Written for and published by Kitchener Today
Their story reads like the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel.
Local couple, Art and Yvonne Russell, have celebrated over 65 Valentine’s Days together. An illness threatens to steal those memories. Yvonne has been diagnosed with dementia.
Each day he finds ways to remind her of the love story they created, one that dates back to 1950.
Art Russell and Yvonne Scharlach would meet while working at the Forsyth Shirt Company, in Kitchener. He was just 17, and she was 15.
The first time Art would arrive to pick her up for a date, at her home, her father would call him a “good looking punk.” He would also attempt to tousle his hair – but nobody ever got to touch his red mane – immaculately styled in an Elvis Presley wave.
Art and Yvonne’s courtship would involve trips to the movies. Art dressed the part, always in his suit. Eager to impress Yvonne, he made sure to bring a bag of black cherries because they were her favourite.
He would sell his first car to buy her an engagement ring. Yvonne, a devoted and practicing Catholic, dreamt of a traditional wedding. Art enrolled in classes to become Roman Catholic.
From the beginning, she was the love of his life.
They married in 1954 at Saint John’s Catholic church, in Kitchener. Soon afterwards they would start a family, welcoming three daughters and a son.
On a typical morning, Art would head to his marketing job at BF Goodrich – the children remember their mother placing her hand in his breast pocket, to break the starch. They grew up knowing the success of their parents’ marriage was built on the idea that their relationship always came first.
“Our mom loves ice cream and our dad always made sure that when she finished first, he offered her the rest of his. No matter what came their way they walked through their triumphs, joys and sorrows together,” says Gail, one of their four children.
Art became known as the family comedian, while Yvonne enjoyed adding an extra bit of “colour” to his jokes. She embraced having the last word which he always willingly gave her.
She would spend her career employed as a teacher’s assistance, for the Catholic School board, working with high needs children. In her 50s she found her calling on the runway and became a model, with Gemini Models. Art remained her biggest fan. Together they would become ministers of the church, travelling to hospitals to administer communion to the sick. Their children say, “their constant love and respect for each other has taught them to not be afraid to say ‘I am sorry’ and to say ‘I love you’ often.”
Due to Yvonne’s dementia diagnosis, and implications of aging, they said goodbye to the house they have called home since 1956. As her short-term memory fades, their love story changes with it.
“Dad plays cards with her. They still engage in an active social life. Dad takes care of the meals and makes sure that her drugs are administered daily,” says their daughter, Susan.
For Art, this Valentines will still include black cherries, a crisp white shirt, and the most beautiful woman in the world on his arm.
The perfect Valentines gift doesn’t live in a package, it can’t be purchased or put on credit. It lives in the narratives we leave behind; in the authentically beautiful stories we create.
Of all the memories they’ve created they are most proud of the laughter they have shared.