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The Secret to Lasting Love

Five East Bay couples tell us their love stories, and the secrets to making a marriage last.


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What’s the key to keeping the spark alive? We asked five longtime East Bay couples to tell us the secrets to their successful and resilient marriages, plus all the romantic pointers you need to help you go the distance.


 

Photography by Gretchen Gause

A Lifetime of Love

Dick and Sally Ingraham
Nearly seven decades later, college sweethearts Dick and Sally Ingraham continue to live in marital bliss.

By Rachel Orvino

From their Walnut Creek home overlooking sprawling hilltops and a small vineyard, Dick and Sally Ingraham reflect on 67 years of marriage. “We’ve been married so long, we feel like one person,” says Sally.

The couple first met at an Alpha Gamma Delta sorority party while attending UC Berkeley in 1948. “He had a nice smile,” Sally recalls of her husband, who served in the 104th Infantry Division in Germany during World War II. “Dick was so handsome. The housemother at my sorority told me, ‘You always get the good-looking boys.’ ”

They soon started dating, going on outings in Dick’s 1931 Model A Ford. A forestry major, Dick also worked as a tree surgeon, earning points with Sally’s father by bringing him gifts of firewood. Sally and Dick married on October 2, 1949, during their last year of college.

The Ingraham family settled in Walnut Creek in 1961, when Dick got a job at the Fibreboard paper mill in Antioch. Sally, who worked part-time as a social worker while raising their three children, eventually turned her talents to real estate. “I always encouraged Sally to pursue her interests,” says Dick.

Both Ingrahams were also active in Walnut Creek politics, working in tandem on issues involving land use and city planning. “I was the cheerleader, and Dick was the organizer,” says Sally. “We have opposite personalities, but most of the time, we complement each other.”

Such collaborations, as well as a shared love of community, faith, and family (they have four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren), are the hallmarks of their long and successful marriage.

“We always try to improve our situation, no matter what it is—and we do it together,” says Dick.

“We’ve been very fortunate,” adds Sally. “I was lucky; I got a winner.”


 

Photography by Gretchen Gause

Go Team!

Matt Lund and Toneka R. Webb
For Matt Lund and Toneka R. Webb, the secret to a strong marriage is cheering each other on.

By Kristen Haney

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight when Matt Lund and Toneka R. Webb met at a mutual friend’s home while going to California High in San Ramon. “He literally went, ‘hey,’ and went right back to playing a video game,” says Toneka.

“It was so memorable for me, I don’t even remember it,” counters Matt.

And it probably wasn’t Matt’s romantic lines that finally brought the pair together in college. “She was wearing a vanilla lotion, and I commented, ‘Are you wearing vanilla?’ And that was it. She was hooked,” he says, laughing.

But nearly two decades later, the Danville couple’s relationship leaves a lasting impression. Despite day jobs as psychotherapists and plenty of hours coaching—Toneka is in charge of California High’s nationally ranked dance team, and Matt coaches multiple teams for their two sons—the two still manage to be the biggest cheerleaders for each other.

“If I have a moment of self-doubt, he’s in my ear like, ‘You need to remember you’re a badass.’ And I feel the same way about him,” says Toneka. “We’re complete opposites physically, but on the inside, we’re the same person.”

While Matt may not have to run laps or do push-ups like the members of Toneka’s dance team, he isn’t immune to another hallmark of her coaching: nicknames. “His first nickname was ‘Mr. Lund’ because he was very serious,” says Toneka. “And then he was ‘Muffin.’ ‘Butternut Squash.’ ‘Hottie McHottieton.’ ” But much like the quirkier aspects of their relationship (she has OCD, and he has a penchant for sleepwalking), Matt and Toneka know what they have is rare.    

“It partly works because he’s extraordinary,” says Toneka. “I’d like to think the fact that he chose me makes me a unicorn—because he’s a unicorn to me. I feel like if we’re together, it makes sense.”

 

He Said, She Said

What’s the key to making a marriage work?
He: “It’s the little things [that support each other] here and there. Just everyday stuff. We back each other up all the time.”
She: “It’s like tag-team wrestling!”

If you had one song to describe your relationship, what would it be?
He: “ ‘Somebody’ by Depeche Mode.”
She: “‘You Are the Sunshine of My Life.’ Stevie Wonder. Done. Mic drop. That’s the song.”


 

Photography by Gretchen Gause

Pitch Perfect

Kent and Pamela Donahue
Kent and Pamela Donahue are rockin’ marriage and family.

By Lauren Bonney

Twenty-one years of marriage, four kids, and more than 150 concerts later, Pamela and Kent Donahue are still in total harmony.

The Danville couple first met at a Chili’s in New Mexico, where Pamela worked as a bartender while attending New Mexico State. “I went with [a friend] who wanted to date Pamela,” recalls Kent, who was serving in the Air Force at the time, “but after meeting her, I realized that I was interested in dating her.”  

“It was chemistry,” Pamela adds. “We had a great connection from the beginning.”

After dating long distance, the couple moved to San Francisco; a year later, they married.

Both music fans, Pamela and Kent made the most of where they lived, often attending concerts together at the Fillmore. But as their family started growing, they struggled to find time for themselves, let alone concerts. So, the couple turned to an age-old solution: date nights.

“Every Friday, we would have a date,” Kent says. “Sometimes, it was just going out to dinner, but we made sure we had time set aside for us.” When the kids could babysit themselves, the couple started going to concerts again.

From Snoop Dogg to The Lumineers to Rush, the couple aren’t picky when it comes to music. And they’re willing to go to extreme lengths to see their favorites, such as when they waited in the rain for a Jack White concert in Ireland.

“We also love listening to new, undiscovered bands,” says Pamela. One of the highlights? A concert they caught at Bimbo’s 365 Club in 2002 by an up-and-coming British rock group called  Coldplay. Kent says that finding new sounds together gives their dates that extra spark.

“She has a musical compass,” Kent says of his wife’s ear for music. “Honestly, it’s incredible.”

Nowadays, they’ll occasionally bring the kids along to concerts—but Kent and Pamela always make sure to take time to rock out, just the two of them, to their own beat.

 

He Said, She Said

What advice do you have for young or unmarried couples?
She: “Don’t take things too seriously, and make sure to laugh.”

What’s the secret to your success?
He: “Our kids know that our relationship is a priority.”
She: “Kent’s parents have been great role models. We learned from them to set time aside for ourselves.”


 

Photography by Gretchen Gause

A Perfect Match

Sangeeta and Naveen Sharma
Adapting to their arranged marriage and a new life in America, Sangeeta and Naveen Sharma found love through shared interests.

By Alejandra Saragoza

Sangeeta Sharma recalls the moment she first saw the man her parents had picked to be her husband as he walked up the driveway of her home in Jalandhar, India. “At first look, I liked him,” she says of Naveen. Though their families had known each other for years, Sangeeta and Naveen had never met before that day. But the families were convinced the two would be a good match.

They were right.

The pair, who were in their early twenties at the time, hit it off over their shared interest in technology. (He earned an engineering degree; she received hers in computer science.) A month and a half after that initial meeting, they were engaged.

But soon after their engagement, Naveen had to move to Canada for work—without Sangeeta. Although being apart was hard, the couple learned to trust in the commitment they had made to each other. “I think a sense of connection and responsibility is more important than presence, so it didn’t bug me as much,” says Naveen.

Sangeeta also remembers it as “a beautiful time,” during which they e-mailed often, sent cards, and spoke on the phone at least once a week. “I trusted him, so I just went with the flow,” she says.

After two years away from each other, the pair reunited. They got married in Jalandhar before moving to the United States in 1999 for Naveen’s new engineering job in Alameda. “It wasn’t easy,” says Sangeeta. “We had to do everything ourselves.”

Luckily, Sangeeta and Naveen didn’t have as difficult of a time adjusting to married life, and they quickly discovered something else they had in common. “We found that we both enjoyed food!” says Sangeeta. “There were so many different new foods to try. Tacos and nachos were my favorite, so I would make a huge plate of nachos, and we would eat it together.”

“The other thing that made it easier was that we were starting from scratch,” adds Naveen. “The apartment was practically empty, and we came with only two suitcases each. So, we built our home together and bonded over that experience.”

Today, that home is a lot fuller—the couple live with their three children in San Ramon
—but what hasn’t changed is their love for each other.

“To me, there’s nothing too big that you can’t overcome if you have the commitment,” says Naveen. “If you know your responsibility and have respect for the other person, you can make it through anything.”

 

He Said, She Said

What’s your favorite date-night activity?
She: “We like to watch late-night Bollywood movies at the theater and get popcorn, soda, candy, and ice cream.”
He: “One time, we watched three movies back-to-back. And Indian movies are almost three hours long. We left around 12:30 in the afternoon and got back home at 1:30 in the morning.”

What advice do you have for young or unmarried couples?
He: “Talk to your parents about marriage. Ask them questions, and listen to them.”
She: “Go for an arranged marriage!” [Laughs.]


 

Photography by Gretchen Gause

Starstruck Love

Jeff Wisoff and Tammy Jernigan
Jeff Wisoff and Tammy Jernigan have kept their love growing through time and space.

By LeeAnne Jones

Flowers are always a nice gesture. But having a bouquet delivered to your wife back on Earth while doing a spacewalk to assemble the International Space Station—well, that’s stellar.

Jeff Wisoff was a Stanford grad student when he introduced himself to undergrad Tammy Jernigan in the Physics Department. Soon after, they started dating.

Turns out their stars were aligned in more ways than one, as both Tammy and Jeff eventually wound up in NASA’s astronaut program. From 1991 to 1999, Tammy flew five Space Shuttle missions, and from 1993 to 2000, Jeff flew four, during which they ran experiments, tested jetpacks, launched satellites—and, of course, admired our blue planet from space. Though the couple never explored that final frontier together, they took their own giant leap in 1999, when they got married in between missions.

That didn’t make the stress of space travel any easier on them, however. “When you’re in space, you’re focused on your job. You don’t want to mess up what you’re doing,” says Jeff. “It’s always harder to watch someone you love in that window of danger.”

But even though one spouse was floating 200 miles above the Earth and the other remained on terra firma, the couple found ways to stay in touch. They exchanged e-mails every day and organized private videoconferences.

After retiring from NASA, the couple—each boasting a Ph.D. in physics—took positions at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where Jeff oversees the operations of the world’s largest laser and Tammy is the senior advisor to the laboratory’s director. As busy administrators on a large campus, they rarely see each other at work, but lunch together at least once a month is a must.

The former astronauts have also taken on another great adventure: parenting. Jeff and Tammy spend much of their time with their two sons, attending basketball games and Boy Scout campouts. It’s not the adrenaline rush of space flight, but that doesn’t mean raising their children has been any less rewarding.

“I think marriage is enriched by children,” says Tammy. “It’s an enormous statement about the future, I think, to have children. You have to have faith in your future and your marriage.”

And about those flowers? Jeff sent them during his final mission (Tammy’s was just prior), and they arrived just in time for a party that Tammy hosted.

“Everyone was so impressed,” Tammy recalls. “For all that you have on your mind getting ready to fly, arranging for flowers to be delivered while you’re in space is pretty impressive.”

 

He Said, She Said

What do you appreciate most about each other?
He: “Tammy is just an extraordinary lady. She’s smart, she’s beautiful, she’s accomplished, she’s driven.”
She: “My husband’s devotion to his family and his inherent goodness.”

What’s something small your spouse does for you?
He: “She puts little treats in the refrigerator, things she can hide from the kids—cookies, candies, and sweets that I love.”
She: “He brings me coffee upstairs in the morning.”

Does your partner have an annoying habit or tic that you’ve learned to embrace?
He: “She’s close to perfection.”
She: “Now you’re going for brownie points.”

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