Kathy Conley had to say goodbye to her husband of 43 years. The most enduring romance of her life ended abruptly when he passed away in 2011. In her wildest dreams, she couldn’t see anyone else being by her side. She resigned herself to the idea that she would spend the rest of her life alone.
Gene Marten had difficult experiences with love. After two divorces, he certainly wasn’t looking to get married again. He had kids and grandkids and plenty to do. Although he was open to companionship, he genuinely thought he would spend the rest of his life alone.
In the two years after her husband passed, Kathy’s life was so different. She quit her part-time job but knew she wanted to stay busy. She started attending Primetime, Gateway’s 50+ ministry, and volunteering with Gateway Care. She also got connected with WOW (Women of Worth), a widows group that immediately took her in and made her belong. “There were a lot of us in the group. But I became close with about eight of the ladies, and we started doing a lot of activities together,” she says. “I was grieving but comfortable, and there was no way I was looking for another man in my life after being married so long before.”
In February of 2013, Kathy was with her widows group celebrating Valentine’s Day, a difficult holiday for those who have lost loved ones, when a barbershop quartet featuring Gene as the bass vocalist, joined them to sing love songs and hand out flowers and candy. “It was the first time we really saw each other,” Gene says. Kathy adds, “He has a beautiful singing voice! And I had seen him at Primetime before, but we hadn’t had much of a chance to get to know one another.” Then, the next time Gene was singing with one of his singing groups nearby, Kathy and her daughter decided to attend. Afterward, Gene and Kathy started talking. “My family actually came to see me sing, but they ended up waiting around for a long time because I was talking to Kathy!” A couple months later, he asked her out after Primetime.
“I said no initially,” Kathy says. “I had something to do that day, but I told him perhaps another time.” A week later, Gene and Kathy had dinner at a Mexican restaurant and began a casual friendship even before any sparks started to fly. “We called it ‘seeing each other’ because neither of us were looking to find love or get married again,” Kathy says. “We just had a lot in common and enjoyed each other’s company.”
Nevertheless, Gene and Kathy began doing what all newly dating—or in their case “seeing each other”—couples do: having fun. The difference is, when you’re in your 70s and retired, you have a lot more time for fun!
They played tennis. They volunteered at Gateway. They sang together. They rode bikes and went on road trips. “Gene has a boat, and we would go sailing together,” Kathy says. “We would jump off the side of the boat and swim around. I loved being around him.”
As their friendship progressed, Kathy began having reservations. “She was afraid that moving forward with me—a man with two divorces—would somehow diminish her love for her late husband,” Gene says. “I knew and understood that she loved him still, but I never felt insecure or threatened, so we had some open discussions about it.” For Gene, Kathy’s unique experience with love and commitment was one he had never known. Like other divorcees, he had baggage, but she didn’t. And that was part of what drew him to her. “Gene was so good. He told me, ‘You don’t love one of your children more than another. You can love them both,’” Kathy says. “And I thought, That’s true. I can still love my husband in heaven and grow to love Gene as well.” In true gallant fashion, he gave her permission to continue to have love in her heart for the man who was by her side for most of her life.
“Soon after, the Lord gave me a vision of me and Gene hugging,” Kathy says. “And in the vision, I turned around and saw my late husband behind me. He looked at me with a smile and said, ‘It’s alright,’ and ... it just released me.” Kathy was set free to love again. A few days later, on Valentine’s Day in 2014, Gene and Kathy decided the “L word” was in their lives once again: love.
“I knew we were at that moment when I gave her a Valentine’s Day card that said something like, ‘Gee, you’re great and nice to be around.’ But that card had it all wrong,” Gene says. “I bought her another card. And that one had hearts and everything on it!”
The sparks were flying, and by mid-fall, they were engaged.
Then a few days before Christmas, Gene and Kathy were at church when Gene started having some chills. Chills which started a long process of medical visits trying to figure out what was going on. “I went through every test possible. No one could find a diagnosis,” Gene says. “And yet, I had lost 25 pounds, was totally exhausted, and had no appetite.” And though it was similar to Kathy’s experience with her late husband, she stayed by Gene’s side. “We were a few months away from getting married,” Kathy says. “And I said to the Lord, ‘Ok, if this is the rest of my life, that I’m here to take care of Gene, then, I’ll do it.’” She went to every one of his doctor’s appointments with him. She logged what happened and what the outcome was. She helped him get medication and keep track of everything. “I didn’t know her when she was taking care of her husband before he passed, but I know what she did was remarkable,” Gene says. “Because she did it for me too. I was so blessed to have her with me during that time.” Finally, after seeing a lot of specialists, one doctor was able to pinpoint a diagnosis and get Gene’s health back in a manageable place, although several more scares occurred after that. Nevertheless, they both breathed a sigh of relief and continued to plan their wedding.
“Every church venue we looked at for the wedding was booked,” Kathy says. “So we decided on something a little different!” And on June 5, 2015, in the back room of Spring Creek Barbecue amid the sweet smells of smoked brisket, Gene (75) and Kathy (72) said their vows in front of 25 of their closest friends and family. Then they headed off to San Antonio for a road-trip honeymoon.
“It was very different from the first time I got married with the big wedding and the white dress and everything,” Kathy says. “But it was so special in its own way.”
In the three years since Gene and Kathy got married, everything has changed. “Before we got married, we felt like our love grew quickly,” Gene says. “But since then, our love has grown very deeply and substantially.” Their families were thrilled for them both, and just like that, Kathy inherited 10 grandchildren who all call her “Grammie” now. And Gene is thrilled to be experiencing a different kind of marriage. They are busy volunteering at Gateway, spending time with family, and attending events with Gene’s singing groups. They hold hands everywhere they go.
Newlyweds through and through, they also continue to be active, road-tripping all over the United States, sailing, swimming, walking, playing tennis, biking together, and bragging about one another’s talents, humor, and faith. Gene, especially, is often in awe of the sweet woman he married. “Do you know that on the day they were going to take her husband off life support, Kathy went to the hospital with a full set of clothes in her hands, so he could get dressed when he woke up,” Gene says. “That was her level of faith.” Kathy describes how she genuinely believed the doctors would call her from the morgue and tell her that her husband was alive. “It didn’t happen, but I still trust God,” she says. “I don’t understand it all, but who would think that a couple years after my husband was gone, God would bring another wonderful, godly man into my life? And I’m going to hold his hand for as long as we’re both on this earth.”