When she looks at him, her eyes dance. He squeezes her shoulders, and a giant grin beams from his face. It’s the newlywed glow.
“It’s just great to feel happy again,” says Ken Hamister, as he sits close to his new bride, Donna “Bunny” Frederikson.
In many ways, the happy pair seem like any other newly married couple. But as they walk hand-in-hand, their gait may be a bit slower.
Ken and Bunny will both turn 86 this year. After surviving the deaths of their longtime spouses, neither expected to feel the heart-fluttering of young love again.
Bunny has spent the last decade alone after the death of her husband of 51 years, Gale. Ken’s wife of 42 years, Pat, died last year, having suffered with Alzheimer’s disease for the last seven years of her life.
“When your wife has Alzheimer’s for so long, it’s worse than being alone,” Ken said.
At a time of life when funerals are more prevalent than weddings, Ken and Bunny feel blessed to have found love again. While many things slow down with age, their romance took the fast track. Their first date was April 18, and they were married May 14.
When Ken surprised Bunny with a marriage proposal on their second date, she initially told him they needed to slow down. But as her granddaughter reminded her, “Nana, neither of you have time to slow down!”
Although they didn’t know each other well, Ken and Bunny had several mutual friends and connections. They grew up in the same suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, attending the same middle school, high school and, briefly, the same college.
“We knew each other, but we weren’t in the same circle of friends,” Bunny said. “He was on the football team; I was in the band.”
After Ken graduated from the U.S. Navy program at Ohio Wesleyan, the two had no contact outside of reunions for the Lakewood High School Class of 1943. The last time they had seen one another was briefly dancing together as committee members of their 50th class reunion in 1993.
Although both wound up living in Naples, their paths still did not cross until Bunny came across an obituary for Ken’s wife. She wrote a sympathy note to Ken, which reached him at his Michigan residence, where his wife had been receiving care before her death.
After Ken returned to Naples, he invited Bunny to dinner at the Bear’s Paw Country Club. Bunny reports having “butterflies in my tummy,” just like a teenager going out on a first date. The two talked for almost three hours straight, taking a moonlit drive through the community on Ken’s golf cart.
“It was like we knew each other instantly,” recalled Ken, a retired lawyer and real estate investor. “It’s just nice to have somebody to talk to again about things you know and places you’ve been.”
Bunny had been feeling increasingly alone as, one by one, her bridge partners passed on. “Being married at our age gives you the security of someone to love and someone to love you,” she said.
Ken proposed on their second date as the two checked out homes and amenities at Moorings Park retirement community, where they plan to live out their life together.
A small wedding ceremony took place May 14 in Bower Chapel at Moorings Park, with Ken’s son, Mark, and Bunny’s daughter, Sandra, standing up with their happy parents. Sandra never expected to be her mother’s bridesmaid, but she is glad her mom has found companionship again.
She’s also inspired it’s not too late for her. “I’m never going to miss a class reunion again,” she joked.
Finding the perfect outfit for a quick wedding was easy for Bunny: “I wore the outfit I planned to wear to my granddaughter’s wedding.” She’ll wear the satiny lavender pantsuit again for that occasion June 18.
Ken’s grandchildren joined forces to order beautiful orchid bouquets for the occasion. “The nice thing is all our kids are really happy about it,” he noted. Together, the couple has six children, 10 grandchildren and six great-grandkids.
While marrying so late in life means adapting to change after years of being set in their ways, Ken and Bunny say marriage is easier with experience on your side.
“You have a lot more wisdom, and you understand what things are important,” Ken said. “You don’t sweat the small stuff.”
Although marriage was not even a thought at the beginning of 2011, the nontraditional newlyweds are thankful life still brings some surprises. “It’s God looking down and thanking me for all the people I’ve taken care of over the years,” Bunny said.
“It’s like being born again,” Ken chimes in. “I tell you, I’m just happy!”