All my arty, intellectual friends subscribe to the Sunday New York Times, but for years I resisted, knowing I’d feel guilty if I ignored that mass of required reading to pursue my usual shiftless Sunday pleasures. Finally I broke down; and though the stack of unread papers has indeed taken over my kitchen, there’s one column I never miss: "Vows," which tells the story of how one couple met and married. Every episode has all the elements of riveting drama: the male and female characters, who despite their essential oppositeness, yearn to connect; smoldering passion; and a triumphant progression to a happy ending despite all the obstacles that chance and human perversity can hurl in their way.
Most of the couples in "Vows" meet cute, as the screenwriters say-in yoga class, vying for the same apartment, or on blind dates they’d furiously resisted. But Sarasota couples can also offer lessons in meeting cute, as we learned when we asked some how their stories began.
Sometimes it’s fate. Harvey Vengroff (head of collection agency giant, Vengroff Williams & Associates) and his wife, Carol, have been together for 24 years, but it almost didn’t happen. At 28, Carol had founded several retail businesses and was ready to meet "a dynamic family man who wasn’t dating me for my money." The owner of a shopping center where she leased space knew just the guy; but the prospect canceled three blind dates and then married someone else. Fast forward two years: Carol was sharing an apartment with a friend, who kept raving about their landlord. Carol decided "to see what this landlord was all about" and delivered the rent in person: "He saw me and I saw him, and it hit us." Harvey, who was separated from his wife, asked her to go sailing later that week. That afternoon, the shopping center owner told her, "Harvey just called and asked about you-he’s the guy I tried to set you up with!"
Three hours into their sail, Harvey announced, "Why don’t we just get married? I’ve been looking for you my whole life, and I know you’re the one." Within a few weeks, they were living together ("If you don’t move in with me, I’m going to evict you," he told her) and the rest is romantic history.
Don’t call it puppy love.SARASOTA photographer Matt McCourtney and his wife, Michele, are the same age-26-but they seemed years apart when they met 14 years ago in class at the Sarasota Sailing Squadron. Matt was a chubby little kid, and she was a tall, curvaceous girl who ignored him to flirt with their college-age instructors. But a few weeks later, she took a second look when Matt’s band stepped onstage at a middle-school talent show. He credits the brown leather pants he’d borrowed from his dad, but she says it was the whole package: "He was handsome and dapper and a rock-and-roll musician!" A week later they met at the 7-11 in Siesta Village, and shared their first kiss on the pier. After attending Bard College together, they were married last winter at Selby Gardens, with their Lab as ring bearer. Now the parents of a brand-new baby girl, the two "are best friends and truly in love," says Matt.
Location, location. Like so many Sarasota stories, the union of Allyn Gallup and Sheila Moore is about art and real estate. Allyn, an art dealer who admits to a saturnine streak, was close to artist Ben Wilson and his wife, Evelyn. After Ben died, Evelyn became friendly with her next-door neighbor, Sheila, an outgoing Frenchwoman who had just moved to Sarasota-in part because of its cultural reputation. Evelyn decided her happy-natured friend was just what the intellectual, introspective Allyn needed, and she planned to introduce them over a New Year’s drink. In a holiday funk, he stood them up; but Evelyn brought Sheila to the farmer’s market a few weeks later and they stopped in at Allyn’s gallery. "I was very interested," says Allyn, who calls Sheila the "most genuine person I know."
The happy ending? Evelyn sold Allyn her house-a modern structure he’d always admired-and soon Sheila moved in from next door as his wife. "She’s brought joy into my life," says a beaming Allyn. "I learn something new from her every day."
The classic bar pick-up endures. One night last summer, Richard Dear, owner of Tropical Beach Resort and president of Siesta Key’s Quality of Life Association, was waiting in the bar for a table at Bonefish Grill and saw Mary Elizabeth Pendarvis. "You’re beautiful," he said, and they bantered for the next half hour. She manages Countrywide’s Sarasota branch, where Richard just happened to have a loan in progress. The next day, his loan processor called, and he asked to speak to the manager.
In October, over coconut cake after dinner in South Beach, he proposed; and on New Year’s Eve, they were married at the Summerhouse, the Carl Abbott-designed Siesta landmark that was slated for destruction before Richard and others fought to save it. Shortly before that, the couple fell in love with a Siesta Key glass-walled house overlooking the bay; not until their second visit did they learn it had been designed by Abbott and was known as "the residential Summerhouse." They bought it, and have asked Abbott to design a guesthouse in keeping with the Summerhouse tradition.
Go to the party. And closer to home, there’s Wendy Jacobs and Greg Carlson. Last May, senior editor Ilene Denton threw a birthday party for Bob Plunket ("Mr. Chatterbox"), and her sister, Wendy, a psychologist, attended. Greg, a library scientist who lived in Daytona Beach, was visiting his sister, style editor Marsha Fottler, and she urged him to go with her. "I was reluctant," he says. "But a little voice said, ‘You’d better go.’" A gourmet cook, he brought a batch of his Asian cucumbers along. At the party, he overheard Wendy talking to Bob and Roberta Turoff of the Golden Apple and decided, "Wow-this is a very brilliant woman." Soon they were deep in conversation; and when the birthday cake was cut, they shared a slice, sitting on Ilene’s back steps.
Phone and e-mail conversations followed, and in three weeks he was back in town, where "I clinched the deal by making her risotto-my best dish." In August, he gave her an engagement ring on those same back steps; and they’re planning to marry-the first time for each-in May, a year from the date they met. "She eats what I cook and better still, she cleans up," he jokes, adding seriously, "This is the happiest I’ve ever been in my life."