Rekindling Lost Love, Illinois-Style

Many of us are good story-tellers; archivists are “story-catchers.”

Paul and Diane at the Kappa Alpha Theta House Christmas Formal, 1950

This past week, the Student Life & Culture (SLC) Archives received seven photos from alumnus Paul Wieland ’52 of Paul and girlfriend Diane Rutter ’52 taken during their time at Illinois.  I asked Colonel Wieland to include a memory piece about his photos to provide context for future researchers.  Below is his  amazing story of love, re-connection, loss and thankfulness:

“Summary of a Love Story”  from Colonel Paul Wieland, September 14, 2015

“This is a summary of the love story that accompanies the seven photos of Diane Rutter and myself, Paul Wieland. The photos were taken in 1950 and 1951 during our fraternity and sorority formal dances at the University of Illinois. Diane and I became college sweethearts just before our 20th birthdays, soon after we met at the University in January 1950. We spent four years together, two on campus and two after we graduated.

Diane’s mother was a dress designer and seamstress, and she made sure that Diane was always the beautiful “belle of the ball,” with a new gown for every formal dance. Those events were always a highlight of campus life; they involved a lot of planning and work — decorating the venue, selecting the best band, finalizing plans for refreshments, working on the guest list, etc. 

In September 1950, I “pinned” Diane – gave her my fraternity pin — after an informal dance at Kappa Alpha Theta, her sorority. Following campus tradition, all 60-plus fraternity brothers joined me one night soon afterward in a serenade for Diane and her sorority sisters. Tradition also dictated my sending a huge box of chocolate candy to the Theta house and a box of cigars to my fraternity.

In addition to the formal dances, my fraternity, Alpha Sigma Phi, also held a costume dance every year named after a movie about insanity, “The Snake Pit.” Diane, an art major, designed and made our brief, furry costumes for the April 1951 dance. I was a caveman with my woman in tow. Diane smeared dark greasepaint on my face, torso, arms and legs, as shown in the two photos. We won the first-place prize, but the shower I took later that night was long and soapy!

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Paul and Diane at the Kappa Alpha Theta House, 1950

By the summer of 1951, Diane began “pushing me away” – and then “pulling me back.” Because her parents’ relationship and marriage lacked closeness and affection, Diane was always afraid of commitment; she referred to marriage as “the door closing.” We saw each other only several times in the fall of 1951. I graduated early, on January 11, 1952, with orders to report three days later for Air Force pilot training at a small base near San Antonio. Diane graduated a few weeks later.

Our separation was brief. One Friday afternoon in March 1952, Diane phoned me from Dallas, where she was based as a new American Airlines stewardess. She asked if she should come to San Antonio the following day, an unnecessary question. On Saturday afternoon as she stepped off the train, we saw each other, and she flew into my arms! Our deep love for each other was still there, and we were together most weekends until I completed advanced pilot training in Lubbock, Texas.

On February 3, 1953, I was awarded the silver wings of an Air Force pilot. Immediately after the ceremony, Diane pinned the wings onto my uniform, and I surprised her with a memento of a miniature replica of the wings. Our relationship was affectionate and loving, but increasingly “bumpy” for the rest of 1953, but we saw each other as often as possible. Incidentally, when we re-connected 61 years later, I learned that Diane had treasured those miniature wings from the moment she received them, and she still had them.

Sadly, we parted in early 1954, and in March 1955 I married Margo, a beautiful young German pharmacist. Our idyllic, fairy tale marriage lasted 59 years and resulted in three sons, but Margo passed away in early 2014 from Alzheimer’s disease. Because of her health, we had moved to Falcons Landing, a continuing care retirement community for retired military officers in Sterling, Va. Diane’s 1956 unhappy marriage ended in divorce, but she raised her two children and then lived alone for 40 more years.

Is it possible to love two women at the same time? I’m convinced that I did. I don’t think I ever stopped loving Diane, and she never stopped loving me. We admitted to each other later that we often thought about each other. However, my marriage to Margo was never in jeopardy. In 1979, I unexpectedly “ran into” Diane in Washington, D.C. We had lunch together and chatted about old times. That was the last time I saw her until 2014, but I never stopped thinking of her and wondered if she had remarried.

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Paul and Diane at the Kappa Alpha Theta House, 2014

In February 2014, I found Diane’s name and contact information on the website of the University of Maryland, her master’s degree alma mater. I called her and learned that she was still unattached and that she owned and was living in a waterfront condo near Solomons, Md. Soon we were talking on the phone every evening, just as we had in college. A week later, chatting on the phone on a Saturday afternoon, I  suddenly told her I would be at her condo within two hours. When her door opened, there stood my 5-foot-two, 100 pound Diane – older, but still beautiful! In less than a blink, she was in my arms. We had a good laugh later when she confessed that she was glad that I wasn’t fat and bald.

A short time later, we knew we would soon be married, and I also knew I would have a second idyllic, fairy tale marriage. Diane believed that after all those years we were apart, God had a plan for us. We were married on July 19, 2014, and she moved into my home at Falcons Landing. She frequently asked me if our newfound happiness together could go on indefinitely, and I always assured that it would – because it was God’s plan.

However, in mid-December 2014, Diane developed severe bronchitis. Soon she was in a wheelchair, and on December 26 she was admitted to a hospital with pneumonia. Diane passed away peacefully on January 10, 2015. Neither of us knew that God’s plan included a very brief but loving time for us to be together. I’ve managed my grief by frequently thanking God for giving me two loving, wonderful women in my life. I’ll never forget either.”

*****

The University of Illinois Archives plays a critical role in preserving the University’s official records and publications.  Through its SLC Archives, it also captures the stories and experiences of thousands of students who have passed through the halls of campus.

Is your Illinois story in the Archives?  For more information, see our website or contact me at eswain@illinois.edu

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