Love can bring folks together, even in your 70s, Jefferson County couple finds

Newlyweds Maryjo Nichols and Don Knapp of Port Townsend shocked their children by marrying six weeks after their meeting on the beach at Fort Worden State Park; now it's full-speed ahead into the holidays and trips to meet more family members. -- Photo by Diane Urbani de la Paz

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is another in an intermittent series of love stories, spotlighting both newlyweds and couples celebrating anniversaries.

These true tales are of how the couples met, how they knew they had found the right one — and how they navigate through the rough spots.

PORT TOWNSEND — People who know Maryjo Nichols well — such as her daughter, Joann Saul — are thrilled about her new man.

They’re also shocked that she married him shortly after they met.

It sounds like a two-crazy-kids story: Boy meets girl at beach and, blinded by sunlight and youth, they rush to the altar.

In fact, Nichols is 72 and her new husband 75, and they sauntered, in the light of her dazzling smile, to the Jefferson County Courthouse to be married by District Court Judge Jill Landes on Nov. 3.

That’s six weeks to the day after Don Knapp first saw Nichols, seated at a picnic table on the beach at Fort Worden State Park, accompanied by her binoculars and a good book.

“I said something like, ‘You look very intellectual,'” Knapp remembers.

Her favorite things

Nichols was savoring the fall day, Sept. 22, doing three of her favorite things: reading, bird-watching and walking with her dog, Maggie.

It was the day the conversation, the discoveries and the laughs began between Nichols and Knapp. About a week later they met again at the beach — and a smitten Knapp made his move.

“I leaned over and put my hand on her chin,” he recalled. Nichols turned to him, and he kissed her.

“It was a surprise,” she said, flashing her incandescent grin. “But it didn’t seem in any way inappropriate.”

“When you’re in your 70s,” Knapp added, “you’ve got to make the most of your time.”

So Nichols told Saul — the only one of her four children who lives on the West Coast — that she’d met a nice man.

“I didn’t see or hear from her very often from that point forward,” Saul said.

Then came Nov. 1, when Nichols called her daughter to say, “We’re getting married on Tuesday. Would you stand up for us?”

Saul needed a minute to take in the information, but before long she, along with the rest of Nichols’ and Knapp’s grown children, asked pretty much the same question:

“Why are you doing this? You could just live together.”

“It was near-unanimous,” said Knapp, “this questioning of the sudden move. One of her friends said, ‘Have you Googled this guy?'”

Nichols did Google him, at the friend’s insistence, and found out things she already knew: Knapp was for 25 years executive director of the Honeywell Foundation and the Honeywell Center, a cultural and conference center that helped revitalize Wabash, Ind.; prior to that he was director of placement at Wesleyan University in Connecticut.

Nichols, who had been a Montessori and primary-school teacher for 40 years in Massachusetts and in New York, also knew she had many important things in common with Knapp, including liberal politics and a keen interest in community life.

They’ve both lived a lot of places, including New York City during the 1960s, and they had both been married, both for 32 years.

Nichols’ husband, John, died after they moved from Colorado to Port Townsend three years ago.

Knapp is divorced; his former wife, Anne Knapp, is a fundraiser for Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo.

Knapp himself moved to the Olympic Peninsula last summer, after first thinking he’d find a place on Whidbey Island. That turned out to be too rural for him, so he hopped on the ferry to Port Townsend and rented an apartment.

Now he and his bride, who has a condominium uptown, live together in two cozy places. At his, he cooks dinner each night; at hers, he’s getting to know her pets.

“I love big dogs,” Knapp said, including Maggie, Nichols’ black Labrador cross. And “I’m slowly getting used to cats,” in particular Big Guy and KitKat, two strays Nichols adopted years ago.

Both say they’ve had their share of disagreements; after all, they’ve had a lot of years to develop their own ways of doing things.

Patience key

“Patience is key,” Knapp said. “We’re learning to be more tolerant . . . Maryjo has bent over backwards to let me hang pictures, move furniture around,” as they gradually merge their households.

And Nichols is enjoying his home cooking, which she said is vegetable-rich. Saul added that her mother is looking fitter than ever.

Knapp did point out a difference between himself and his wife: She’s the more educated one, having started at Oberlin College in Ohio when she was just 16.

Remembering facts like this is still fairly easy, Nichols said, smiling again. They just met in September, so all that personal history is still fresh in their minds.

When asked to explain how they knew this was for life and not just a fine romance, Nichols could only call it “an intuitive feeling.”

Whatever one calls it, the couple’s delight in each other is clear to their friends and family.

Nichols’ friend Gail Jenkins of Port Townsend threw a shower for the bride, and said simply, “We had a screaming good time.”

Still, Saul admitted to serious reservations about the high-speed courtship.

When she first was to meet Knapp, “I went over there, very angry,” she said. But she left with an entirely different feeling.

“My mom is glowing,” said Saul. “She told me: ‘This is right. I know it.'”

The couple do seem “blissfully happy,” Saul added, though “we’re still trying to get our heads around it.”

With the holidays here, Knapp and Nichols are seeing friends, breaking their news — and tapping their senses of humor.

Who are you?

“We’ve tried getting beyond calling each other by our former spouse’s name,” Knapp said.

But one recent Sunday, in front of the congregation at the Trinity United Methodist Church, Nichols called him by her late husband’s name, John.

“I could have fallen on the floor in agony,” Knapp said. Instead he announced that he had already called her Anne at least once.

“It’s bound to happen,” Nichols said.

One thing is clear with this pair: They each had full lives, and now they’re surprised and delighted at merging those into one even fuller life.

“We walk virtually every day,” Nichols said.

“Long walks,” Knapp added.

Then, as he described another daily pleasure, emotion made him pause a little.

“We get up and share newspaper articles we’re reading, local and national,” Knapp said. “There’s a lot going on in the world,” and being with someone who loves to talk about it all is just, well, a gift.

For Christmas, the newlyweds plan another big meeting, this one in Massachusetts.

“I have three brothers who haven’t met him yet,” Saul explained. “They’re going back to meet the parents,” or, in this case, the kids.


Reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-681-2391 or at [email protected]

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