chord progressions as if he had played them before. Ruth had only a faint idea that he would become her biggest fan.

For the next year, Jeff played with Ruth sporadically at open-mic nights. A relationship grew that Jeff said is best expressed by the closing words of the song “Autumn Angel”: “Separated by the sands of time, tracing borders of the mind, joined together in the now, despite the difference, I love you anyhow.”

The separation Jeff refers to is the 14 years between them: She was 18 that night; he was 32. He said their age difference created a barrier that they had to transcend. Ruth agreed: “The age difference is challenging at times because I haven’t experienced as much.” Most recently, she noticed the age difference while cooking. Jeff remembered that when he was Ruth’s age, grilled cheese and macaroni and cheese were all he could cook.

Although Ruth is learning from Jeff in the kitchen, she is keeping up with him musically. She has coached him on several songs, and he continues to expand his repertoire. The experiential distance between them melts away with each strum of her guitar.

Now, two years later, the gap Jeff once felt has closed. They see a future together in their band, Lux. They recently finished an acoustic demo and are working on a full-length album. They plan to tour this summer and count on the music to keep them in love.

— Maria Howell

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