High School Sweethearts Reunite After 1 Child, 3 Proposals, and 5 Decades Spent Apart
| LAST UPDATE 12/13/2022
"This is a miracle, this really is," Karen confessed of how she came to reunite with her long-lost love. Sure enough, after receiving a shocking phone call, her life would never be the same. Here's her story…
Together at Last
Karen and Denny had thought they'd finally found "the one" - they were sure of it. Unfortunately, fate had other plans. And after being forced apart, it'd take decades before their paths finally brought them back together.
"The feeling was just absolutely, totally unbelievable," Denny gushed after reuniting 50+ years later. But they didn't get their happy ending without a few twists and turns along the way. From fleeing their home town to being forced apart, hang on while we rehash their unbelievable journey back to one another.
Long before Dennis Vinar's world was turned upside down, he actually had everything figured out. Or at least that's how it seemed. In fact, just about anyone at South High School would have promised that much. When he wasn't busy dominating the courts, the star student was busy dominating, well, just about everywhere else.
But the truth was that behind those big blue eyes and charming smile, Dennis Vinar was a real go-getter who had to work for his success; A guy who lived by 3 simple words: "Persistence defeats resistance." Little did he know, those words would soon be put to the test like never before…
This brings us to the other half of our story. On paper, Karen Lehmann couldn't have been more different than her classmate: Where Dennis was sporty, she was scholarly. Where he was quick and witty, she was quiet. She had her sights set on the future - while Dennis was busy living in the moment. But none of that even mattered.
Sure, the two were like night and day. But as they say, opposites attract. And from the moment the A+ student crossed paths with the adored athlete? Suddenly that would all become clear. So, how exactly did the 13-year-old clarinet player come to cross paths with the 15-year-old charmer?
The Moment They First Met
While we can't say when exactly the opposite students came to meet, it doesn't even matter: From the moment the two crossed paths in those halls? Nothing would ever be the same. "It was a fascination probably," Karen confessed of her instant infatuation with the former jock. "I was intrigued." But how did he feel?
When Dennis first laid his eyes on the mysterious freshman one fateful day, he was suddenly caught off guard. Sure, he'd dated plenty of girls before. But there was something different about her... he simply couldn't place it. "She was very special," Denny recalled. Perhaps that's why what came next was no surprise...
The Start of Their Love Story
Safe to say, Denny and Karen's love story took off from the moment they first laid eyes on one another. In the blink of an eye, the two went from strangers to smitten, completely, with each other. And by 1959? They decided to make things official, stepping out as a couple.
"With not much to do in this small town, [we] would go to dances in the school cafeteria after home football and basketball games," the couple recalled. And when school let out? They'd walk the 2 blocks home together each night - Denny often ditching football practice to spend more time with his girl.
Karen Became Pregnant
It was a love story for the books: Small-town boy falls in love with a small-town girl. Unfortunately, in 1960, all of that was about to change: Karen was met with startling news. She was pregnant, at just 14-years-old; something she and her boyfriend had never planned on. What were they to do?
The truth was that Karen and her boyfriend were still children, how could she possibly raise any of her own? She couldn't... could she? After all, she still had an entire future to plan out for herself. But there was another thought - perhaps more daunting - that Karen also had to face...
Her Parents Sent Her Away
What would other people think? In a small town like theirs, news traveled fast - and there was no saying what would happen if Karen's ever got out. Or at least that's what Mr. and Mrs. Lehmann thought, as their daughter sat them down to break the big news. What were they supposed to do now?
They were stuck at a standstill. But after endless deliberation, their minds were finally made up: To Mr. and Mrs. Lehmann, it was the only viable option for their daughter. But to Karen? It was devastating, and then some: At just 14-years-old, the teen was sent away to a Lutheran Social Services home, dedicated to unwed mothers.
Her Relationship With Dennis Was Affected
But where would that leave her and Dennis? As the weeks continued to grow, so did Karen's doubts. She'd grown accustomed to spending practically every waking minute with her boyfriend. And now? She could count on her fingers the number of times she saw him. But the truth was that she couldn't even blame him.
After all, they were still teenagers - Dennis still had school to attend. And as much as he tried to visit, life simply got in the way. What was going to be when their baby finally arrived? It was a thought that sent chills down her spine. But as 9 months came and went, she was about to find out the answer for herself...
They Gave Their Baby up for Adoption
On August 13, 1961, Karen Lehmann and Dennis Vinar welcomed their very own child together: A healthy baby girl with eyes as beautiful as her father's. Perhaps that's why all it took for Karen was one quick glance at her newborn daughter to know exactly what she'd call her: "Denise."
As Karen held her little girl in her arms, it was like nothing she'd ever felt before. She never wanted the moment to end. Only after 60 short minutes, that's exactly what happened. "That was the last we saw of her," the mother recalled, as she handed her baby off to caseworkers and said goodbye forever. Or so she thought...
As the story goes, 7 years and endless heartbreak later, Karen's pain was just as evident. Only as her boyfriend headed home from his military service in Germany, all of that was about to change. Dennis was about to make her the happiest woman alive, as she was about to find out.
Despite their paths having led them in different directions, the love they had for each other was still just as evident. And as Denny made his way to the Lehmann residence to reunite with his girlfriend, he was about to make that very clear: "He asked me again to marry him," Karen revealed.
Her Family Disapproved of Their Engagement
Sure, he'd touched upon the topic of marriage years earlier. Only this time was different. "I was all excited about it at first," Karen recalled, as she agreed to spend the rest of her life by Denny's side. That was, "until I went home to tell my parents..."
What happened? To put it simply, they were living in a different time. And as the couple rushed home to share the big news, they suddenly learned that the hard way: As the Lehmanns put it, their daughter wasn't ready for marriage. She was to get an education, to finish her interior design studies at the University of Minnesota.
Karen Called off Their Relationship
The Lehmanns' words hit Dennis like a ton of bricks. "I went through heck to be with her... and I couldn't," the emotional boyfriend recalled. Granted, the love he had for his sweetheart wasn't going anywhere - but neither were her parents. And the disapproval they held was simply too much to bear.
And just like that, Karen and Dennis' love story was suddenly brought to a halt. Instead of planning for a future, the couple's grand plans were now shattered; Their memories behind the desk, now a distant blur. It was devastating. But to Mr. and Mrs. Lehmann? Everything they'd wanted was finally panning out - for now, at least.
They Led Separate Lives
As the years continued to grow, so did the wedge driven between the former sweethearts. Just a few years earlier, they were sure they had everything figured out. Now? It appeared they were painfully wrong. They went on to lead separate lives - Karen with a different man and family of her own. As for Dennis?
He, too, exchanged "I Do"s with another. And while he also went on to welcome a family of his own, that didn't stop the feelings that soon came creeping in. The truth? While they may have thought they'd turned the page on their love story, there was still lots to be written...
"I Never Stopped Thinking About Her"
Karen was certain that when she'd said goodbye to her former lover it was for the best. No, it wasn't easy - but the heartbreak she had felt would eventually fade away, she was sure of it. Only as she tried to carry on with her life... it didn't. Had she made a massive mistake?
"Every time I heard the name Denise I'd look around to see if that may have been her," she confessed of the trauma that followed her. But she wasn't the only one still haunted by the past. While Denny tried his best to carry on with his life, he, too, simply couldn't: "I never stopped thinking about her… she was always there."
Dennis Was Hit With a Wakeup Call
Unfortunately, though, Dennis's heart was too broken to ever head down that path again. It was simply time to move on. "In baseball, it's three strikes, and you're out," as he put it. Only by the time 2014 came around, all of that was about to change. As Denny headed to a local dinner party, he was hit with a massive wake-up call.
It all started with a question, a simple sentence seemingly intended to break the ice. Only all it did was leave Dennis's mind racing: "If your physician gave you 60 days to live, who would be one person with whom you would like to talk or have dinner?" his host asked him.
He Searched for Her Online
As Denny got home later that night, suddenly a light bulb went off in his head. Sure, he knew the answer to his host's question from the minute he'd asked it. But he now knew exactly what he was going to do with it. He raced to his computer and typed it out into his search bar.
As luck would have it, it wasn't long before he found what he was looking for. Sure enough, after typing 2 familiar words out into his LinkedIn search bar, his heart suddenly stopped: There she was, that same mysterious smile in tow, staring back at him from behind his screen: Karen Lehmann.
He Reached Out to Her
"There she was—the third person down," Dennis smiled. "And I smacked my hands together and said, 'That's my lady.'" But what now? After all, he and his Mrs. had decades' worth of catching up to do. What if she wasn't up for the challenge? He was about to find out.
As Karen Lehmann headed into the office one regular morning, she had no idea her entire world was about to be turned upside down. Only that's exactly what happened: Someone had left her a message, as her receptionist quickly alerted her. It couldn't be... could it?
"A Three-Month Digital Courtship"
"How did you find me?" Karen blurted out after punching the caller's number into her phone. "Whatever happened to hi, hello, how are you?" the voice on the other end quickly quipped. There Dennis was, that same familiar charm in tow. And it was at this very moment that Karen realized her life would never be the same again.
Sure enough, she was right. Despite the almost 2,000 miles now separating them, the long-lost lovers were finally closer than ever. They began talking all the time - "a three-month digital courtship," as Dennis put it. But as those 90 days quickly came and went, their unbreakable bond was about to be put to the ultimate test...
He Hopped on a Plane to Monroe, Washington
After endless hours spent talking over the phone, Dennis was finally ready to face the facts: The love of his life was back on the market again, having been widowed back in 2010. And given his very own single status? He knew he had to act fast before it was too late. He wasn't going to let history repeat itself.
And so, on a fateful day in January 2015, Dennis Vinar hopped on a plane to visit his son in Portland, Oregon. But that's not all he did: He decided to make a quick detour - to visit somebody special. Only as he headed up north to Monroe, Washington, he never could've prepared for the events that soon followed…
Reunited at Last
As Dennis touched down at Seattle−Tacoma International Airport, he couldn't fight the nerves now hijacking his stomach. What if Karen's parents had been right, all along? Was he acting solely off of instinct? It was too late. He was really doing this. There was no going back now.
After seemingly endless minutes spent waiting by the exit, suddenly a car began to pull up. Could it be? His heart began to race. Only as that front door shot open, he couldn't believe his eyes: "She got out... ran around, jumped on me, and said, 'Babe, you're home,'" Dennis gushed as he came face to face with the love of his life.
They Got Married
As for Karen? She was just as speechless. From his dimples to his sparkling eyes, "it did feel like nothing changed," she gushed of her childhood sweetheart. After endless decades spent apart, here they were, together at last. "And it was that night that we decided we were gonna get married 24 hours later."
On January 22, 2015, Dennis Vinar and Karen Lehmann stood inside Everett Municipal Court as they vowed to spend the rest of their lives together - for better or for worse. After 2 failed proposals and endless broken hearts, they were finally getting it right this time. "Third time's a charm," Mrs. Vinar smiled.
Their Search for Their Daughter
And just like that, Mr. and Mrs. Vinar retired, sold their homes, and packed their bags as they set off on their latest chapter together. And you can bet they knew exactly where they were headed: Home. Only as they settled back down in Minnesota, they still had one stop left on their list.
"It took me all those years to find you, and now? It would make my life complete to find our daughter," Dennis confessed to Karen of their final missing piece. Where was she? The truth was that they had no idea. What they did know, though, is that they were going to stop at nothing until they did.
The Adoption Agency Sent Their Daughter a Letter
Little did they know, Denise Vinar no longer existed: She was now Jean Voxland, a 54-year-old mother of three living in Kenyon. And while the adopted woman grew up with endless questions about her past, it was about to stare her husband down right in the face.
A simple handwritten note, that's all it took - no letterhead, no seal, just an envelope slipped into the Voxland mailbox. "The envelope and writing on it looked fishy," Mr. Voxland recalled, as he picked up the mysterious letter now on his doorstep. Only as he carefully unfolded the piece of paper, suddenly everything made sense.
She Found Out About Her Birth Parents
"When I came home from work one day, he told me, I think you better sit down,'" Jean revealed of the moment her husband came clean about the letter in their mailbox. Only his words hit her like a ton of bricks: "My parents are together, and they're looking for me?"
Jean didn't know how to take the news. She was caught off guard, and then some. After 54 years, her birth parents were somewhere out there... looking for her. It was a thought that left her mind running wild. Where were they? What did they want from her? She needed answers, lots of them.
They Began Exchanging Letters
Sure enough, that's exactly what Jean set out to get, as she hopped in the car and raced to the local post office. She decided to send a package back to the return address perched on that crinkled letter. She sent 5 handwritten pages, alongside a slew of carefully selected pictures.
And just like that, she got a reply back - almost instantly. She couldn't believe it. And from that moment forward, Jean and the Vinars began talking via mail, regularly. But that wasn't enough: She wanted to meet her birth parents. And after getting approval from her 3 children, that's exactly what soon followed...
A Family Again
"I got warm all over, my heart started to pound, and the tears just filled my eyes," Jean recalled. On a fateful morning in May, after 5 decades spent wondering about her past, Jean Voxland finally stared her answers down in the face. And as Mr. and Mrs. Vinar walked through that door, suddenly everything made sense.
"The questions you have when you're raised… who you are and your identity…" as Jean put it, were no longer a mystery. But there was one discovery in particular that left the curious young woman at a loss for words. "I was like, 'Oh my God,'" she revealed.
Her Resemblance to Her Father
Emotions were high, and with good reason: 54 years later, the Vinars were finally a family again. But that wasn't the only reason Jean's eyes suddenly filled with tears: "I never ever looked like anybody - ever," she confessed. But one quick glance at her birth father?
It was like looking in a mirror. "I kind of felt like I belonged," Jean gushed. As she stared into her father's bright blue eyes, she couldn't help the emotions that suddenly overtook her: "I don't think there are many feelings that would compare to not ever having seen your parents… and then they just walk in the door."
Making up for Lost Time
There's no denying it: Jean and her parents missed out on a lot of time together - half a lifetime worth of milestones and memories they'll never get to have. But after fate finally brought them back together? They're ready to make every second count.
From family birthdays to festive holidays - to all the little things in between - the newfound family has certainly made up for lost time. "The family has increased," Karen Vinar gushed of meeting her daughter's kin. "We now have five children, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren."
"It's hard to explain the feeling, it really is," Dennis confessed. Safe to say, everything about his journey back to his high school sweetheart is inexplicable - unbelievable. But now that he and Karen finally landed that happy ending taken from them 50+ years earlier? Where do they go from here?
While we can't say what exactly the future has in store for these two, we do know one thing: They might be turning the page on their latest chapter, but their story is just getting started. "The love we have for each other is second to none... we still dance in the kitchen, we always will."
Home Is Where the Heart Is
They say home is where the heart is, and Dennis Vinar might just be living proof. Despite endless forces tearing them apart, his love for his childhood sweetheart never faltered. "After all these years, I've always had a place in my heart for Karen," he confessed.
Sure enough, 1 child, 3 proposals, and 5 decades later, he listened to his heart as it led him back to her. And perhaps there's something beautiful to be learned from that: No matter the distance, the time, or the skeptics along the way, there is no power greater than love.