After giving up their car keys, Betty Willis, 93, and LaVern Nelson, 92, found each other and a new romantic spark on the Durango bus.
Nelson noticed Willis as he rode the bus every morning to go to his coffee club at the Strater Hotel. Her lively manner struck him, but he didn’t have the opportunity to talk to her because she always sat behind the driver, who he found out later was her son.
But one day people were sitting in her seat, so he scooted over so they could sit together. Later he thought about asking her to lunch the next time he saw her, and how nice it would be if he could give her a card with his name and phone number.
“I didn’t have any anymore, so I thought well, I will make one,” he said.
After he gave her the card, she took it home and showed it to her son David Willis, who she lives with.
Her son had worked with Nelson’s daughter Kristi Householder for many years at Tamarron, and spoke with Nelson once when Kristi was in San Fransisco during an earthquake.
“He called Kristi up and said ‘your dad is trying to get a date with my mom ...’ She probably said ‘Well, he’s old enough,’” Nelson joked.
Their first date was in December 2015, and the two have had regular lunch dates ever since.
Willis was married for 67 years and Nelson was married for 65 years before their spouses died.
Willis wasn’t looking for a new relationship, but it was nice to have someone who could relate to some of the challenges of aging, she said.
“The funny part of it is, we have the same problems; we both have macular degeneration, both wear hearing aids,” she said.
They are often mistaken for a married couple and they generally high-five when that happens, Nelson said.
Each moved to Durango from outside the state later in life. Willis came from California and Nelson retired from Kansas after farming for 54 years.
His daughter Anita Wigton fell in love with Durango while they were on a family vacation, and subscribed to The Durango Herald. Back home in Kansas, Wigton saw an ad in the Herald for the marketing director of the 100th anniversary of the Strater, and she told her sister Kristi to apply for the job because Kristi had just graduated with a degree in marketing.
“Unbeknownst to me, they got in the car and drove to Durango for an interview,” LeVern Nelson said.
After Kristi got the job, Anita later followed her sister and eventually LaVern Nelson and his wife, Loranell, sold their farm and moved to the Durango area as well.
During his retirement, LaVern Nelson got involved in the Colorado Trail Foundation and stayed active, which was key when he had a heart attack and a stroke in quick succession last summer.
The message from his doctors generally was “If you hadn’t been in good enough shape, we would have just let you go,” he said.
While recovering in the nursing home, Willis took the bus once a week to come see him.
“It’s a joy to be with her,” he said.