Love connections

For many couples, that first meeting can be so magical, so special.

Or it can be something else.

“I didn’t like her,” said Frank Penze, who met his future wife when he was about 15 years old. Jackie Penze was 11 or 12 at the time.

She asked him a question as the two ice skated and, “I just kind of shoved her,” Frank said.

“I went flying and landed on the ice,” Jackie remembered.

After that, she didn’t really like him either. Somewhere along the way though, things changed. (It had a lot to do with the “fancy car” Frank drove a couple years later. His looks weren’t bad either, Jackie remembered.)

The Crystal Lake couple now has two children, four grandchildren, two step-grandchildren, and a 51-year marriage.

They’re one of five area couples who bravely agreed in the spirit of the upcoming Valentine’s Day to share their love stories.

We asked them each separately five questions about their relationships. (Thankfully, no shoving took place during the interview process.)

How different are the relationships? Read on.

Frank and Jackie Penze

This couple has danced their way through marriage.

For more than 22 years, Frank and Jackie Penze have taught

ballroom dance throughout the area.

Every step of the way, they’ve done it together – occasionally not overly thrilled about it, but always together.

“You can’t stay mad at one another if you have to hold one another,” Jackie said. “That’s what’s nice about ballroom dancing – you have to cooperate together in order to make it work.”

After that initial meeting on the ice in Island Lake, the Penzes began dating in their teens. Jackie had called Frank to fix him up with a friend of hers.

“It was a trap, a setup,” he said. “She wanted to go out with me. That’s how she got me.”

They dated quite awhile before getting married.

“She probably told you she married me to punish me the rest of my life,” Frank joked.

They took dance lessons when their daughter got engaged so they could dance at her wedding.

“It’s a fluke that we started teaching,” Jackie said, but they were good at it and loved it. Still do.What is your favorite thing to do as a couple?

Jackie: Dance. (Of course.)

Frank: Well, since we’ve been in dancing, I suppose that’s about it. Teaching, actually the teaching part of it is my favorite.

What is your most memorable

moment as a couple?

Jackie: There are so many. I can’t say the most memorable. There are so many highlights in our lives, a lot that were bad and a lot that were good. It wasn’t all sugary. We’re human like anyone else. As a couple, when we took vacations together, he and I, my parents would be watching the kids when they were little. We did get to go on vacation in Europe one time, which was memorable. Besides vacations, we did family things together that were fun, took the kids to various places, Disney World and Disneyland. Just the experiences that we all shared as a family.

Frank: Awww jeez, we’ve been married 51 years. There are a lot of memorable ones. You know what, there were so many, probably when we met.

What has been your biggest challenge as a couple?

Jackie: Right now, it’s hard to talk about it. Our daughter is very ill. She lives with us and has Crohn’s Disease.

Frank: When you’re married 51 years, you must be doing something right. I think you have to talk about things. Any big decisions have to be decided together. You don’t do anything without talking about it.

What do you think is the key to a successful relationship? Any tips for others?

Jackie: Probably respect for one another, loyalty, humor and consideration. Leaving the toilet seat down.

Frank: Those three little words: Let’s eat out. I think that works out the best. We joke around a lot. We have so much fun. Even to this day, we laugh so hard when one of us says something. You’ve got to have a lot of fun in your life and it doesn’t have to cost a lot of money.

Was there a moment when you knew he/she was the one for you?

Jackie: I don’t think it was a moment. I think it was more of building a relationship.

Frank: Oh, well we were kind of dating off and on for awhile. When her dance would come up at the school, I would disappear. I had no interest, and then somehow we’d meet again at a party. That’s when we, you know, we knew. It’s funny how that works. We got along so well.

Vickie and Rob Schutze

They grew up on the same Crystal Lake street and first kissed during a game of hide and seek. She was 8 at the time. He was 10.

Later, they dated in high school, but broke up.

“He dumped me because I was too young,” Vickie remembered.

She went to college. He moved out of state, and that was that, until ...

Years later, Vickie was coming off a long-term relationship and “in a not-so-great place.”

“My girlfriends drug me out one Tuesday evening,” she said. “While standing at the bar with my back to the door, one of my friends said, ‘Vickie, whatever you do don’t turn around. Rob Schutze just walked in the door.’

“The old thrill was still there. Goosebumps and giggles all the way.”

That was 15 years ago.

The two now have three kids, ages 13, 12 and 6, and a dog and share a home about 10 miles from where they grew up.

What is your favorite thing
to do as a couple?
Vickie: When we go dancing at a club or out to see a band or stuff like that. Not as much as maybe we used to before the three kids. Every so often, we get out and go somewhere local or we have a good friend in a band so we try to get out and see them when we can.
Rob: I guess just spending time with her is always a great thing. What we do that’s special is I guess all kinds of things really. I just like being with her more than what we’re doing.

What is your most memorable moment as a couple?
Vickie: It’s got to be up there, the birth of our kids, absolutely above all else.
Rob: Our wedding. It was very unique in Vegas. It was definitely a special day with close friends who came out there with us.

What has been your biggest challenge as a couple?
Vickie: I think when you have kids, it’s just making sure that you protect your couple time. That’s probably the biggest thing. (Our three kids) are very active, and we don’t miss any of their things. It’s important for us to get our time, too, and to remember that. We’re a lot better parents when we’re happy and connected as a couple. Really, it’s just finding that date night.
Rob: I guess just trying to get through these hard times lately. I don’t want to say finances. It’s not really hurting financially but the strain this time has put on the family. It’s definitely strenuous times for everybody. ... Both of our jobs are leadership roles. It’s just something that you try not to bring home, but you end up doing anyway. That puts a strain on things.


What do you think the key is to a successful relationship? Any tips for others?
Vickie: It’s about commitment. We love each other and that’s all well and good. Anybody who says they don’t argue and don’t disagree are lying or aren’t as invested in the relationship. It’s the commitment to say we’re going to agree to disagree and move forward. That’s a big part of it. And we have fun together. He makes me laugh constantly. When something good happens in my life, he’s the first person I want to call. When something bad happens, he’s the first person I want to call.
Rob: It’s definitely mutual respect, no doubt about it, respecting each other has got to be one of the biggest keys, respect for their decisions. And making choices together instead of going off and doing your own thing.

Was there a moment when you knew  he/she was the one for you?
Vickie: On our second anniversary we had wedding bands engraved as a gift to each other. I was trying to think of something clever. What came to mind was ‘first and forever.’ My folders in junior high had big bubbly letters with ‘I love Rob Shutze,’ all over them. I remember being 14 years old and being all goo goo for him. I guess I’ve always known. I knew a long time before he knew.
Rob: When we were younger, I didn’t think it was going to go any further. I decided to break up with her. I knew probably a couple years later that what I was thinking at that time was wrong and I realized that she really loved me more than I knew. ... So it was actually when we weren’t together, when I realized I’d made a large mistake, that she was a loving and sweet person. I was waiting for the opportunity to get back with her, if I ever just got lucky enough. I ran into her that night, and everything was lined up and the rest is history. ... I got a second chance.

Elaine and Brian Cowell

They met on a blind date.
“I looked in her eyes, and I felt she was just beautiful,” Brian said.
In a few months, they’ll dance at their oldest daughter’s wedding. And because they’ve been taking ballroom dance lessons together for about a year, they’ll dance well.
On a past Valentine’s Day, Brian serenaded his wife on Star 105.5 with one of at least six songs he’s written for his wife.
The Cowells of Crystal Lake have been married 31 years and have two grown daughters and a new family member – a Bernese Mountain dog named Benji they describe as “a live wire on the end of a leash.”
They also have faith in each other and in God, and that, they say, has kept them together.

What is your favorite thing to do as a couple?
Elaine: After 31 years, it’s hard. We have decided to take this dance class, and we like to go out to eat.
Brian: We do like to dance and go to movies and to go out to eat and to travel.

What is your most memorable moment as a couple?
Elaine: I have a lot of them. For my 50th birthday party, Brian surprised me and took me to Vegas. ... He just said we’re going away. We went to Boston and changed planes and headed west, but I had no clue where we going. He pulled that one off pretty good.
Brian: Getting married and our daughters being born.

What has been your biggest challenge as a couple?
Elaine: I would have to say other than raising [Benji], I guess raising our children, through the ups and downs and challenges parents go through. And teaching them the right way morally and having a good relationship with them and bringing them up in a Christian environment. In this day and age, it’s quite a challenge, and we’re very proud of them.
Brian: I think work schedule and juggling all the pressures of, you know, a very demanding job and trying to make sure we have time as a couple. I just think the standard pressure of raising kids. We were very fortunate and blessed to have two beautiful daughters who have turned out very well.

What do you think is the key to a successful relationship? Any tips for other couples?
Elaine: You have to have a good relationship, a religious-based relationship, honoring God and that is the foundation of it all. ... Things go away. Material things don’t stay around.
Brian: As a couple, I think it’s give and take and being willing to make compromises and deciding you don’t have to win every argument. You choose your battles and just make sure the other person is taken care of before yourself.

What was the moment when you knew he/she was the one for you?
Elaine: I just felt that God led us together, and our relationship grew. We went to church together and did things together. I just felt that God had brought us together.
Brian: I think it was about eight days after I started to date her. We had done a lot of talking and visiting. I felt like she was the one for me. I dated a lot of gals growing up. I knew what I was looking for, and she fit the bill. ... I asked her, ‘What are you looking for in a man?’ It took her by surprise. She asked, ‘Why are you asking that?’ I said, ‘I’ve already made up my mind.’


Rebecca Cowell and Ryan Artner

One of the Cowell’s daughters, Rebecca, will marry her “soul mate,” Ryan Artner, on May 19.

Though it took the Huntley couple awhile to figure out they belonged together.

When they met in English class their first semester at McHenry County College, both were in serious relationships with other people. So they became friends, then best friends.

After a couple of years, they were both single. They started dating.

“It was a wonderful transition,” Rebecca said.

Five years after that, they were engaged.

Ryan took Rebecca where she took him on their first anniversary of dating – the John Hancock building in Chicago.

“Let’s go to the city,” he had told her. “We haven’t been in awhile.”

He surprised her with a lunch reservation and a diamond ring on top of her chocolate mousse dessert. She had no idea the proposal was coming.

“My first thought was, ‘I think they mixed something up,’ ” she said. “Then I realized because he started getting tears in his eyes.”

Ryan got down on one knee. After hugging him “1,000” times, Rebecca finally answered “yes.”

What is your favorite thing to do as a couple?
Rebecca: Things have changed a lot since we bought a house. We have been working on that a lot. I don’t know if that’s our favorite thing, but it seems like that’s what we’re doing all the time.
Ryan: Probably watching movies.

What is your most memorable moment as a couple?
Rebecca: Our proposal.
Ryan: The proposal. That would have to be it hands down.

What has been your biggest challenge as a couple?
Rebecca: I would say that since we’ve known each other for nine or 10 years, we kind of like grew up together, really. And I think our biggest challenge would be that we had to kind of establish ourselves as a couple and ... set apart from our parents and establish our own identity.
Ryan: Dealing with finances and money. I mean that’s a big one for everybody.
What do you think is the key to a successful relationship? Any tips for other couples?
Rebecca: Absolutely, trust and communication. That and respect. I think those three things are of utmost importance.
Ryan: Happiness.

What was the moment when you knew he/she was the one for you?
Rebecca: It was probably early on, but I never would have admitted it to anyone. I had come out of a really bad relationship. I was actually engaged before. Once I started dating Ryan, I just knew. I’d never been so happy in my entire life. I don’t know if there was an exact moment, but ... I just felt like there’s no way I’m ever going to find a guy more perfect or more amazing than this one. I still feel that way.
Ryan: It was just pretty much realizing what I had with her or what at the time I had with her compared to a previous long-term relationship. I was able to look at it and say, ‘Holy cow, this is amazing. I love it.’

Ron and Karen Lukasik

Any man who would carry around a giant Barbie for her daughter was a keeper.

Ron won Karen’s heart when he gave that Barbie to Riley, who was 3 at the time. A single mom then, Karen was living in the same apartment complex as Ron, across the street from the Fox River Grove Police Department where he worked.

“That’s what she wanted more than anything for Christmas,” Karen said of the Barbie. “They were expensive, and I couldn’t afford it. He called me one day when I was working and said, ‘Hey I bought a big Barbie.’

“I was like, ‘Are you kidding?’ He was just so good to me.”

Now the Fox River Grove police chief, Ron married Karen in 2000. His proposal involved telling Karen he’d bought a house in Cary and that she and Riley should move in.

“I’m not moving in unless we’re married,” Karen said.

“Well, I guess we should get married,” Ron responded.

“He’s just not romantic at all, but I know he loves me more than anything, and I know he’ll always be there for me when I need him,” Karen said.

It was a second marriage for both of them. Riley is now 17. The Cary family also includes Ron’s daughter from his first marriage, 16-year-old Taylor, and together, the couple had Jake, now 7.

What is your favorite thing to do as a couple?

Karen: We have season tickets to the Bears. It used to be that, but I got sick of going. I think I’m getting old. ... If it’s not the Bears game, we enjoy doing things like that where we can go for the day and hang out.

Ron: Going to dinner. We are very busy with the kids, work and meetings. It is nice to just be able to sit, eat dinner and talk.

What is your most memorable moment as a couple?

Karen: We have so many memorable moments, but probably the best would be our honeymoon. We had a little bed and breakfast with your own jacuzzi in your room. He had poured a bunch of bubble bath in probably almost the whole bottle. It wasn’t making bubbles. When he turned the jets on it foamed everything. It was the consistency of marshmallow cream. It was everywhere.

Ron: The birth of our son, Jake. We had a stillborn daughter three years earlier, Kacie, and I was happy he was healthy.

What has been your biggest challenge as a couple?

Karen: When we lost the baby. People always say there are certain things that can tear a relationship apart. I can definitely tell you the loss of a child can definitely wear on a relationship. In our case, I could not move on as her mother quite as quickly. It’s not that he moved on. He just dealt with it differently than I did. We weren’t on the same page at all. We talk about it sometimes now. ... I see now he didn’t know what to do.

Ron: The doctor at the time told me because of my career and this tragic event, chances of our marriage succeeding were not good. After he told me that, I shared what he said with Karen while she was still in the hospital. We committed ourselves to make our marriage work. It was a difficult process, but we beat the odds.

What do you think is the key to a successful relationship? Any tips for others?

Karen: I think the key is staying together. I think you have to be together to stay together, not live separate lives. We have our friends and things we do, but we do things together.

Ron: Caring, communication, commitment, loyalty, honesty and understanding. Enjoy each other every day. Don’t ever forget the reasons you chose to get married to the person you are with.

What was the moment when you knew he/she was the one for you?

Karen: When he took care of me and Riley, I didn’t have anybody who was here for me. ... Here’s this single guy walking around with this huge Barbie. He made our Christmas so special that year. I thought, ‘Gosh, he just did that for us. He didn’t have to. I just knew he was it. ‘What are the odds of me moving to Fox River Grove (from Oklahoma) and meeting you?’ He’s my soulmate. He really is.

Ron: There was no defining moment. It was several things: her caring, personality, passion for life, sense of humor, dedication and loving mother, to name a few.

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