February 16, 2004 12:00 PM

A box of memories in the mail rekindles a college romance


First dated: 1987

Reunited through: A lawyers’ Web site

It was one of those lyrically romantic moments, that night in January 1987 when Ron Pritchard, then a freshman at the University of California, Santa Barbara, fell for Amelia Ryan. They were at a party, and Amy, as she’s known, had just swallowed a goldfish. Ron was a goner. “I wouldn’t do it, but I was impressed that a girl would,” says Pritchard, 36. Recalls Ryan, 35: “It took a whole beer to get it down.”

The next morning, Pritchard left an envelope full of Goldfish crackers in her mailbox. They started sending notes to each other. “Nothing mushy,” Ryan says. “Sort of philosophical messages, like ‘What could the rain symbolize?'” For the four years they dated, the pair were inseparable. But after graduating in 1990, Pritchard broke it off—”I was young and thought I was supposed to move on,” he says—and moved to San Diego. “I was heartbroken,” says Ryan. “I packed his letters in a large box, sealed it with gaffer’s tape and stored it away.”

Pritchard started a Ph.D. in philosophy at U.C. Davis, entered into another relationship, then jumped on the dot-com bandwagon; he now runs a Davis firm that creates and gives technical support for Web sites. An attorney, Ryan wed another classmate in 1995. A few years later, after her former college roomie ran into Pritchard by chance, Ryan decided to mail him the box of his letters. After a Yahoo! search of Pritchards in San Diego, she found Ron’s father’s number, and he in turn passed along Ron’s number in Davis. They spoke briefly. “I felt a twinge,” he says. “But Amy had included [with the box] pictures of her husband. Knowing there was no future for us, I taped up the box.”

After his own relationship broke up in 2002, Pritchard, still feeling that twinge, decided to mail the box back to Ryan, but had no contact details for her. He knew she was a lawyer, however, and, given his line of work, went to the Net, tracking down her office number on the State Bar of California Web site. He called her on a Friday night, missed her and left a message. As fate would have it, Ryan separated from her husband the very next day. “I dragged myself in to work Monday morning and Ron’s was the first message,” she says. “It was an epiphany. I knew we were meant to be together.”

They began a voluminous e-mail correspondence, then agreed to meet in San Francisco on Sept. 28, 2002. “He said, ‘I love you and want to spend the rest of my life with you,'” she says. They wed the following May and now live in Sacramento. “First love was imprinted on me,” says Ryan, “and never went away.”

For years she thought he was dead—then the e-mail came


First dated: 1960

Reunited through: Classmates.com

They met as eighth graders in Tacoma, Wash., back in 1959, and immediately Ron Hall and Pam Baker became best friends. “I’d give her rides on my bicycle,” he says. At that point, “we held hands but never kissed,” she says.

That would change. They dated for four years until, in 1964, their senior year in high school, Hall moved to Whittier, Calif. “The day he left was awful,” Baker recalls. Still, when he came back that summer and proposed, “I told him I didn’t want to marry him until after college.”

She left for Central Washington University; Hall joined the Army and went to Vietnam. In June 1967 he stepped on a land mine. Severely injured, Hall spent 15 months in military medical facilities, landing at Tacoma’s Madigan hospital. “Shocked” when she heard he was injured, Baker went to see him—but there was a mix-up: The hospital never told him he had a visitor and she figured he’d left. Hall’s mother had remarried, with a new name, so she had no way to trace him. For 20 years Baker periodically contacted the Department of Veterans Affairs to locate him, to no avail. “I assumed he was dead,” she says.

Meanwhile Hall had tried tracking Baker down. He wrote letters to her parents and sister but they had moved, leaving no forwarding addresses. He called her schools, even visited ex-boyfriends. But there were no leads. Both Hall and Baker married and divorced twice, and had two children each. She became a California state social worker, he an administrative assistant living in Sunset Beach, Calif. Once the Internet became an option, Hall tried finding her through alumni Web sites but failed. Then, in late 2000, he heard about Classmates.com, a service that reunites school chums. Hall found a Pamela Palmer (her maiden name) and e-mailed, “When I saw your name, my heart stopped.” She fired back, “Is this some kind of joke?”

When he replied with his number, she says, “I was afraid it was too good to be true.” But she called: “I was exploding inside, shaking.” Soon they were joking as if no time had passed. Two weeks later they met in San Diego, where she was at a conference. “I gave her a test kiss,” says Hall, now a family counselor. “I told her, ‘I have always loved you.'” They started dating, and on Labor Day, 2001, he moved in with her in Sacramento. Both 57, “we grieved over missing our youth,” Baker says. “But we’re hungry to experience life together.”

Torn apart by intolerance, their 62-year love endures


First dated: 1942

Reunited through: Alumni Web site

Anne Ramsey can still feel that giddy rush she experienced the first time she laid eyes on Masaaki “Ishi” Ishiguro. She was 17, a sophomore art student at Abilene Christian College in Texas; he was 22, a junior science major. “I thought, This is the best-looking man I’ve ever seen,” says Ramsey. “Fabulous.”

Love bloomed. It was January 1942, the dire early days of World War II. The Tokyo-born Ishiguro had transferred from California’s Pepperdine University, thus avoiding the fate of other Japanese-Americans on the West Coast who were sent to internment camps. Now he roamed Abilene, Anne on his arm. “My wallet was empty, so we didn’t go on dates,” says Ishiguro, 84. “We went to places like the library.”

Ishi was popular on campus. But when he and Ramsey got engaged in early 1944, “people would glare at us as if to say, ‘What do you think you’re doing?'” she says. That year, Ishiguro graduated and took a job in Chicago as a water analyst. Ramsey expected to hear from him. But no letter came. Crushed, she was unaware that Ishi (who couldn’t afford long-distance phone calls) had written and was distraught that he hadn’t heard from her. They now think his letters were intercepted by someone hostile toward their romance. “I got an anonymous letter saying to return her picture,” Ishiguro says. After a year he returned to Abilene. “He said, ‘I tried to forget you but I couldn’t. I want us to get married,'” says Ramsey, 79. “I thought, Peachy keen—I’m eating my heart out and you’re trying to forget me? I said no.”

Ishiguro moved to L.A., married and had two sons. Ramsey bore three children and buried two husbands but never forgot Ishi. In the mid-’90s she found his number in an alumni phone book. Hearing her voice for the first time in a half century, he seemed oddly underwhelmed. “I felt this was an icky end,” she says. Explains Ishi: “My wife was three feet away. My mind went blank.”

After his wife died in 1999, it was Ishiguro who hoped to fan the old flame. In his stupor he hadn’t asked Ramsey’s number or married name. So he tried an alumni Web site and got a listing for her maiden name.

When she answered his call, 60 years melted away. “I said, ‘I’ve never stopped loving you!'” Ramsey says. A phone and e-mail blitz ensued, and in April 2000 he flew to Texas. Reuniting outside Dallas, the old lovers embraced, and left it at that. “I’m so old-fashioned,” Ishiguro says. “I don’t kiss in public.” Instead they held hands. On June 11, 2000, they married at her son’s house. “It’s like being home,” says Ramsey, “just to snuggle up to him.”

Richard Jerome. Vicki Sheff-Cahan in Los Angeles and Darla Atlas in Dallas

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