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Facebook via Denny Vinar

1 Child, 3 Proposals & 5 Decades Later: One Couple’s “Miraculous” Reunion

Culture

| LAST UPDATE 09/04/2022

By Kimberly Knapp

Most lovers could only dream of finding "the one that got away," but for Karen and Dennis, it was a reality. "This is a miracle, this really is," they gushed. Here's their incredible reunion story…

Finally Reunited

As teenagers, Karen and Denny were madly in love, utterly convinced they’d be together forever. But that’s not quite how things turned out, and it would be almost a lifetime before they were finally reunited.

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Facebook via Denny Vinar

After 50 years of distance, meeting again would be an incredible surprise to both of them. "The feeling was just absolutely, totally unbelievable," Denny later admitted. But they had to go through the ups and downs of almost an entire lifetime in between their early relationship and their reunion.

Enter Denny

Back in the 1950s in South High School, Dennis Vinar had a bright future ahead of him, and he was convinced he had it all worked out. And he wasn’t the only one who thought so - he was a bright, overachieving student who excelled at sports and academics. Everyone thought he was going places.

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YouTube via Mata Curiosidade

And this was both a result of Dennis’ natural abilities and his persistence and work ethic. Even as a teenager, the charming blue-eyed boy knew the value of hard work and dedication. He even had his own little mantra: “Persistence defeats resistance.” And this was something he would live by for a long, long time.

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Denny Meets Karen

But what about his future love? Well, Karen Lehmann wasn’t exactly seen as the perfect match for the more outgoing Dennis. She wasn’t sporty at all and preferred to channel her focus to more scholarly pursuits. She was quieter and more reserved than the popular young man.

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YouTube via Mata Curiosidade

The shy clarinet player also spent much of her time planning for the future, something the spontaneous sportsman couldn’t quite relate to. Indeed, the unlikely pair seemed like the last two people in South High School who would fall head over heels for each other. So how did it happen?

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That First Meeting

No specific instance sparked the connection between the 15-year-old and the 13-year-old. Instead, over time they would catch each other's eyes in the hallways as they walked to and from classes. "It was a fascination, probably," Karen explained about the beginning of their infatuation. "I was intrigued."

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YouTube via Mata Curiosidade

And for Denny, it was simple, even if he wasn't 100% sure where the attraction came from. "She was very special," he said. He had already had his fair share of girlfriends, but there was something about the freshman that was different. And it wasn't long before things went further.

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Love Blossoms

After their first few meetings back in 1959, it was clear that Denny and Karen had immediate chemistry. From the moment they looked into each other's eyes, they knew. And in a matter of weeks, they had fallen for each other and made their relationship official.

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YouTube via Mata Curiosidade

But how would they spend their time together? Well, it was the quintessential wholesomeness anyone would expect from a young couple in 1950s America. "With not much to do in this small town, [we] would go to dances in the school cafeteria after home football and basketball games," they recalled.

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A Shock Pregnancy

But within the year, their wholesome schoolroom love had changed into something else. And in 1960, 14-year-old Karen made a shocking discovery: She was pregnant. She and Denny were completely taken aback - they could never have considered that something like this would happen.

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YouTube via Steve Tv Show

After all, Karen and Denny were both practically children, and the idea of raising a child of their own was overwhelming. And as for Karen, she had so many plans for the future… with a baby on the way, all of those plans were in jeopardy. And then she had the rest of the community to think about.

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Hidden Away

After all, the news of a 14-year-old’s pregnancy would be a scandal in their small town. And it would only be a matter of time before everyone knew, especially as her belly grew larger. And when she came clean to her parents, Mr. and Mrs. Lehmann were well aware of the harsh reality of small-town rumors.

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YouTube via CBS Evening News

The truth was that they had a short window of time to make a decision. And after days of deliberating, Karen’s parents made the choice that they felt was best for their daughter and the family. To Karen’s horror, she was quickly swept up and sent away to a Lutheran Social Services home.

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The Relationship Fades

The Lutheran home was an institute that looked after pregnant teens until they gave birth to their children. This meant Karen would be spending months hidden away from her family, and of course, her boyfriend, Dennis. She rarely ever saw him and spent most of her waking hours thinking of their relationship.

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YouTube via Steve Tv Show

She knew it wasn’t his fault - Denny was still a teen and still in high school. He couldn’t drop everything to be with her. And though the 16-year-old made an effort to visit and keep in touch, it was inevitable that time and distance were coming between them. Not to mention the baby that was growing inside her…

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Putting Her Up For Adoption

The 9 months passed slowly for Karen, but eventually, the big day came. Karen Lehmann and Dennis Vinar's daughter was born on August 13, 1961. She was a gorgeous, healthy little baby, with her father's bright blue eyes. Her mom quickly settled on the perfect name: "Denise."

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YouTube via CBS Evening News

Meanwhile, Karen was flooded with feelings she had never experienced. From the moment she laid eyes on her daughter, she loved her. So it broke her heart when just one hour after delivering little Denise, her daughter was taken from her arms to prepare for her adoption. "That was the last we saw of her," Karen murmured.

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The Proposal

But despite those long months spent apart while Karen prepared for the birth, she and Dennis actually stayed together for another 7 years. Unfortunately, the young woman still felt there was a hole in her heart where her daughter used to be. Dennis, on the other hand, was returning home from Germany after a stint in the military.

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YouTube via Wonderbot

And after 8 years together and various struggles and heartbreaks, the love that the young couple felt was as strong as ever. As Dennis was making his way home, he felt it was the perfect opportunity to ask Karen an important question. "He asked me again to marry him," Karen recalled.

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The Lehmanns Don’t Approve

The fact was that Dennis had already asked Karen for her hand - back when they were still just teens. While Karen had been unsure back then, now she felt it was the right time. "I was all excited about it at first," she shared - "until I went home to tell my parents..."

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YouTube via Steve Tv Show

Unfortunately for the two young lovers, Mr. and Mrs. Lehmann were not on the same page. And back in the 1950s, it was much more important for young couples to obtain their parent's blessings first. But for Karen's parents, marriage was something that had to wait until she had graduated from the University of Minnesota.

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Calling It Quits

It's not surprising that Dennis didn't take the Lehmanns' disapproval well. In fact, he was heartbroken. "I went through heck to be with her… and I couldn't," he reminisced decades later. Though he loved Karen more than anything, her parent's refusal was more than he could take.

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YouTube via Steve Tv Show

And as is the case with many thwarted relationships, Karen and Denny found themselves drifting apart. Since they couldn’t see a clear future together, it became difficult to keep their relationships afloat, despite all the years and memories they had shared. And soon enough, the relationship was over.

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Going Their Own Way

And so the years went on. And in a short time, Karen and Dennis had gone from potential fiancees to strangers. Things had not turned out the way they expected, but there was nothing for the pair to do but move on with their lives. Eventually, Karen found a new partner and started a family.

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Facebook via Denny Vinar

And despite the hurt he, no doubt, still felt, Dennis did the same. Soon enough, he exchanged vows with another woman, and he also started a family of his own. By now, that window of their lives, the one they spent together, had officially closed. At least that's what they thought…

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They Never Forgot

As the years went by, and Karen and Dennis grew older, what happened to those memories they left behind? For Karen, she left their relationship convinced it was the right thing to do. But as time went on, her feelings still remained. And above all, she thought of the daughter they had given up.

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YouTube via CBS Evening News

"Every time I heard the name Denise I'd look around to see if that may have been her," Karen revealed. And her ex-boyfriend had never truly given up on their past either. "I never stopped thinking about her…" he confessed. "She was always there."

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One Question Sparks It All

Though Denny was still plagued with memories and regrets, he knew he had to move on. So he continued down the years, knowing there was no use dwelling on the past so much. "In baseball, it's three strikes, and you're out," he said. But decades later, in 2014, he was invited to a dinner party that changed it all.

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Facebook via Denny Vinar

The hosts were asking every question as a way to help guests engage and get to know one another. One of the questions they asked was this: "if your physician gave you 60 days to live, who would be one person with whom you would like to talk or have dinner?" The question would remain in his mind through the night.

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The Search Begins

And as he headed home, Dennis knew there was only one true answer to the host's question. Deep down, he had known it the second he was asked it. And as those old memories began turning again in his head, he couldn't hold himself back any longer.

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LinkedIn via Karen Lehmann Vinar

Dennis made a beeline for his computer and went straight to the LinkedIn website. He typed two words into the search bar: Karen Lehmann. And sure enough, he found it. His heart soared at the sight in front of him. Sure, it had been decades since he’d laid eyes on her... but it was definitely her.

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Bridging The Gap

Dennis was ecstatic. It was exactly what he had been hoping for. "There she was - the third person down," he reminisced, smiling. "And I smacked my hands together and said, 'That's my lady.'" But once he had found her, what was he going to do? After all, it had been decades since they'd seen each other.

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YouTube via Steve Tv Show

But that didn’t dissuade him. In his eyes, it was literally the opportunity of a lifetime. And when Karen Lehmann walked into her busy office one morning, she was surprised to learn that someone with a very familiar name had left a message with her secretary. The name bought back a flood of memories.

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A "Digital Courtship"

Karen wasted no time in responding to Denny's message. She called him immediately, greeting him with an abrupt question: "How did you find me?" Dennis answered with a laugh, saying, "Whatever happened to hi, hello, how are you?" To Karen, it showed that he was just as charming as she remembered.

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YouTube via CBS Evening News

From that one phone call, she knew her life was about to be upheaved once more. In the coming months - three months, to be exact - Dennis and Karen began talking constantly, filling each other in on their lives for the last few decades. And despite being 2000 miles apart, they began "a three-month digital courtship."

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On The Road To Love

But as the months passed and the former lovers grew closer and closer, Dennis was left with a nagging question: where were they going to go from here? As it turned out, Karen had been widowed since 2010, and he was divorced. He knew this would be his last chance to rekindle the flame.

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YouTube via CBS Evening News

One day in January 2015, three months into their correspondence, Dennis boarded a flight to Portland, Oregon, where his son lived. But he had another plan up his sleeve - he had tacked a short trip onto his itinerary to Monroe, Washington, where a very special woman was waiting.

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The Reunion

Dennis flew into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, his heart almost beating out of his chest. He was excited and nervous, remembering all of those feelings of disappointment and heartbreak back when Karen’s parents had diverted their love. Was this the right decision after all?

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Facebook via Denny Vinar

But all those thoughts and hesitations flew out the window as he saw a car pull up to the airport pickup. He saw a familiar-looking face in the driver's seat and walked toward it. The door opened, and in Dennis' own words, "she got out… ran around, jumped on me, and said, 'Babe, you're home.'"

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Making Things Official

There was no reason to be nervous after all - Karen was just as ecstatic to see him after all those years. And from those first moments at the airport when they were able to look into each other's eyes, they both knew that they had made the right decision. "It did feel like nothing changed," she said.

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Facebook via Denny Vinar

But that wasn't all. "It was that night that we decided we were gonna get married 24 hours later," Karen said. And so, on January 22, 2015, after almost 50 years apart, Dennis Vinar and Karen Lehmann finally had the wedding ceremony they always wanted, 3 proposals later. "Third time's a charm," Karen laughed.

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A New Search Begins

Everything had finally come together. Well, almost everything. Mr. and Mrs. Vinar had both retired and sold their homes to start a new life, with a plan to return to where it all began: in Minnesota. But there was one more loose end they still had to tie up… a mystery that Karen and Dennis had never stopped thinking about.

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YouTube via CBS Evening News

Dennis was the first to broach the topic, something they had both been thinking about. "It took me all those years to find you, and now? It would make my life complete to find our daughter," he told his new wife. Naturally, she agreed. It seemed that their lost daughter was the missing piece of the puzzle.

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Tracking Down Their Daughter

But of course, it wasn’t as simple as looking up “Denise Vinar” in the phone book. So they contacted the adoption agency that had handled their case, and the couple was given the address of a 54-year-old woman named Jean Voxland. The mother of three lived in Kenyon.

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Facebook via Jean Voxland

There's no doubt she was surprised to receive the handwritten letter from two people who claimed to be her parents. Of course, she had always wondered about her birth parents. But after more than 5 decades it seemed unlikely they would ever meet. "The envelope and writing on it looked fishy," her husband claimed.

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The Truth Comes Out

Mr. Voxland was the first one to notice the letter in their mailbox, and he waited to tell his wife, knowing that the news would overwhelm her. "When I came home from work one day, he told me, I think you better sit down,'" Jean recalled. And sure enough, she couldn't believe what she was hearing.

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YouTube via CBS Evening News

"My parents are together, and they're looking for me?" she asked. The idea that it had taken almost 50 years for her parents to reunite and now they wanted to meet her, seemed genuinely bizarre. Who were they, and why were they finally looking for her after all those years?

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Making Contact

The stunned woman wasted no time. Whatever their reasons were, she wanted answers from her birth parents. So she immediately sat down and wrote a 5-page letter of her own, which she slipped into a thick envelope alongside a handful of pictures she had chosen. Then she set off to the post office.

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YouTube via CBS Evening News

And sure enough, the Vinars responded to her as quickly as possible, and a string of letters flew back and forth. To Jean's further shock, she realized she was regularly corresponding with the parents she had never met. And that could only mean one thing…

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Finally A Family

She had to meet them. And with her children's approval, she asked Dennis and Karen if they would agree to a meeting. Naturally, they wanted nothing more than to meet their daughter. "I got warm all over, my heart started to pound, and the tears just filled my eyes," Jean said emotionally.

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YouTube via CBS Evenings News

They arranged a time and place, and soon enough, she was standing before her biological mother and father. And once she laid eyes on them and began talking, it all made sense. "The questions you have when you're raised… who you are and your identity…" she said. "I was like, 'Oh my God.'"

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A Striking Resemblance

It was an emotional moment for the three adults. The Vinars finally felt that their little family was complete. And for Jean, it was an emotional whirlwind for a number of reasons. And one thing that stuck out was the similarities between her and Dennis. "I never ever looked like anybody - ever," she cried.

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YouTube via CBS Evening News

As she gazed into her father's matching blue eyes, it all clicked together. "I kind of felt like I belonged," she mused. "I don't think there are many feelings that would compare to not ever having seen your parents… and then they just walk in the door."

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Getting To Know One Another

It was a bittersweet sensation. Looking back on the years, it was clear that the trio had lost half a lifetime that they could have shared together. But that also meant that they were determined not to waste the time they had left. They began to fill their time with memories and moments shared together.

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Facebook via Denny Vinar

And over time, this extended to the entire family, as Karen and Dennis began to know each other's children, their own child, and their children's children. "The family has increased," Karen laughed. "We now have five children, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren."

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Looking Ahead

As we can see, in just the space of a year, Dennis and Karen had their lives turned completely upside down. "It's hard to explain the feeling, it really is," Dennis gushed. How often do two high school sweethearts rekindle their love almost 50 years later? But what happens next?

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Facebook via Denny Vinar

Well, no one can say for sure, but one thing is for certain: It's a new chapter for Dennis and Karen, and they feel nothing but positivity for what lies ahead. "The love we have for each other is second to none…" they both beamed. "We still dance in the kitchen, we always will."

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No Place Like Home

If anyone is living proof that we should follow our hearts no matter what, it's Dennis. Against all odds, he rekindled one of the most important relationships of his life, which many people could only hope to do. "After all these years, I've always had a place in my heart for Karen," he shared.

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YouTube via CBS Evenings News

And it’s no surprise that following his heart led him back to someone who loved him just as much. And now, with their new home, long-lost daughter, and a fleet of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, it’s safe to say that the future truly looks bright for Denis and Karen Vinar. And we couldn’t be happier for them.

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