Widow’s list leads to love and marriage

Bob and Jean Kohler

The love story of Robert and Jean Kohler started with a list.

In September 2017, Bob, as most know him, lost his wife of 53 years to cancer. Jean had divorced in 2004 and had no plans to remarry. Ever.

A year after Judy’s death, Jean’s phone rang. It was Bob, her former supervisor at the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry. He said he had an extra ticket to “Schoolhouse Rock” at TPAC and wondered if she would like to go. Without a thought that Bob might have more in mind than someone filling the extra seat, she agreed.

Then he called back and asked Jean if she would like to have dinner before the musical. She said yes but declined his offer to pick her up since she lived in Hermitage and he in Brentwood.

Learning of the invitation, her daughter Karissa Sorrell told Jean she thought it was a date.

“It is not a date,” Jean replied. But when she entered Nashville’s Midtown Café, Bob stood up. “Maybe it IS a date,” she recalls telling herself, surprised. “The evening was a lot of fun. I remember thinking ‘If he asks me out again, I’ll go.’”

Bob did ask Jean out again, and again. She said “Yes” each time.

Now we come to the list, and the backstory.

In 2008, Bob and Judy committed to move into The Heritage at Brentwood senior living community’s new Redbud building, planned in the final phase of the LifeCare community. The recession pushed back construction, but in the meantime, the Kohlers enjoyed the Redbud Executive Club which afforded them the opportunity to dine in the restaurant and meet future neighbors.

“We knew a lot of people who were here,” Bob says, “and we wanted a Life Care community.” They selected a floorplan and the ways they wanted to personalize it. They even started “placing furniture” in anticipation of their future downsize.

Then Judy became ill. A two-year fight against cancer ensued before she died in 2017, two years before their beautiful new apartment home was complete.

Bob grappled with whether to still make the move. But he knew one thing for sure – if he did move in, he didn’t want to do it alone. So, he sat down and made a list –“a list of people who might be interested in starting a new life together here.”

Bob and Jean Kohler on a Viking river cruise for their honeymoon.

Jean’s name was on top.

The two met initially 21 years ago when Jean applied for a job at the GBHEM after returning from Bangkok, Thailand where she and her former husband had served as missionaries for 11 years. The administrative assistant position reported to the Board’s Assistant General Secretary, Division of Ordained Ministry, which happened to be Bob’s position.

Impressed by her resourcefulness, Bob hired Jean. The two worked together for seven years until Bob’s 2009 retirement. Jean, 67, continues to work full-time with Bob’s successor. Bob, 80, who has a Doctor of Ministry among other graduate degrees, still consults with the General Board and teaches online classes in United Methodist polity and history.

Jean and Bob discovered they liked spending time together. But before things got too serious, Bob knew he “needed to find out if Jean would be at all interested in living at The Heritage.”

He needn’t have worried.

“I felt really right at home here,” Jean says, starting with a dinner date in The Heritage’s restaurant early on.

Life and love snowballed from there. Soon they were not only making wedding plans but coordinating the sales of multiple homes. Bob’s oldest son Christopher bought the five-bedroom, Kohler-family from his dad for his own family. His younger son, Jonathan, who had lived with Bob, moved into a condo

For Jean, the sale of her three-bedroom home was easy. The harder challenge was what would become of her beloved grand piano. A trained pianist, private piano teacher and church organist at Hermitage United Methodist Church, she hated to part with it. Daughter Karissa answered her prayers when she took it to Louisiana when her family moved to Louisiana.

Though the grand was too big for their Heritage apartment, she still plays the piano daily on the Yamaha keyboard Bob gave her. It’s a perfect fit in their wide foyer.

Though their relationship had an unconventional start, rest assured this is a true love story, even if it did begin on paper.

“This is probably the only man I would have married,” Jean said, giving Bob a sideways smile while sitting on the leather couch they bought together. Their collection

of “yours, mine and ours” furnishings looks like it has always gone together in their 1,600-square-foot apartment. “I was not looking to remarry,” she continued. “When we told our friends and families, I think everybody was in shock!”

Bob and Jean Kohler’s wedding picture from July 6, 2019.

Their shared six grandchildren – three boys and three girls — were the attendants at their July 6, 2019 wedding, held at Belmont United Methodist Church. Both their rehearsal dinner and a family wedding dinner after a church reception took place in The Heritage’s Poplar Hall, catered by the community’s professional culinary team.

“The entire family was supportive,” Bob said. “We really enjoy being together,” Jean added.

A honeymoon river cruise on the Rhine River allowed them to reconnect with Bob’s German relatives in Stuttgardt, Germany and they continue to grow those ties. This summer they plan to go on an ocean cruise with Jean’s brother and sister-in-law. They’re already talking about a 2023 cruise through the British Isles.

As for daily life, Bob starts each day with a long walk around The Heritage’s entire 48-acre campus, enjoys its Healthy Life Center and is the new chair of The Heritage Woodworkers Club. Jean looks forward to enjoying more activities after she retires “in two years at the most.” Luckily for her, “he is wonderful in the kitchen and with the laundry. We’ve really enjoyed cooking together.

Since that first date that wasn’t a date, their relationship has continued to grow and evolve in all the right ways. It’s simple, Jean says. “We just really enjoy one another.”

As for the other names on the list? “What list?” shrugs Bob.

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