Four people, two love stories, one group

For two local couples, ‘Journey to Happiness’ turns into a ‘Journey to Romance’

By DIANA REGIER

News Review Correspondent

Life is often seen as a journey — two people walking off into the sunset, hand in hand, fading away. The movie version seems sweet, but the fade away in reality may not. Helen Keller said, “Life is either a great adventure or nothing. The reality is that no matter what age, there is life to live, not just exist or fade away.”

This need for fellowship and activity among residents in their golden years was observed by Dr. Megan Stone. So she founded Journey to Happiness — a Ridgecrest Regional Hospital-sponsored program that offers seniors a way to get out, come together, and keep living active and productive lives.

“This group is to develop and support happiness and positive energy in your life, no matter what stage of life you are at,” Facilitator Darrell Price states on the group’s website.

Meet four people who stepped out the door, began attending Journey to Happiness, and found themselves on new adventures.

Leo learned about the group from a newspaper article he had read after he lost his second wife. Judy was invited by a neighbor to attend after her husband had passed away. Mike’s neighbor, RRH CEO Jim Suver, suggested he might like to attend the group. Jann learned about it at a health fair in 2014.

Each attended for personal reasons — companionship, activity, support, or to relieve the boredom of being alone. None of them knew each other prior to attending. The choice to step out of their doors led each to new life experiences — and to love.

Leo, a retired Navy Chief, (Chief Parachute Rigger), lost his second wife in 2012. Judy and her family moved to Ridgecrest from New Jersey in 1998 — she lost her husband in 2013. Neither had any intention of marrying again. At different times, they began attending Journey to Happiness meetings.

Leo met Judy’s sister first. Then, one week when her sister didn’t attend and there was a large group attending, Judy sat in the only vacant seat.

Leo was sure she asked to sit there so she could sit by him! Judy says it was the only available seat. The next week Leo asked for Judy’s phone number. This was later followed by dinner at Farris’ intended only to be a get to know one another — however, the waiter suggested a nice romantic table for two in a quiet corner.

Judy and Leo continued to go out — not always easy after just losing a spouse. Then Judy felt it was getting too serious with too much expected and she asked Leo to slow down. However, on Memorial Day weekend in 2015, Judy was alone with nothing to do. Her friend encouraged her to visit Leo. So, Judy called Leo — remember she had asked him to back off — and she asked him if he wanted to do something. What began as a nice drive to Olancha ended in Bishop.

Leo said, “I wanted to be her knight in shining armor.” One day she told him he was.

Leo and Judy Grossbier were married on July 21, 2015.

“I didn’t go to Journey to Happiness to meet someone. I just went to get out,” said Judy. Going to the “happy group” as Judy calls it did get them out. Leo and Judy even found other social outlets and discovered that some of their mutual interests were similar.

Leo didn’t measure up to Judy’s preconceived criteria for a spouse — 6 feet tall, blue eyes. But she found that didn’t matter. They enjoyed each other’s companionship and were always able to talk about anything to each other. Both Leo and Judy stated the most important thing they discovered was that they each brought purpose to one another’s life.

Alexander Graham Bell is noted for the quote, “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one that has opened for us.” Leo and Judy made a choice to step through the open door, as did the next couple.

Mike retired as a Chief from the Navy in 1971, after 22 years of service. After becoming a regular attendee of the group, he agreed to share a short biography with the group.

During that time, he had been in the process of looking into some VA retirement home possibilities and he was a bit disappointed with his findings. This frustration came out as he briefly shared with the group his story. He said what he was looking for was information on caregiver options for the elderly — for himself.

After the meeting, Mike was stopped in the parking lot by another attendee as they were walking to their cars. She said, “I can be a caregiver.”

Jann had just spent four years caring for both her daughter and her mother, whom she subsequently lost to cancer. In 2013, Jann was diagnosed with cancer. She came to Ridgecrest to live with her sister, as she was unable to completely care for herself.

The following week, Mike met Jann at her apartment. “This was a way to get to know a little bit more about her and I wanted to see where she lived!” He added that it was also another opportunity to get out. Mike later invited Jann on a drive to Kernville, lunch at Cheryl’s Diner, as well as a walk around town and along the riverfront.

Jann said she was at first resistant to a relationship. Then one day Darrell Price took her aside and spoke to her. He said, “Jann, Mike’s a good old boy, you better grab on to him.”

A few weeks later, Mike asked Jann, “How would you like to change your last name?”

Jann answered, “Well, I come with extra baggage.” She was speaking of her pet Cockatoo, Peta, who is not afraid to speak her mind and contribute to a relationship.

Mike and Jann Gonzales were married Sept. 8, 2015, in Las Vegas. What began as an idea to get out of town for the weekend, turned into a wedding followed by a short honeymoon at Virgin River in Mesquite, Nev.

They were still keeping separate residences and then Mike said, “Lady you are moving into this house.” Mike shared one thing that dazzled him, shortly after moving in together — Jann barred him from the kitchen. Thirteen pounds later, Mike smiles and states, “Her cooking abilities show!”

In November 2015 they attended Mike’s family reunion with 56 family members including his nine remaining siblings who came together in Solana Beach where he grew up. Mike is the oldest in his family.

Jann was born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. For the last 20 years she had been on her own — she had worked and supported herself and never had time to get out and meet or date. She had only been in Ridgecrest a year when she met Mike. “I just offered to be a caregiver. I had no other thoughts. I was looking for a friend and found much more,” she said.

Both Mike and Jann were in a place of grieving and loss. Mike said they were both at the bottom of the barrel where their dignity was concerned. So, when asked how their relationship happened, Mike says, “It all came from upstairs; Jann is a gift from heaven.”

Mike’s thoughts on Journey to Happiness are that it is not group therapy or applied psychiatry — it is a social group where you can just be yourself. “People don’t know how lucky Ridgecrest is to have Dr. Stone and Darrell Price, as well as Ridgecrest Regional Hospital,” he said.

Leo and Judy, Mike and Jann made a choice to take a journey to happiness — and found much more along the way. They each expressed in one way or another that it takes great strength to make the decision to move. Staying home is the easy thing to do. Walking out the door is the most difficult step.

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Albert Einstein

Journey to Happiness meets Wednesdays from 10-11:30 a.m. at Ridgecrest Regional Hospital in the Mechtenberg Room. For more information see rrh.org/community-services/journey-to-happiness-senior-group.

Story First Published: 2017-03-03