Past Relationship Rekindled, 50 Years And 3 Marriage Proposals Later
| LAST UPDATE 06/03/2021
All it took was one phone call, and Karen Lehmann's life would change forever. "This is a miracle," is how she described the story of reuniting with the love of her life. But it wouldn't be without a few twists and turns beforehand...
When Karen and Denny first met, their love blossomed quickly and naturally. They both knew they had found "the one" — but their relationship was tragically short-lived. They were ripped apart, and it would take years before they were drawn to each other again.
"The feeling was just absolutely, totally unbelievable," Denny admitted about the ex-lover's reunion after over 50 years apart. Understandably, over all that time, there had been many bumps in the road on their journey to finding each other. So let's rewind a little bit...
Back when Dennis Vinar was still an adolescent, he had the whole world ahead of him, and he thought he had everything planned perfectly. And everyone in his life would probably have agreed. At South High School he was a stellar student, taking over the court in sports and basically everything else.
With his sparkling blue eyes and natural charisma, Dennis was a young overachiever bursting with ambition. He lived his life by the three-word motto, "Persistence defeats resistance." But the young man was about to discover that those words were much easier said than done.
But what about his other half? In truth, Karen Lehmann was not a sporty type. She was an intelligent bookworm and quiet yet quick-witted. She and her classmate Dennis seemed to be a world away from each other. Lehmann was always thinking about the future, whereas Vinar flew by the seat of his pants.
But none of it was important, as is often the case with love. And as their worlds collided, that became abundantly clear to themselves and everyone else around them. But how did they meet? And how did Dennis come to fall for the quiet straight-A student?
The First Meeting
There's no date or time that these two teenagers stumbled upon each other. But we do know that it was a rather simple occasion — they crossed paths in the school hallway, and their fate was set. "It was a fascination probably," Karen said while reflecting on the immediate attraction she felt for the young jock. "I was intrigued."
And when Dennis saw her, the feeling was very mutual. He had dated a fair amount of girls in his early life, but the pretty Freshman walking down the hallway made him feel something different. He just wasn't sure exactly what. "She was very special," he recalled.
It’s A Love Story
Very quickly, Denny and Karen were introduced to each other, and that was all it took. They began dating in no time, seemingly going from strangers to sweethearts overnight. By 1959, they were officially a couple and announced it to everyone in their lives.
"With not much to do in this small town, [we] would go to dances in the school cafeteria after home football and basketball games," Karen reflected on those younger years. After school every evening, they walked home together, two whole blocks. Denny even skipped his football practices to be around her.
Some Shocking News
Theirs seemed like the fairytale of the ages — two talented teenagers falling in love in their small town. But by 1960, their relationship took a shocking and unexpected turn — Karen was pregnant! The 14-year-old had never planned on a pregnancy, but the young couple had to face the music.
But how could they? After all, both Karen and Denny were practically still children themselves. Was it possible for them to raise an infant? Karen had spent her young life planning for the future, looking forward to what lay ahead. And not only that, but another problem was hanging over young Karen's head...
Sent To A Home
What would people think of her? Gossip traveled like wildfire in a small town like theirs, and Karen knew it was only a matter of time before everyone discovered the news. At least, that was the opinion of Mr. and Mrs. Lehmann. So when their young daughter told them the truth, they felt they had to do something.
They spent days mulling over their options, weighing things out, and trying to make the best decision for young Karen. Soon the parents knew what they had to do. Thus, they sent their 14-year-old daughter out of town to a Lutheran Social Services home meant to house girls who fell pregnant out of wedlock.
Their Relationship Changes
It was hard enough having to be away from her school, family, and friends — but what about her relationship? After over a year of seeing each other constantly, Karen barely saw her boyfriend as weeks passed. She understood why things had changed, but it didn't stop doubts from creeping into her mind.
Dennis couldn't afford to see Karen every day. She was living further away now, and he had school to attend and sports to focus on. The young athlete found it difficult to make as much time for her. Young Karen was terrified about what would happen when their baby finally entered the world.
Putting Her Up For Adoption
After 9 months of pregnancy, the young mother gave birth on August 13, 1961. Lehmann and Vinar had created a beautiful baby girl, and when Karen looked into her eyes, she was shocked to see the resemblance of her boyfriend staring back at her. So, it only made sense to name the little one "Denise."
Karen felt like a different person. Her heart swelled as she held her child close. Despite that feeling, within an hour after birth, the baby was taken away. "That was the last we saw of her," a wistful Karen explained. Her caseworkers took Denise, who was put up for adoption. But little did she know...
Seven years had passed since Denise's adoption, but Karen's pain had still not healed. Dennis returned to America after a military stint in Germany and had made a decision that was going to ease some of Karen's heartbreak. He wanted to take the next step in their relationship.
Even though their personalities differed so much, it did nothing to stunt the love felt between the young couple. Denny arrived back in his hometown, and quickly set off for the Lehmann residence, determined to see his girlfriend. "He asked me again to marry him," Karen said.
Not Everyone Agrees
It was true that Denny had suggested marriage earlier on in their relationship, but things were much different now. Karen quickly and enthusiastically agreed. "I was all excited about it at first," Karen explained about those first few hours of their engagement. "Until I went home to tell my parents..."
Remember that life was quite different in the 1960s, and many young people had less freedom than they do now. So when the couple rushed to Karen's parents to share the news, they may not have been surprised by the answer. Her parents refused to condone the marriage because Karen still had her education to pursue.
The End of the Relationship
Karen was expected to finish a degree in interior design studies at the University of Minnesota. Marriage was out of the question. Dennis was shattered. "I went through heck to be with her... and I couldn't," he shared. As it turned out, the situation was all too much for Karen as well.
All of a sudden, things were falling apart. Not only could they not get married, but Karen decided to end the relationship completely. The couple's love had splintered into pieces, and both were devastated. But, on the other hand, Karen's parents were more than pleased — for the time being.
Life Goes On
Throughout the years, what happened to almost every breakup occurred with Karen and Dennis. They drifted apart further and further until they were no longer in contact. Soon enough, they had moved on completely. Karen had moved on with a new beau, but what about Dennis?
Well, Dennis had done the same. He had even found a woman who could actually commit to marrying him, and with time he started his own family. But even these new life changes weren't enough to wipe past feelings out completely. Maybe their love story wasn't over just yet...
The Thoughts Never Stopped
All those years ago, Karen had been sure of her decision to let her boyfriend and baby go. She knew it had to be done. But despite her assuredness, the breakup and adoption weren't easy for her. Lehmann told herself that the heartbreak would end eventually, and soon, she was going to forget. But in truth, she never really did.
"Every time I heard the name Denise I'd look around to see if that may have been her," Karen admitted of the decades that followed. And she wasn't the only one hung up on the past. Dennis was also struggling to move on with life without thinking of Karen. But to no avail. "I never stopped thinking about her… she was always there."
A Sudden Wake-Up Call
But despite his forlorn feelings, Dennis knew he had to move on fully. He couldn't keep looking back into the past. "In baseball, it's three strikes, and you're out," he said. But in 2014, a certain dinner party changed everything. And it was a huge wake-up call for him.
The party's host came up with a simple icebreaker at the event to get all of his guests socializing with each other. The question was: "If your physician gave you 60 days to live, who would be one person with whom you would like to talk or have dinner?"
The Search Begins
Later that night, after he had left the party, Denny was still mulling over that question. But he had known what the answer was the second he heard the question. Thus, he knew what he had to do. Once Vinar got home, he headed straight to his computer and began typing.
Sure enough, within minutes, Denny found what he was looking for. He typed two simple words into the search bar and was redirected to a LinkedIn profile. His heart skipped a beat — even decades later, he could recognize that smile anywhere. It was Karen Lehmann.
"There she was—the third person down," Dennis recalled. "And I smacked my hands together and said, 'That's my lady.'" Yes, he had found his long-lost sweetheart. But what was he going to do about it? He hadn't seen her in so long. For all he knew, she wasn't going to be interested.
But he knew he had to try. And that day, as Karen Lehmann got ready for work and headed into her office as she always did, she had no idea what was about to happen. As she neared the office reception, she received a message she could scarcely believe. It was Dennis Vinar.
"How did you find me?" was the first thing a shell-shocked Karen asked when Dennis finally picked up his phone. "Whatever happened to hi, hello, how are you?" Her ex-boyfriend said jokingly. He was just as charming as she remembered, and Karen knew that her life was about to change.
And she was right, of course. Despite the years and miles of distance between them, they still managed to rekindle the closeness they'd once shared long ago. Just like that, they were constantly talking! "A three-month digital courtship" is how Dennis described it. But as that communication came to a close, what happened next?
Getting On A Plane
The truth was that Karen had become a widower in 2014 — Dennis knew his dream girl was single again, and he was left with a choice to make. Talking on the phone every week was no longer enough. And he knew that he couldn't make the same mistake he did all those years ago.
So in January of 2015, Dennis boarded a flight down to Portland, Oregon, to visit his adult son. But, he had other plans in mind for the trip. Sure enough, Vinar took a detour to Monroe, Washington. It was there that he knew his fate would be decided.
At Long Last, Love
Soon his plane was on the tarmac of the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, and Denny realized he was absolutely shot with nerves. He began to think of himself as a young man, back when Karen's parents had shattered his dreams. Had they been right? Was he being too impulsive? There was only one way to find out.
Aa Dennis dawdled by the exit of the airport; a strange car pulled up beside him. With his heart beating fast in his chest, he turned to face the person in the front seat. And there was Karen. "She got out... ran around, jumped on me, and said, 'Babe, you're home,'" he gushed.
Karen could scarcely believe her eyes. He was exactly as she remembered him, even down to his shining blue eyes. "It did feel like nothing changed," she said sentimentally. After so long, they were back together again as if they'd never been apart. "And it was that night that we decided we were gonna get married 24 hours later."
That's right; after just 24 hours in each other's arms, Dennis Vinar and Karen Lehmann were united in holy matrimony on January 22, 2015, inside the Everett Municipal Court. After years of distance, 2 proposals, and a lot of grief, it was finally working out. "Third time's a charm," the new Mrs. Vinar joked.
The Missing Piece
But marriage wasn't the only overdue big step in their relationship. Soon after, both Dennis and Karen officially retired and set off together. But where were they going? You guessed it. Back home to Minnesota, where their story had begun all those years ago. But that wasn't all this happy ending included.
"It took me all those years to find you, and now? It would make my life complete to find our daughter," Dennis told his wife one night. In his eyes, little Denise was the missing piece of the puzzle. Neither of them knew where Denise Vinar could have been, but they did know that they had to find her.
Help From The Adoption Agency
Soon they discovered that there was no one by that name. Because their daughter was now Jean Voxland, a 54-year-old residing in Kenyon, Minnesota. The mother of three had always had questions about her past, but she never received any answers — that is, until now.
Clarity came in the form of a handwritten letterhead that was left in the Voxland family mailbox. Jean's husband took one look and was unsure whether to open it. "The envelope and writing on it looked fishy," he said. But when he took a look inside, everything became clear.
Meeting The Parents
Jean wasn't expecting to hear the news her husband was about to give her. "When I came home from work one day, he told me, I think you'd better sit down,'" she revealed about when her husband told her about the letter. "My parents are together, and they're looking for me?"
At first, she wasn't sure what to think about the strange predicament. She was more than a little shocked. Who could expect that 54 years later, after not knowing her background, her birth parents were going to appear out of nowhere? Who could they be? And why look for her now, after all these years?
Despite her trepidation, Jean knew she needed answers. So she sat down and began to write and write, and write. She wrote 5 pages worth of letters and packaged them alongside several carefully chosen photographs. Then, Jean headed down to the post office to send them to the return address on the first letter.
Almost instantly, she received a reply. Her birth parents were ecstatic to be in contact, and all three members of the estranged little family began sending mail back and forth with some regularity. But for Jean, it wasn't enough. She wanted to meet them face to face. And soon enough, her wish came true.
Bringing A Family Together
One fateful morning in May 2015, Jean Voxland found herself on the doorstep of her parent's home, 50 years after they gave her up for adoption. "I got warm all over, my heart started to pound, and the tears just filled my eyes," She recalled. And suddenly, the door swung open, and she understood everything.
Her lifelong questions had been answered. "The questions you have when you're raised… who you are and your identity…I was like, 'Oh my God,'" she recalled. Everything was laid out before her. But there was one answer that she had never expected to get.
The Spitting Image
Jean's emotions were all over the place, and understandably so. After 54 years without her birth parents, it made sense. But there was something else that overwhelmed her with feeling — looking at her father. "I never ever looked like anybody — ever," she said.
But now, she did. Jean was the spitting image of Dennis Vinar. Looking into his twinkling blue eyes was like looking into her own. "I kind of felt like I belonged," she gushed. "I don't think there are many feelings that would compare to not ever having seen your parents… and then they just walk in the door."
Getting To Know Each Other
Jean, Karen, and Dennis had indeed all missed out on spending a lot of time together. There were decades of family memories and experiences they were never going to have. But they all knew that they wanted to make the most of the time and the fresh start they had been given.
And they were doing everything they could to make up for things. Whether it was for birthdays, holidays, and anything else in between, the two parents and their long-lost daughter were together. "As a result, the family has increased," Karen gushed."We now have five children, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren."
Making The Most
The story of Dennis and Karen's love is hard to believe for many, even for the couple themselves. "It's hard to explain the feeling, it really is," Dennis admitted. But it's hard to deny that 50 years apart is a heartbreakingly long time. So what were they going to do next?
After all, both Dennis and Karen were in their late 60s and early 70s when they reunited, so it's hard to say where they'll go from here. But one thing is for certain — they're in it for life. "The love we have for each other is second to none," Dennis said. "We still dance in the kitchen; we always will."
Love Conquers All
If ever feeling cynical about emotions, look at the love between Dennis and Karen Vinar. Despite being torn from each other all those years ago, their feelings never changed or faded. "After all these years, I've always had a place in my heart for Karen," Dennis shared.
And after 50 years, one estranged child, and three separate marriage proposals, they still managed to find their way back to each other. There's a powerful lesson to be learned from Vinar's story — even if the world seems to be against you, love will conquer all.