Karen and Dennis were devastated when their parents wouldn't let them marry, but they never forgot about each other.
They met in 1958 in the school hallway at their high school in Brownton, Minnesota.
Dennis Vinar, 15, had had several girlfriends before, but 13-year-old Karen Lehmann was exceptional. While Dennis was a popular soccer player, Karen was a quiet, reserved musician.
“She was very special,” Dennis told KARE11 reporter Janel Klein in 2017. “I was always late for football practice because I was walking Karen home. That was much more important, I thought.”
Despite their parents’ objections to the adolescents’ mutual affection, Karen and Dennis continued to meet, but in secret. At the age of 15, Karen became pregnant. Dennis proposed to her (for the first—but not last—time), but her parents refused to let them marry.
Forced to place their daughter for adoption
As per her parents’ wishes, Karen spent most of her pregnancy in a home for girls who were pregnant out of wedlock. After the birth of their daughter in August 1961, Karen and Dennis were forced to place her for adoption. Dennis says he was glad that at least he had the opportunity to hold his daughter in his arms at that time and fill out her birth certificate.
“That was the last we saw of her. We had a photograph taken of her and that was the last of our memories of her,” Karen told Minnesota TV station WCCO 4’s reporter John Lauritsen in 2021.
He proposed to Karen a second time after the birth of their daughter, but her parents denied him permission again. “He asked me again to marry him,” Karen told Janel Klein, “And I was all excited about it at first, until I went home to tell my parents, and they did not approve of that at all.”
Later, Karen went to college and Dennis joined the Army, from where he sent her letters regularly. But his missives never reached her. After seven years, Dennis became engaged to Karen again, but their parents still rejected their relationship. As time passed, the lovers lost all contact. However, Dennis says that he never stopped thinking about Karen. “No, I never stopped thinking about her. She has, I say, a corner of my heart. No, she was always there,” he told Lauritsen.
Eventually, they both married other people. Karen earned a degree in Interior Design and Dennis studied English and Literature.
The story continued after 50 years
Five decades passed before they met again. In 2014, a friend encouraged Dennis, who had been single again for a while, to create a LinkedIn profile.
All these years, Karen had been convinced that Dennis had forgotten her. But, in fact, she was the first person Dennis thought of when he made his profile. He searched for Karen and contacted her.
Karen was widowed, and after months of talking on the phone, Klein reports, the two finally met again in person.
“It was just magic. She got out of the car and she ran around and she jumped on me and said babe, you’re home,” Dennis told the Minnesota TV channel. Two days later they sealed their teenage crush, which hadn’t cooled after 50 years, with a wedding.
Finding their daughter
But their marriage isn’t the last aspect of the happy ending to the ex-teens’ love story.
Together again, Dennis and Karen decide to search for their birth daughter, whom they hadn’t seen for 50 years.
Karen told KARE11 how Dennis convinced her, despite her concern that they might “disrupt their daughter’s life.” He told her, “I found you now, and my life would be complete if we found our daughter.”
And they did find her with God’s help and the support of an adoption agency. Jean Voxland was deeply moved by the encounter with her biological parents.
“It was like, ‘I look like somebody!’ and I kind of felt like I belonged,” Jean told Klein. “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. It’s a very emotional, moving experience,” she told Lauritsen.
All three are immensely grateful to be reunited after so many years. Dennis and Karen have a total of five children, nine grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren all together.
“The love we have for each other is second to none. Today, even today, it’s unbelievable,” Dennis told Lauritsen. “We still dance in the kitchen and we always will.”
They have shared their story in a book, How did you find me … after all these years?: A Family Memoir.