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As Good As It Gets

Four local couples share their secrets to love, romance and making it last.

Steve Bracci

Music of the Heart

Christine Crookall and Ryan Kho

Intense. Passionate. Joyful. Just as an unforgettable piece of music brings forth a range of emotions, an equally intense romance does the same. For Augusta couple Ryan Kho and Christine Crookall, their love of music may have brought them together, but it’s a harmonious blend of commitment, support and, yes, tension that sustains their marriage.

“I swore I would never marry a musician because the highs are really high and the lows are really low, but Ryan is my balance,” says Christine, a professor of music at Augusta State University and a cellist with the Symphony Orchestra Augusta. Their romance spanned thousands of miles and the width of the continent to end up in Augusta. Timing in life, as in music, is everything.

As a concert violinist, Toronto bred Ryan Kho toured and taught in Europe, Asia and North America, including Mexico, Halifax, Montreal, California, Arizona, Boston and Carnegie Hall.  In the spring of 1990, he took a position with the symphony, with every intention of staying for a little while, then moving on. But the area grew on him. “I loved Augusta.  It led to a lot of opportunities and filled all the niches a musician craves—as a soloist, playing chamber music and teaching.”

Meanwhile in the spring of 2001, Christine, a fellow Canadian pursuing her doctorate at the University of Texas in Austin, interviewed for a position as a cello professor at Augusta State University. A few months after arriving, Christine played her first symphony concert and made a point to introduce herself to the concert master, whom she had heard was a fellow Canadian.
 

“My mom still jokes about that to this day. I had to go to Augusta, Ga., to find another Canadian to marry,” she says.
 

It took awhile for the drama to build. The two remained friends while playing in the symphony. But near the end of 2005, things changed after Christine filled in as principal cellist. Ryan suggested they go to dinner. He surprised her with flowers. “In the back of my head, I realized this is a date. That’s just how smooth he is. He makes people feel very comfortable and there was never any first date anxiety because we were such good friends first.”
 

As the concert master, Ryan held together the string section for the conductor. From his vantage point, the stars were already aligning. “The cello has always been my favorite instrument. Let’s just say it was the perfect marriage of a beautiful woman and a great instrument.”

The couple married in Vancouver in 2008 among family and friends. But there was no string quartet at this wedding. “Everyone wonders what musicians do at their own wedding. But we certainly didn’t want our friends working,” says Christine.

All musical arrangements have an element of conflict and, for Ryan and Christine, it came in the form of focal dystonia, a neurological condition that made it impossible for Ryan to play at the same physical intensity his professional career demanded. He retired from the symphony in 2008. A life focused on music had to be redefined. “A lot of people would crumble making that decision. Music is and was his life’s passion and to be told, to be forced to give it up was tough. I’m very proud of the way he handled it, with strength and determination,” says Christine. And an encouraging partner to share in his loss. “It was like a death to me,” Ryan says. “But Christine was the backbone during my period of mourning, so caring and supportive. She really was wonderful.” The resolution came in the classroom when Ryan made a decision to follow another passion—mathematics. He now teaches middle school math at Augusta Prep and serves as the middle school tennis coach.

But music is never far away. He teaches and still plays violin and, as conductor of the Greater Augusta Youth Orchestra, influences a new generation. “There are many parallels between music and math. It comes down to creating discipline and when the kids get it, it is so rewarding,” says Ryan.

As the couple raises their four year-old-son Aidan, they have come to appreciate the stability of a teacher’s schedule as opposed to the hours on the road, yet the pace is quite allegro. Days are spent in the classroom, after hours at the school and, yes, there are plenty of weekend events requiring a cellist and/or violinist. On those occasions the two savor the moments. “It definitely brings back memories,” says Ryan. “Whether it’s chamber music or at a wedding, it’s exciting for us to just play together. The anticipation of what he is going to do and following—or leading—it keeps it fresh,” says Christine.

Ryan and Christine have created their own work of art from the elements of their life together. Ryan’s delectable cooking. Christine’s gift of 50 roses on her husband’s significant birthday. The shared delight in watching their son grow up among it all. Lots of laughter. And always, always music. They have indeed created an unforgettable composition that makes their life together a tour de force.

Side by Side

Beverly and Andy Allgood

Just when you least expect it, love shows up. For Beverly Allgood, romance came in the midst of the most unlikely of situations—over abdominal crunches. “We were both on the floor of the gym doing sit ups and I looked over. There he was, here I was. And I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I think I’m in love.’ I will never forget that moment.”
Beverly, a fitness professional and co-owner of the Core Center in Martinez, met her husband of eight years, Columbia County dentist Andy Allgood, when she took him on as a client. Although she had trained hundreds of others, Andy’s calm demeanor and compassionate personality set him apart. “I could see his heart through those big blue eyes. I knew he was a good person.”

What started as a professional relationship ended up giving Andy’s heart a workout in more ways than one. He was drawn to Beverly’s enthusiasm and energy, but it didn’t hurt that “she was pretty cute too,” he says, grinning. “It’s her spirit. She’ll go to the gym and everyone crowds around her like a covey of quail.”
For a lively person like Beverly, there was another element that attracted her to this guy. “He’s constant, calm and steady. He would do anything for me and that’s a keeper.” That reassurance came in many ways—large and small. When Beverly received word that her son was injured demolishing an old house, Andy (who was in her spin class at the time) jumped off his cycle and was there to give him stitches. The more experiences they shared, the more they discovered they had in common, including similar backgrounds and values. They each had been married previously and between the two of them, had five children ranging in age from 17 to 25. Their relationship felt right and natural and two years after meeting, the Allgoods married in 2004.

It was a priority to make the transition seamless, which meant respecting old traditions and creating new ones. It started with the engagement when Andy recruited his daughter’s yellow lab to help him propose. “Beverly was at the house and Greta walked right up to her holding a little green box in her mouth,” says Andy. That act won the dog a permanent spot beside the couple’s bed to this day. She was later joined by Zinnie, a rescue dog Beverly describes as “part love and part crazy.”

The couple bought and renovated a home in McCormick County on the Savannah River, which serves as a base when all of their (now) adult children come home for the holidays. “I decorate like crazy at Christmas! It’s a really big deal around here, but we do it to make sure everybody feels involved,” says Beverly. Family celebrations are cherished and encouraged. Andy’s favorite part is the challenge of crowding everyone in under the same roof. “We have people sleeping all over the floors and sofas, but it’s a lot of fun.”
Any blended family can tell you it’s not always easy, but Andy says the tough times strengthened their marriage more than anything because they held together as their children faced challenges and found their way in the world.

With their brood spread out from Atlanta to Los Angeles to Palm Beach and most recently, Nicaragua, many vacations are spent keeping up with family, but the twosome also enjoys travelling by themselves. Back at home, Andy is an outdoorsman and avid hunter, while Beverly is an animal lover who will enjoy the view in the deer stand “as long as no one is shooting anything.” But it’s the effortless times spent together that keep the home fires burning. Like the afternoons spent antiquing, cruising around listening to beach music, taking quiet walks in the woods with the dogs and working out together. Regardless of the activity, both agree it’s the long conversations and quiet time they both cherish the most. “Our favorite thing is just sitting on our deck watching the river go by,” Andy says.

At one point in her life, when love seemed so elusive, Beverly remembers the encouraging words of a friend: “You are going to find the love of your life right around the corner.” A week later, Andy came into her life. He’s known to show up with champagne, flowers and even a simple sandwich for lunch. While good friends tease the couple about their sappy romantic ways, Beverly doesn’t mind. “He’s helped me understand every day is a celebration. When we started dating, he would tell me, ‘You haven’t seen anything yet.’ He proves it every day. I can’t wait for tomorrow!”

This joyful couple revels in one another and in all the shared moments of laughter, contentment and romance. Ten years after those first workout sessions, the Allgoods are still side by side looking at one another and finding one more reason to celebrate their love.

Picture Perfect

BJ and Clyde Lester

Chances are Tuesday afternoons will find Clyde and BJ Lester cuddling in the dark and sharing a bag of popcorn at their favorite date spot—the movie theater. But for this Augusta couple their real life enduring love story is much more exciting than anything they could watch on the big screen.

Their first meeting would’ve made a great romantic movie scene. The ruggedly handsome cowboy (played by Clyde) armed only with bravado, approaches the unsuspecting, wide-eyed young schoolmarm (BJ’s role) winning her over with his charisma and charm. And off they ride into the sunset.

Spontaneous, memorable moments have defined the Lesters’ romance, starting with that first meeting in 1972. Although she was warned to steer clear of Clyde (who had the reputation of being a prankster) BJ, a home economist at her first day on the job, found herself face to face with the agricultural extension agent minutes after stepping off the bus at Rock Eagle. “He walked right up and asked me my name. Then he said, ‘You don’t look like a Barbara Jean, you look like a BJ.’ I tell everyone I met Clyde and the first thing he did after saying hello was to change my name.” After three short weeks, he proposed; 40 years later, the love story between the fun loving guy friends called “Cowboy” and the smart, pretty teacher continues to unfold.
Ironically, the quality she was warned about was what attracted BJ to the guy from Cedartown, Ga. “He made me laugh. And after all these years, I’m still getting to know him. He continues to surprise me.” Her husband works hard to maintain his leading man status. “You have to keep it fresh. And we do that,” Clyde says.

From the beginning, taking the time to have fun has played a significant role in their marriage. After moving to Atlanta as newlyweds, Clyde coordinated the 4H program in Fulton County and BJ taught home economics. One Christmas things were so tight all they could afford was a homemade ornament kit; they invited friends over to join them. “You can’t take yourselves too seriously. Those times were some of the most fun we had; those things are on our tree every year. They are priceless to me.”

Although their relationship had a whirlwind of a beginning, underneath was a solid foundation of respect. The Lesters acknowledge they struggled with the same issues many working couples face, but say sharing the load was important. One disagreement in particular comes to mind for BJ, who credits her husband with the solution. “I was angry because I wanted a housekeeper. Clyde did not. Instead he gave me a pad and pencil and said, ‘Write down whatever you want me to do so you don’t have to work so hard.’”

The Lesters believe the things that have contributed to the longevity of their marriage cannot be quantified, and they warn young couples to treasure thoughtfulness over everything. “Some of the best times of our lives were when we had nothing. Be patient. It will come,” says Clyde. Case in point, one of Clyde’s prize possessions was the result of BJ’s determination to get her husband the gift of a lifetime. He’ll never forget walking to his mailbox and opening a birthday letter from radio legend Gene Autry—requested by BJ. As a Western film historian, this autographed memento figures prominently in his collection, but the first thing he will tell you is how he got it.

As for BJ, love transformed her from a quiet farm girl from Newnan into the self-assured woman you see today. “I know my friends would find this hard to believe, but before I met Clyde, I was really quiet and shy. He gave me confidence and made me feel like my opinion really does matter.”
The Lesters, who are both retired, put a premium on friendships and spending time with daughter Shelley, who is married and lives in Columbia. But Clyde, 69, and BJ, 63, also appreciate opportunities to start traditions—like the one Clyde began when BJ retired 14 years ago. “He brings me coffee in bed,” she says demurely. It’s clear the passion these two feel for one another hasn’t diminished over time. BJ says her heart still skips a beat when she sees him across the room and Clyde calls his wife “the prettiest woman out there and the queen of this hop!”

In this real life romance, Clyde and BJ have the starring roles, but they’ll be the first to tell you fate played a part too. “I think there are little Cupids out there flying around and when the stars line up, you’re smitten—when you know it, you know it. I don’t think it works for everybody, but it sure did for me,” says Clyde. 
Just like the best romantic movies, sometimes the most unforgettable love stories happen when you jump in and see where it takes you.

In It To Win It

Missy and Scott Fitzgerald

Between 8 and 9 every evening, Missy and Scott Fitzgerald are on a mission. Although this Evans couple will be the first to admit their marriage is proof that opposites attract, when it comes to bedtime, it’s all about teamwork. “We look at each other and think, ‘Goal: Stay on task,’” Missy says, laughing. Scott adds, “We love being with the kids, but we can’t wait to get them in bed.” With three active children requiring their attention, this couple feels the key to reinforcing their relationship is reserving a little time for one another after the kids are tucked in.

Any young couple with children will tell you time is a precious commodity where romance often ends up low on the priority list. But in the course of their 13-year marriage, Missy and Scott have come up with a system that works. As parents of nine-year-old Sidney and four-year-old Harrison, their time is divided between school, gymnastics and ball games. But Missy credits the birth of Phillip, who she calls “our little surprise,” as the event that changed their marriage for the better nearly two years ago. “When you’re outnumbered, you have to work together,” she says. Scott, owner of a local wealth management firm, made a conscious decision to invest more time at home with his family when his youngest son was born. “Three is exponential, that’s the way I put it.” The divide and conquer team approach has strengthened their marriage and given them an appreciation for the diversity they bring to the life they’ve built together.

Missy was a 19-year-old college student in Valdosta when she met Scott, a CPA working in Swainsboro. They started out as friends, but it didn’t take long for love to blossom. During their two-year long distance engagement, they learned the importance of communication and appreciation of their contrasting personalities. “I remember thinking this guy has a house and a job and he was so together and I was so not together. But luckily, I had a little time to figure it all out and I knew he was the guy I wanted to marry,” she says. But Scott was attracted to those differences. “That’s one of the main reasons I was drawn to her; she was easy go lucky, spontaneous, just liked to have fun and loved life.” An essential lesson Missy, now 36, and Scott, 41, have learned in their years together is it’s impossible to change someone without changing who they are; that’s where the mutual respect comes in. “Scott’s very goal oriented, but he’s also a giver and a pleaser. He works really hard to make our marriage work and to give me the things I need—physically, emotionally. I know my happiness is important to him,” says Missy. Meanwhile Scott says his appreciation of Missy’s easy going nature, big heart and ability to let things go was the catalyst for his own change in dealing with disagreements. “I would just always tell him, ‘We’re on the same team, baby,’” says Missy.

The couple points to a foundation of faith as a building block to resolving conflict. Missy recalls her father, a minister, telling them there are always three players in a marriage—husband, wife and God. “God put us together and he can keep us together,” she says. With that in mind, Missy and Scott feel their children need to see the two of them balancing every aspect of marriage. That includes everything from being openly affectionate by kissing, holding hands and hugging to lending a hand folding clothes and helping out after dinner. “She says flowers are nice, but loading the dishwasher is even better. Besides, I can get a lot more dishes in there,” Scott laughs. Missy also credits her husband with taking care of all the details so the two of them can get away and recharge, which they do three or four times a year.

 “Love is a choice. We choose to be together, regardless of the personality differences that drive us crazy and regardless of the things going on in our lives. We work hard every day to put each other’s needs ahead of our own,” says Scott.
Every once in awhile, whether it be playtime or bedtime, Scott or Missy will be hit with an “aha moment” as they catch appreciative glimpses of one another’s personalities reflected in their children. It’s during those times they realize their love has not only helped them accept a lot to get to this point, says Scott. But Missy, a long distance runner adds, “We are in this for the long haul and—we’re in it to win it.”

The union of a goal-oriented planner and a fly by the seat of your pants free spirit can be challenging to say the least. But this attitude of determination—and hearts filled with love—make their shared goal of a precious life together all the sweeter.

 

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