WEDDING-Then and Now: How'd they meet? How'd they marry?

Anyone contemplating a marriage might be discouraged by divorce statistics that suggest vows offer no guarantee of a blissful lifelong union. But despite those demoralizing figures, there is hope! In fact, if you listen to these local couples who've made a long-term go of it, the hard work to make a marriage last pays off.




January 14, 1978

Ahhh, the '70s. For Beryl Solla and James Yates, the free love's still lingering after 30-some years.

But it wasn't love at first sight for the two, who met as art school students at Florida International University in the early '70s when Beryl was a junior and James a senior with "great long hair, very cute but very serious." The pair started out as pals– though both agree James was hoping for more from the beginning– going to art galleries together and attending meetings of a group dedicated to "supporting a more regional approach to art." Those meetings weren't always well attended. In fact, laughs Beryl, "Many times we were the only two there." But that, she adds, wasn't a bad thing.

"That's where we hooked up, as the kids say today," says Beryl, who adds that James was not her usual type. "We started out as friends," she says, "and ended up in love."

But a happy ending wasn't a foregone conclusion, as James soon became disenchanted with art.

"He felt that art was over, that there was no reason to make art anymore," says Beryl, adding that another time when their future might have derailed was when she was accepted to grad school out of state and gave him an ultimatum– take the relationship to the next level or say farewell.

"I wasn't a big fan of marriage," he says, citing fears of repeating his own parents' long-term but not necessarily always happy union.

"We had to go to a therapist before he would marry me," she says. "My mother had been married three times, divorced twice. My attitude was you get a divorce, what's the big deal? His parents are still married."

The therapy worked for the couple, and it set James on a new career path– to become a therapist himself. After relocating to Ohio, where James earned his PhD in counseling psychology, the Solla-Yates family moved to Charlottesvllle with their two then-teenage sons. Here, James has a private counseling practice, and Beryl is head of the Piedmont Virginia Community College art department. But though lots has changed for the couple over the past three decades, one thing's stayed the same: their appreciation for couple's counseling, which Beryl calls "crucial."

"Many times I thought we were going to split up," she says, "and the only thing that made the relationship so we still liked each other was a good therapist." 




May 7, 1983

The next time your friends warn you someone's bad news, don't listen! That's the lesson one might take from the first meeting between Mariflo Stephens and Fred Heblich. The two originally met in the early '70s when Mariflo was a reporter for the Daily Progress and Fred, now a federal public defender, was a graphic designer.

In those days, the DP headquarters were downtown, as was an office for stringers for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Mariflo stopped by the T-D office to say hello to a friend and saw an unusual character there. 

"He had aviator glasses, a cap on, a full beard and mustache. You could barely make out there was a face behind all that," recalls Mariflo, who received a warning from her pal as soon as Fred left.

"That guy is a real womanizer, but he's not capable of having a relationship for longer than 24 hours," her friend said. "He'll probably call you, but don't expect anything."

Sure enough, says Mariflo, by the time she got back to her office, the phone was ringing; it was Fred, asking her out. They had one date, she says, then "I didn't hear from him again for a couple of years," although the two frequently saw each other around town, and Fred even once brought a new girlfriend by Mariflo's house to buy her piano– which wasn't for sale.

"You have a nerve!" Mariflo recalls thinking.

Two years later, Fred called and asked Mariflo to go to a party for the opening of the Vinegar Hill Theatre. "I said, 'I'll go if you tell me honestly how many other girls you've asked before me who turned you down,'" she recalls. 

His answer?

"He said six," she recalls. "I thought, 'This guy is really kind of a loser.'" But she went nonetheless.

"It's just that thing you do when you're in your 20s," she says, "date bad guys."

Not exactly an auspicious start, perhaps, but Mariflo says things changed.

After she moved away– first to Petersburg, then to New Jersey to work at the Bergen Record– Fred made a few life changes, primarily attending law school and actually being published– he edited Holsinger's Charlottesville, a coffee table book of local photos by famed turn-of-the-century photographer Rufus Holsinger.

When Mariflo returned to visit Charlottesville, she was pleasantly surprised by the new Fred.

"He'd shaved off all that facial hair, so instead of looking very hippyish, you could see his face. His face is kind of sweet," she says. "I'd never seen that side of him before."

Mariflo says the allure grew strong– so strong, in fact, that she never went back to New Jersey.

"I'm still on that visit," she laughs, recalling life after she moved into Fred's house– a remote rustic cabin he'd dubbed Toad Studios. The two married there in 1983, and Mariflo still laughs about her first impression of her husband.

"The man who couldn't date someone for longer than 24 hours," she says, "I've now been married to for nearly 25 years."




The restaurant business has served Toan Nguyen and Betsy Patrick well. Now the owners of C'ville Coffee, the kid-friendly shop in the Allied Business Park, the two met when both worked at another restaurant and bar in Northern Virginia back in 1981. It wasn't just any bar, though. It was a country western bar, Toan laughs, and the owner hired the diminutive 19-year-old Vietnamese man partly because he seemed so humorously out of place among the cowboy boots and swaggers. 

"He asked me if I even knew what a country western bar was," says Toan. "I said 'Sure!' even though I had no idea."

For Toan– who'd chosen a career in photography over college immediately following high school and had worked as a staff photographer for the Texas Rangers professional baseball team– waiting tables was a new challenge. But it came with some perks, one in particular. Betsy, he recalls, started her job several months after he did, and Toan says he was immediately smitten.

"I thought she was beautiful," he says. Betsy, however, wasn't quite as interested in Toan, who is nine years her junior.

They started out as friends, but it wasn't long before they'd started dating.

Convincing their more traditional families to accept a romance that spanned cultures– and the age difference– was a different story. Betsy's family initially disowned her, though her parents eventually accepted Toan. Toan's family, who were convinced Betsy was after him only so he would pay for her graduate education (she was planning to attend law school) also expressed their misgivings and expressed hope he'd find a Vietnamese wife. 

Nearly 27 years later, however, they've proven the nay-sayers wrong as the marriage is still going strong. Of note, says Toan, is the fact that his two siblings who married traditional Vietnamese wives have since divorced.

"I guess we showed them," he says.




April 14, 1979

Many childhood crushes are forever unrequited, living on only in the memories of a racing heart, flushed cheeks, and, of course, painfully awkward moments. That might have been the case for Linda Harding, who was a Fluvanna County sixth grader when she first caught sight of her future husband, a high school senior who, incidentally, was also the football team's quarterback– and was dating the head cheerleader.

"In middle school, I'd look out the school bus window and see him and his girlfriend," recalls Linda. "It was a big-time crush."

Needless to say, the crush was not reciprocated– at least not immediately.

"She  was a little girl on the grade-school bus," laughs Chip, the newly elected Albemarle County sheriff who dated the cheerleader into his sophomore year in college.

Five years later, when he was a probation officer, Chip was invited back to Fluvanna High to speak to the student body. Linda, who by that time was dating the current football star, hadn't forgotten her old crush.

"I tried to figure out which lunch period he'd be eating," Linda recalls, "so I could see him."

Still, it was another two years before the stars aligned.

When Linda was 20 and Chip was 26, a friend set them up on a blind date. They met, for the first time as equals, at the Odyssey, a night spot on Pantops in the current Aunt Sarah's location. This time, the chemistry went both ways, and they dated for the next year and a half. But it wasn't a smooth road from there to the altar.

"We dated a year and a half, and suddenly he started dating other people," says Linda, adding, "I found out in hindsight that he was testing the water to see if his feelings for me were for real."

"I wanted to make sure I was right," adds Chip. He'd told Linda he'd never tell any woman he loved her unless he was planning to marry her, and so when he said the magic words, on a visit back to Fluvanna High, it might as well have been a proposal. 

They married April 14, 1979, coincidentally two years to the day after their first date at the Odyssey. They've lived in Ashcroft, a subdivision less than a mile from that spot, since soon after they wed.

Twenty-nine years later, the couple has survived not just the stress of Chip's decades in law enforcement– much of the early years spent working nights while Linda stayed home with their two children– but the recent stress of the political campaign, which Linda says actually brought the couple closer.

Their advice for others hoping for a long-lasting union: "I think it's good to think through it before you get married, look at compatibilities," says Chip. "We're compatible. She reads the Bible; I teach Sunday School. Our value system is very compatible. That translates even to wanting possessions. We never push to have the new car, and we looked at buying a house as an investment."

"We're best friends," says Linda.





July 17, 1993

In the summer of 1992, Holly Edwards was new to town, having moved to Charlottesville to help found a new chapter of the Black Nurses Association. One of the nurses invited Edwards to hear her choir perform at a celebration at Tonsler Park, where a murder had recently taken place.

"The church was there to have some kind of revival in the community," Edwards recalls, "something positive in the park."

Edwards says rain at her own house led her to believe the celebration had been canceled, and she almost didn't go. But when she realized the weather hadn't hit Tonsler, she headed over and arrived near the end of the festivities.

Her friend introduced her to Kendrick Edwards, who at the time was the youth minister of her church. 

"My impression was that he was cute, but he did need a haircut," says Edwards. But there was something else.

"I had the feeling that this was the one," she says, "but I was also thinking I couldn't imagine being a preacher's wife."

Kendrick says it didn't take him long to realize Holly was the one he'd been praying for for years.

"I knew it had to be somebody who cared for people, who was actively involved in the community, in order for us to function as one," he says. When he learned of her civic-minded pursuits, "I just knew that that would be a good fit for me," he says. "I was excited by the possibility of maybe finding the right one." 

He proposed several months after they met, and a year to the day after their first meeting, they married in Holly's backyard.

Fifteen years and two– that's two– sets of twins (girls ages 2 and 12) later, the two are still happily together and, as always, looking for ways to contribute. Holly was elected to the Charlottesville City Council in November, and Kendrick is the pastor at the Union Grove Baptist Church in Keswick. 

Holly says Kendrick supports her successful campaign and new– and demanding– pursuit.

"I like seeing my wife excel at everything," he says, joking, "It just makes me look good." But seriously, he adds, "It makes the community look good."

Making a marriage work, even for a pastor who offers marriage counseling to his congregation, takes effort.

 "A lot of people will leave relationships thinking it gets better somewhere else," says Kendrick. "I always tell them– and they don't like it– that it doesn't get better."

 Other important tips: "Respecting each other's space, time, and gifts," says Kendrick. "Not allowing either party to be a dictator, and realizing that teamwork makes the dream work."