DeKALB – On Nov. 9, 2018, Karen Remen noticed her car in the parking lot of Barb City Manor had been cleared of snow and wondered who was responsible for that random act of kindness.
A year later, she snuggles up close to the culprit, Richard Finnestad, her new husband as of Oct. 22 and said, “We don’t do things normal here.” They hold hands and offer to kiss for a photo, laughing their way through the hour-long interview in their third-floor apartment at Barb City Manor. As far as they know, it’s the first time someone has met, fallen in love and gotten married at the manor.
“It’s just been natural with us,” said Karen, 71. “It’s like turning the page in a book; you’re just reading pages, and you go to the next chapter, and this is the next chapter.”
Richard, 76, who lets Karen do most of the talking, said he was trying to make an impression on her.
“We were predestined,” he said. “Before time began, God predestined us to be together. I felt like that just right from the beginning. Still feel that way.”
They had a quick courtship. Richard would head down from his second-floor apartment to Karen’s ground-floor apartment every day, knock on her door, wish her a good morning and walk her to breakfast.
Throughout the day, they’d go for long drives around town, up to St. Charles or Geneva for shopping or a meal, or enjoy a quiet night in watching TV and talking.
Richard asked Karen to marry him on his birthday, June 22. Karen said she had to think about it.
“She just kept me in suspense,” Richard said. “I’d say prayers. I told God, ‘If you don’t give me her, I’ll never talk to you again.’ What a foolish thing to say.”
Karen said his prayers worked, because her revelation hit her “like a ton of bricks.”
“I realized how special he was to me and what a really nice, wonderful person he is, his heart and his soul,” she said. “I told him that he is the most interesting and special person I’ve ever met in my life. He really is, and that’s why I said yes.”
After seven decades of unmarried life – and a brief engagement in her younger years that she broke off – Karen said their only regret is that they didn’t meet sooner.
“We’ve said this to each other, we wish we would’ve met a long time ago,” Karen said.
Life hasn’t been easy for them, and in some ways they’ve shared a lot of experiences.
Richard grew up on a grain farm in Shabbona and later worked as a janitor for Northern Illinois University. He cared for his ailing and then dying parents, and a brother (he’s one of six) who died of cancer.
Karen grew up in St. Charles and also dutifully watched over an aging grandmother, who lived in Barb City Manor, and then moved to the manor with her dying father a year and a half ago. Richard moved to the manor a year ago.
Not one to let her ambition sit idly by, Karen worked as a reporter for Suburban Life and as executive director of the St. Charles and DeKalb chambers of commerce in the 1980s. She then served as executive director of the DeKalb County chapter of the American Red Cross before moving into the manor to care for her father.
“I had a very busy life between my career and family; family was always the No. 1 priority,” Karen said. “I loved my life, I never felt lonely or like anything was wrong. I was engaged once and just decided that the special connection I feel with Rich wasn’t there.”
Now they’ve been newlyweds for two weeks, after their Oct. 22 wedding in the first-floor chapel of Barb City Manor. About 45 residents attended. The two wore shorts and exchanged vows. A retired pastor sang “Amazing Grace.”
Richard couldn’t look at Karen during the whole ceremony he said, because he knew he’d burst into tears. They celebrated with a meal at the Ellwood Steak and Fish House after.
Karen said marriage with Richard was well worth the wait, and her husband feels the same way.
“It sure was worth it,” Richard said. “It sure was.”