Nema & Ben

The story of Ben and Nema, the couple, began with a ride to the airport -- a fitting start for two people who love few things more than traveling the world and collecting passport stamps.

Back in the summer of 2012, Ben asked his then-friend and new Folsom neighbor Nema if she could drive him to SMF, where he was taking off for an extended trip. Nema readily agreed -- even though there was the small problem of “Little Hyundai,” her manual car at the time, no longer going into fifth gear. This vehicular deficiency meant she no longer drove it on the highway, a necessary part of the route to get to Sacramento’s airport.

That date was the first of many that led Ben and Nema headed to the airport again—but for trips they took together.

He asked no questions about the car but did ask her to dinner in what he framed as payback for the ride. In reality, he had engineered his own plan to co-opt a thank you meal as a date and made a reservation at one of the nicest restaurants in town.

No good deed goes unpunished.

That date was the first of many that led Ben and Nema headed to the airport again—but for trips they took together.

First was Mexico, a place they have visited many more times since. On this initial trip, the two stayed up so long talking that they watched the sunrise on the beach.   

Next was Germany for Ben’s favorite way to honor his heritage: Oktoberfest, an annual festival that brings millions of people from all over the world under one tent to eat, drink and be merry. Nema commemorated her own culture by donning a dirndl she had made with African fabrics woven into the dress.

Later, Spain and France, when Nema reunited with Ben during his sabbatical in Europe after a while apart. There, they compared the French wines to the ones back home in Napa, and Nema discovered what she calls the correct shade of pink for a rosé. 

Finally, Monaco for Ben’s 30th birthday, a trip Nema claims is the one that best matched his personality, and Japan to celebrate her turning the 3-0.  

They got engaged a few weeks before they left for Tokyo in, of all places, a hotel room in Monterey, California, at the end of a weekend holiday. As they gathered their things together just minutes before needing to check out, Ben proposed. Nema accepted. Then they finished packing up for their next adventure: marriage.

Amanda Westrich
Sharon & Tom

For Tom and Sharon, to say they’ve known each other their entire lives isn’t romanticizing the truth -- it is the truth.

They met as babies before they could even say hello. Their parents played in a regular game of cards with a group of friends and brought the children to the get-togethers.

Real first impressions of each other, though, came in fourth grade, when Tom started attending the same school as Sharon. That year, Tom began chasing Sharon.

She was the only kid in class who could outrun him.

One winter day at recess, Sharon wore a fuzzy white coat, and he chivied her trying to steal the belt that dangled from the back. After racing around for a while, he inevitably succeeded in getting the sash -- but not at getting the girl. At age 10, Sharon wanted nothing to do with him.

“He was smart and tried to say witty things, but I didn't appreciate his sense of humor,” she said.

Tom, undeterred, had time to win her over as he was waiting until he could drive to date.

Once in high school, their extracurriculars and social circles overlapped, with Sharon’s cheerleading squad supporting Tom’s basketball team, leading them to spend more time around each other while practicing drills in the gym and riding the bus to games.

They also continued to take some of the same classes. One fall morning during the homeroom period they shared, Tom, with driver’s license in hand, turned backward in his seat to where Sharon sat at her desk and asked her to a movie. For their first date, they saw “The Three Musketeers” and drank root beer floats at the A&W drive-in.

The two dated for much of their senior year of high school and went together to prom, which, according to Tom, was the night he knew he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Sharon.  

After both spent their freshman year of college studying at the university in their hometown, Tom transferred to pharmacy school in St. Louis, about a 90-minute drive north. They still saw each other regularly as Tom kept a part-time job that brought him back home on the weekends. While they carried on a long-distance relationship, Sharon wrote a letter to Tom mailed each Monday.

Through the decades, they have built on their love, adding layers of memories to the foundation that started forming when they were young.

In 1977, Tom borrowed several hundred dollars from his father to buy a diamond ring, planning to propose to Sharon on Christmas with a presumption they would marry in the summer of 1979 after he graduated from school. That Thanksgiving, Tom brought up the idea of getting married, and Sharon--unaware Tom already purchased the ring--said the one thing she didn’t want was a long engagement.

The ring, stored in a safety deposit box at the local bank, would stay secret for many more months.

Finally, on the day of Sharon’s college commencement ceremony the next May, Tom proposed. He pulled out the ring while they sat in a parked car outside the apartment of his sister, whom they were picking up to take to a graduation party.

“I am sure it was not the proposal she had dreamed about, but to this day she has never really made a big deal of it,” Tom said. “I, however, still regret not having a better plan and presentation for this memorable event. Wait, I guess it is memorable after all.”

The couple married a year later in May 1979. They stayed in St. Louis after Tom finished school, making the city their new home and where they raised their three kids.

Through the decades, they have built on their love, adding layers of memories to the foundation that started forming when they were young.

“I will always be able to count on his presence in my life to help navigate the ups and downs that come with each passing year,” Sharon said. “I never have to question his loyalty to me or to our family.”  

It’s a sentiment Tom shares.

“I know that she will always be there for me and our family,” he said. “She does things for the family that are not necessarily something she enjoys but does them because she knows it makes our lives better. Sacrificing for others is one of the most truest forms of love.”

Plus, Tom added, “She can still make my heart skip a beat.”

Amanda Westrich