Bill and Annemarie on their wedding day (left), and now.
DOWNERS GROVE, Ill. (February 2016) — Bill Gunther can still remember the first time he saw Annemarie.
He was an American soldier in Germany; she was a German citizen. He heard about her from his family; they met her while she was visiting relatives in America. He had traveled 20 minutes by train to reach her German hometown, and when he started down the stairs, he spotted her.
When he closes his eyes, he can still see that moment.
“I can still picture her standing at the bottom of the stairs in the train station,” he said.
Today, they have been married nearly 60 years — they tied the knot on July 14, 1956, in Germany. Bill looks at their wedding photo and says, “It feels like yesterday. It’s amazing how time goes by.”
After Bill was discharged from the army, they moved back to the US, settled in Addison, Ill., and Bill worked as a chemist for Argonne National Laboratory. They had two children — a girl first, then a boy a year later. They moved to Downers Grove to be closer to Bill’s work, and have lived there ever since.
Annemarie struggles to remember these stories. About four years ago, Bill started noticing that she was forgetting things — at first, he chalked it up to the aging process. But eventually, she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, and he couldn’t care for her any more. When the doctor told her she could no longer stay at home, Bill and his daughter, Monica, started looking for a place she could live.
Annemarie has now been living at Saratoga Grove for 2 1/2 years. Saratoga Grove has a specialized memory care floor and program, and is near Bill’s home. “I know a lot of people who work here, and they’re so nice,” he said. “This is a great place. If I ever need a place to go, I’d certainly consider here.”
Bill and Annemarie hold hands as they watch the snow falling outside Saratoga Grove.
In fact, Bill already spends so much time at Saratoga Grove, most of the residents think that he does live there.
Bill visits his wife faithfully, coming nearly every day to eat lunch with her. On Sundays, he goes out with a group after church, but every other day, he eats with his wife.
“The whole thing (the memory loss) is so sad,” he said. “She’s not the person I married — we can’t talk about things that happened recently, but some things from further back are OK. We can’t talk about anything of substance. But I know she enjoys seeing me. Every day when I walk in, she sees me right away; she always smiles and waves.”
Bill is one person that Annemarie never forgets.
“The fact that she’s so happy to see me keeps me coming every day,” he said.
Annemarie was always so friendly, and that part of her has not disappeared. She smiles at Bill as he tells their story, and she smiles at other residents as they walk by. Bill says that she will still often sit and talk with strangers; her voice still holds on to a slight German accent.
She’s also still able to talk in fluent German, her first language. They found that out when her sister visited recently. Bill had read that sometimes, people with Alzheimer’s retain their first language best — sure enough, Annemarie’s German was flawless. She still has perfect eyesight as well, and she spots Bill the second he walks in the door each day. They often sit by the large windows — or, on warmer days, in the courtyard — and watch the squirrels in the trees.
As Bill tells their love story, he notes that they have been back to Europe nearly 20 times since their wedding day, visiting family in Germany and touring other countries. Once, Bill took Annemarie back to the spot they met, pointing out exactly where she stood when he first saw her.
“It’s a crystal clear memory,” he said.
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