WOOSTER - Down on one knee in the middle of a nice restaurant proposing to Lucinda Nestor, Tom Zercher wasn't ready for what happened next.
"It was silence," he said.
"I opened my mouth and nothing came out," she said. "It was shocking.
"Finally, I said, 'Of course I will,' " she added with a smile at Zercher as they recalled that November 2020 evening a few days before their wedding this Saturday in the city.
It was a scene Nestor said she never expected three years earlier after her husband of 52 years, Jim, had died of cancer. Neither did Zercher, whose wife of 52 years, Caroyln, also died from cancer about a year after that.
"I really do believe that (God) is looking out for us," Nestor said. "When Jim passed away, I thought my life was over. I really did. I had no plans for anything else."
The two 79-year-olds want to give others hope that they too can find happiness after the loss of a spouse — at any age. In January, Nestor's daughter lost her spouse, who was 55 years old.
"My daughter and her two girls have had a really hard time, and I think because we are happy and we are the age we are, she thinks she can be happy again too," said Nestor, who also just lost her brother, David J. Westfall.
"It has been kind of a tough year, but we have this happy moment coming," said Rich Westfall, Nestor's nephew from West Virginia who came to the area to be with his father before he died of congestive heart failure in May and has stayed to attend his aunt's wedding. He is staying in East Union Township with his mother, who was married to his father for 56 years.
Then looking at his aunt and her soon-to-be second husband while they talked about their upcoming nuptials, Westfall added: "Their story is interesting to me because of their long years of marriage and their devotion to the end, not anticipating getting remarried."
Both were part of four couples who were friends in the Wooster area early in their first marriages
Their story actually started with their first marriages. As newlyweds, the couples were friends and also friends with two other young married couples in the Wooster area. All four of the wives taught at Wayne Elementary School in Wooster, which has since been replaced with a nursing facility. Zercher worked in sales for Rubbermaid.
"We were wonderful friends," Nestor said of the four couples. "We ran around together. We went on vacations together sometimes. We furnished our first apartments together."
After about four years, the Nestors and Zerchers moved and, while the couples all stayed in contact, it was mostly through Christmas cards and letters.
During the next several decades, the Nestors lived in several places across the country, while the Zerchers moved West, settling in Oklahoma.
When Nestor's husband died, her daughter, who lives in Medina, wanted her to live close, so she returned to Wooster.
When Nestor and Zercher reconnected, he still was living in Oklahoma. One of the wives of the four couples had told Nestor that Zercher's wife had died and given her his address in Oklahoma.
In addition to offering her condolences and catching him up on her family (she has a daughter with two girls, a son in Pennsylvania with two boys and that her husband had died a year earlier, which he didn't know at the time), Nestor gave him her phone number if he wanted to talk.
"So guess what?" Zercher said with a big smile. "I called her."
Because Zercher, who has one daughter and two grandchildren, was coming back to the area shortly after that — he grew up in Ashland and still has family there, including his 100-year-old aunt Lucille Ford, a well-known Ashlander who started the Ashland County Community Foundation, Zercher and Nestor got together with the matchmaking wife and her husband, who just passed away a year ago, for a dinner party — the first time in decades they had seen each other.
"I sent him a picture," Nestor said, "so he would know who I was because ...”
"Her hair had changed color," Zercher said with a laugh, finishing her sentence.
"I used to have dark hair," Nestor added laughing. "It wasn't a shock then that I had gray hair."
Texting eventually leads to romance and funny wedding-planning stories
From there, they stayed in contact, Nestor getting Zercher to text, something she had learned from her granddaughters and has loved to do since then.
Eventually, a text exchange turned their relationship into more than a friendship.
"Tom Zercher are you flirting with me?," Nestor began the exchange, thinking to herself: "I had to know. I didn't know."
"Maybe," was his text response.
Before proposing, Zercher gave her a proposal note that read: "You're allowed to answer but it can't be maybe."
After her "yes!" answer, funny stories followed with their wedding planning.
When Nestor went wedding dress shopping with one of her granddaughters, who is in her 20s, the sales person was surprised about who was the bride among the two.
And when they picked out wedding rings, they wanted them to be engraved and the sales person told them the engraving would last 50 years, to which Lucinda responded with a laugh: "I'm going to be 80. We don't need something for 50 years."
Through it all the past few years, both agreed they have developed "a wonderful relationship."
"It has just been wonderful to have a friend to do things with and that we share each other's past and we're not jealous of each other's spouse," Nestor said. "We have all this history. I can talk about Jim and he can talk about Carolyn and and that's fine with both of us."
Wooster Country Club will play host to their wedding reception
After the wedding ceremony, the couple will have a reception at the Wooster Country Club for about 60 family and friends from across the country, including her sister from the Chicago area and some of her high school friends from a small town in West Virginia, where she grew up and got married the first time.
Even though her brother can't be at the wedding, her nephew said some of the pieces his dad wrote as a musician will be performed.
Instead of receiving gifts, they will give their guests gifts of things they don't want that they wrapped.
A few days after their big day, they plan to honeymoon in Frankenmuth, Michigan, which is known for its Bavarian architecture and the world's largest year-round Christmas ornament and décor store.
They decided to get married near another holiday, Fourth of July weekend, because it's "a good weekend to celebrate."
"It's a celebration," Nestor said.
To her nephew it's even more than that. "It's a really uplifting story," he said.
This article originally appeared on The Daily Record: Wooster couple happy to have found love a second time around