Sweet Richland reunion of former sweethearts

The first time Jim Homan and Sandy Stephenson dated, he was a lanky basketball player at Grandview High School.

She was a fan of folk music who sat with him in a Sunnyside park, just the two of them, her serenading him on a 12-string guitar.

Now, after nearly four decades apart, they are planning to marry on Valentine's Day.

Neither really remembers why they broke up in 1972. They just drifted apart and lost touch, they said.

They met on a spring Saturday in 1970 "dragging the gut," cruising up and down Sixth Street in Sunnyside.

Stephenson was in her mom's car, a black and white '56 Chrysler New Yorker called "The Tank."

Homan was driving his '61 Chevy Impala, a two-door hard top with custom paint on the hood and custom wheels.

"He looked good driving it," Stephenson remembers.

They eyed each other as their cars passed, and when one of them pulled into a bank parking lot, the other followed.

"That was the start," Homan said.

But in those days, the eight miles between Grandview and Sunnyside made it a long-distance romance for high school kids. There was no internet, no cell phones and a call between the two towns carried a long-distance charge.

Still, she attended his track meets, and one day he showed up on a borrowed motorcycle and they rode it to the Tri-Cities for the boat races.

But Homan left town after he graduated, and by the time Stephenson graduated from Sunnyside High a year later, they were no longer in touch.

"Life just went on," Stephenson said.

During the next 38 years, both married and divorced. Homan had two daughters; Stephenson two sons and a daughter.

Homan would end up using his engineering degree at Hanford, and Stephenson worked as a commercial real estate consultant near Sacramento, Calif.

But by January 2009, she was curious about Homan and looked him up on classmates.com, triggering notifications to Homan.

It took him a year before his curiosity got the best of him, and he paid the site's fee to see who had looked for his information on the site.

"I was absolutely shocked it was Sandy -- pleasantly surprised," he said.

He immediately sent an e-mail, and then another.

But Stephenson had stopped using that e-mail account regularly.

When she did see it, "I was in disbelief," she said.

Before she read it, she scrolled to the bottom of the message to see if it really was from her high school sweetheart.

The two sent several e-mails back and forth that day before Homan ended the exchange by asking if he could call her.

It had been 38 years since they had heard each other's voice, but they talked as easily as if they had seen each other yesterday, Homan said.

The calls continued every day until they met in Seattle on Super Bowl Sunday 2010. They recognized each other immediately.

"He still looks like he did at 18 or 19," Stephenson said.

Although they had gone their separate ways for decades, they still had similar tastes and interests.

When Stephenson visited Homan's home, she was surprised to see they had several pieces of nearly identical furniture. And their musical interests had evolved together. Both owned recordings of the same artists who are not widely known, such as blues singer Keb' Mo'.

Eight months after they reunited in the Seattle airport, Homan proposed.

"After all these years, it would not have been doing fate justice if we had not met," Stephenson said.

On the morning of Valentine's Day, the Sunnyside folk singer and the Grandview basketball player will be standing on a beach in Hawaii, starting the rest of their lives together by reciting their marriage vows.

* Annette Cary: 509-582-1533; acary@tricityherald.com