They share a love for theater and singing

05/28/2014 2:54 PM

06/03/2014 10:17 AM

Richard Wagner had seen the beautiful Shirley Long from afar. Both were 19 and students at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

“She looked like Ava Gardner,” Richard says. “I wanted to get to know her better, but she was a cheerleader and in another social strata.”

It was the spring of 1954, and Richard was thrilled when Shirley caught up with him after he sang at a community fiesta and complimented his voice. He was even more thrilled when he joined the forensics team and got to ride to a tournament in the same car as Shirley.

First impressions:

Shirley: “He was one of the nicest men I’d met. He had a beautiful voice, a great sense of humor and I had fun talking to him.”

Richard: “She was very open, a good listener, and I could talk with her about anything. We also shared similar interests: music, theater and speech.”

The unfolding: Shirley was dating a lot, but she and Richard talked on the phone frequently. After three months, Richard asked Shirley to marry him, but she refused. He was persistent, though, and even accompanied her to church.

Eventually they both ended up at Emporia State University, where they spent a lot of time together. During their second year, they decided it would be cheaper to live together. After they were married on Sept. 9, 1956, in Kansas City, Kan., they moved into an apartment with rent of $27 a month.

Favorite shared activities: They love stage, screen and music. They’ve performed in theater, movies and commercials together. They work with the Senior Barn Players and often perform for community gatherings. Shirley has also been a host on community radio station KKFI-FM.

Careers: Richard is retired from a 35-year management career with AT&T. Shirley taught high school language arts.

Family: They live in Overland Park and have four children and five grandchildren.

What keeps their relationship strong: They know how to listen to each other and to truly communicate. Through their deep love and connection, they helped each other survive the suicide of their oldest son.

“Richard is my padded cell,” Shirley says. “I’m emotional and he calms me down.” They also encourage each other to explore their creativity.

The qualities they most appreciate about one another:

Shirley: “I like the calm way Richard accepts life. His strength helps me through. He’s smart and interesting, and we have a terrific partnership.”

Richard: “Shirley’s spirit remains indomitable. I really like the way she looks forward to life. She has a fervor that inspires me.”

Deborah Shouse is a freelance writer. Suggest a Love Story couple by writing to lovestory@kcstar.com.

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