Love is in the air

Three local couples share their stories of enduring love, destiny and new beginnings


Always by my side

Cleo and Bill Vandruff will celebrate their 48th anniversary in April. Their secret to a long, happy marriage is a practical one. “We just don’t argue,” explained Cleo as she squeezed Bill’s hand. Smiles and glances exchanged between the couple tell the “rest of the story” - the Vandruffs share a mutual respect and lifelong love that no words can articulate.

Cleo was a frequent customer at Bill’s service station in Wichita in 1964. “She bought gas for her car one dollar at a time, so I saw a lot of her,” said Bill. The two began dating and married the following year. Instilled with a strong work ethic, Cleo and Bill both worked full time while raising their three children. Both served in the Navy before marrying. Cleo worked in civil service and retail. Bill’s lengthy career in the automotive industry led him to a position at Chance Industries.

His job was to deliver trolleys to customers across the country which provided an opportunity for the couple to share their passion for traveling. Bill has visited all 50 states and Cleo has stepped foot in all states but a few. Their greatest adventure was a 27 day trip to Alaska by charter bus. One must truly enjoy their companion to travel for nearly a month in such close confines.

Now retired, the Vandruffs are 6-year residents of Clearwater Village. Bill suffered a stroke which affected his mobility, but the two still enjoy a social lifestyle. Cleo is grateful to live in a community where Bill has access to the medical expertise he requires in a private, homey atmosphere. She still drives and is capable of maintaining her own home but could not imagine living apart from Bill. Organized activities, games and crafts keep the Vandruffs busy throughout the day. They have many friends and welcome visits from their children and grandchildren when they are in town. While the pace has certainly slowed for the adventurous couple, they share a lifetime of memories. ”We have a good life,” reflects Cleo.

Destined for love and adventure

Larry White’s and Maryann Shilling’s love story began before they even met. Their paths crossed on several occasions — at the wedding of a mutual friend in 1998 and they spent years working across the street from each other downtown, Larry in the Federal Courthouse and Maryann in the County Courthouse building. Not until January of 2009, when Maryann began volunteering at the Orpheum Theater, did the two become acquainted.

Discovering their common passion for live theater, animal advocacy, travel and politics, the couple’s friendship soon led to love. Larry and Maryann also share a sense of adventure. Their travels have taken them to Serbia, Estonia and Russia, as well as, frequent trips to Los Angeles to visit Maryann’s daughter and her family. Larry explained that their common interests and disposition make them extremely compatible. One significant difference is their political views, but the two enjoy lively discussions that never get personal. “We have to be able to talk about politics,” said Maryann, “plus, he’s not one- hundred-percent conservative.” Larry chimed in, “And she’s not too liberal, either. There are issues we agree upon.”

After many years living as a bachelor, Larry decided that Maryann was his ideal mate and planned a surprise proposal. The two were volunteering at the Orpheum’s sold-out B.B. King concert last year on Valentine’s Day. Enlisting the help of Orpheum staff before the show, Larry took the stage - microphone in hand and requested that Maryann Shilling join him on stage. Maryann. After a few more attempts...still, no Maryann. A staff member located her tending bar where she could not leave her post. Maryann eventually joined Larry on stage and realized he was shaking when he took her hand. As Larry dropped to one knee, in front of a capacity crowd, he declared his love for Maryann and asked her to become his wife. The audience erupted in cheers and applause. Maryann cannot recall her reaction, but those who witnessed the proposal said she screamed “YES.”

As love and destiny have it, the couple finally met at the Orpheum Theater, became engaged there and will exchange vows in March under the Orpheum’s twilight sky. Maryann’s grand-son Conner will give her away and grand-daughter Maisie will be the flower girl. “It is only fitting that we get married at the Orpheum,” said Larry. “I would have never found the love of my life, had we not met there.”

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