Wednesday, April 17, 2024

They kissed on a school bus. Today, 77 years later, they are reconnected.

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Bill Hassinger gave his high school sweetheart, Joanne Blakkan, a silver bracelet adorned with green gemstones more than seven decades ago.

They broke up after Blakkan left for college, but she kept him in her jewelry box.

“It was just too pretty to get rid of,” said Blakkan, now 92.

It also had sentimental value. She couldn’t bring herself to part with a gift from her first love.

More than 75 years after putting the bracelet away, she wears it again. She and Hassinger, 90, are back together.

Their love story began in 1947, when they were both students at North Muskegon High School in western Michigan. She was a freshman and he was a freshman. They met on the school bus one morning.

“She always saved a place for me,” Hassinger recalled.

They started out as friends, but by the time Blakkan was in his senior year, “we became stable,” she said, noting that she didn’t mind the age difference between them. “I thought he was cute.”

Hassinger was also impressed. He felt lucky to be with an older woman.

“She had a lot more seniority over me and I was learning, so I just followed her lead,” he said, adding that they were once sent to the principal’s office to make out in the school bus. “They said it was inappropriate behavior.”

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They both fell in love for the first time. Hassinger accompanied Blakkan to her prom and gave her the bracelet that year. When she went to Michigan State University the following year, she would visit him on weekends.

However, over time, “we kind of grew apart,” Blakkan said.

After their breakup, Hassinger married another woman he had dated in high school, and Blakkan married a man she started dating while she was in college. They each had three children.

A few months after marrying at age 19, Hassinger was drafted into the U.S. Army and spent nearly two years stationed in Salzburg, Austria. He went on to have a 32-year career with the Michigan State Police. He was married to his wife – who died in 2021 – for 68 years.

During this time, Blakkan worked as an office manager for a surgeon and then as an allergist in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Her husband died of a heart attack in 1989, when he was 57. Blakkan — who lives in Muskegon — had no desire to date her, she said.

“I had the opportunity, but I just wasn’t interested,” she said.

That changed in 2022, when Blakkan was tasked with planning her high school reunion.

“Somehow Bill’s name came up,” said Blakkan, whose daughter, Linda, was helping him find contact information for his former classmates online. They searched for Hassinger and discovered that his wife had died the previous year and that he lived in Manistee, about 80 miles from Muskegon.

I had only met my neighbor a few times. When she died, I took in her dog.

Blakkan decided to take a chance and reach out to her longtime love – who she hadn’t seen since their breakup.

With her daughter’s encouragement, she wrote him a letter saying it would be nice to reconnect and reminisce.

“I immediately called her and told her that when I got to Muskegon I would stop by and see her,” Hassinger said.

And he did it. Shortly after their phone call, they went to lunch at a local restaurant, and “it was like old times,” Hassinger said. “We got straight to the point.”

Within hours, their teenage crushes returned.

“I really liked him in high school,” said Blakkan, who started wearing the green bracelet again. “The feelings came back very quickly. »

From there, they went on weekly dates, and soon after, they began spending extended periods of time at each other’s homes. They read, play cards, solve puzzles and crosswords. They also regularly take walks together.

“I’m an avid walker,” Blakkan said, explaining that she walks at least a mile every other day, and Bill — who is not as much of an avid walker — joins her. They are both in good health.

“I enjoy it, as long as I’m with her,” Hassinger said. “We mix very well. I love everything about her. It just seems natural to me.

“I think our feelings are stronger today than they were then,” Blakkan said.

Their families are delighted with their relationship, the couple said. Hassinger has five grandchildren and one great-grandchild, and Blakkan has four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

“Both sides of the family are thrilled, which makes it very nice,” Hassinger said.

The couple said they don’t yet know if they will get married or move in together. For now, they are content with the way things are going.

“The only thing that is certain is that we will be together,” Hassinger said. “I wouldn’t have done it any other way.”

Three times when they went out to eat, strangers paid the bill. The most recent example was a month ago – thanks to a young couple.

“They said ‘we think you guys are such a lovely couple and we want to be like you,'” Blakkan said.

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After their reunion was shared by Good Morning America in December and later featured in a local news article, Blakkan and Hassinger said strangers often stopped them to say hello and congratulate them on their late-late romance.

“People come up to us and say, ‘I saw you on TV,’” Blakkan said. “It was funny.”

She and Hassinger hope their story leaves people with an important message.

“If the love is there, go for it,” Blakkan said.

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