Reba McEntire opens up about finding love with her boyfriend Anthony "Skeeter" Lazusso in this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
The country legend — who was previously married for 26 years — is currently dating a soft-spoken retired oil geologist named Anthony “Skeeter” Lasuzzo, and she couldn’t be happier.
“We’re totally in love — absolutely,” McEntire tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week’s issue. “I wouldn’t put up with somebody for two years if I wasn’t in love with ’em!”
McEntire, 64, met Lasuzzo, 70, in August 2017 when she thought she was just on a vacation tour of Jackson Hole, Wyoming, with a friend of her pal Kix Brooks, who is known for being one-half of the country duo Brooks & Dunn. Lasuzzo — a widower with homes in Wyoming and Texas — is an accomplished wildlife photographer who knew how to show McEntire’s party prime locations for animal sightings.
“We just had the best time,” McEntire — whose new album, Stronger Than the Truth, is out Friday — says. “And so two nights later, we all went out to dinner, and he bought my dinner.”
McEntire returned to Jackson Hole two months later, and Lasuzzo asked her out on a date. “I was there almost a week and we spent every day together,” she says.
The pair’s relationship “gradually” grew more serious before they made their public debut at the Grammy Awards in 2018, and the rest has been history.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new love in McEntire’s life.
He lives in a small town
Lasuzzo has a home in Pottsboro, Texas — which has a population of about 2,000 people — and another in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. While McEntire lives in Nashville, the couple switches off spending stretches of time at each other’s residences.
“We do a lot of walking,” she says of how they like to spend time when they’re together. “He lives right there on the lake [Texoma], got a beautiful home. And then when we go to Jackson Hole, we snowshoe and walk and get into nature.”
Lasuzzo’s Texas home also happens to be located a convenient 90-minute drive from where McEntire’s family resides in Oklahoma.
“[We] go up and see my momma,” she says, adding of the happy coincidence, “Yeah, it’s my backyard.”
He loves to travel
Like McEntire, Lasuzzo loves to travel — and not just between their Nashville, Texas and Wyoming homes.
So far, the pair have vacationed in South Africa, Italy and Iceland together with more trips planned. While McEntire says Lasuzzo wants to go back to an Arctic location in the winter to see the Northern Lights, she’s not totally sold.
“I don’t care to go back when it’s so cold,” she says.
While McEntire likes to text, he’d rather make a phone call
When they were first getting to know each other, McEntire — who is a self-proclaimed “big texter” — says Lasuzzo asked her if they could talk on the phone instead of text.
“He said, ‘I’m not that good at texting,'” McEntire explains. “So we started talking over the phone.”
Aside from his passion for travel and photography, McEntire says Lasuzzo has an affinity for meditation.
“Skeeter’s a meditator,” she says. “He can meditate, and my meditating is my prayers, but my prayers are quick and often.”
He was previously married
Lasuzzo is a widower and was previously married to Marolyn Tyler Lasuzzo, who died in 2013 after a seven-year battle with breast cancer at the age of 65. Together, they share four children — daughters Holli, Tyler and Kristi and son Blake — and five grandchildren.
He knows how to handle her celebrity
Since making their red carpet debut in 2018, Lasuzzo accompanied McEntire when she received her Kennedy Center Honor in Washington last December, and he’s joining her in Las Vegas on Sunday for the Academy of Country Music Awards, which she’ll be hosting for the 16th time. The couple has already been making preparations for their red carpet appearance.
“We like to color coordinate a little bit,” McEntire says, “to where we don’t clash.”
Grateful to have found a self-possessed man who can take her stardom in stride, McEntire allows that he’s had to adjust to being out and about with such a recognizable face. “How do you explain my life?” she says, recalling their first few public outings. “How do you explain that some people will run over him to say hi to me?”
For more from Reba McEntire, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Though Lasuzzo has been retired for several years, he has had plenty of experience as a professional while working in the oil and gas industries since 1974.
“He was in oil and gas and he gave speeches and talks and dealt with the public, and so he understands a lot more than someone else might not be able to,” McEntire says. “It came natural for him.”
To catch country’s biggest stars hitting the red carpet, tune in to Red Carpet Live: 54th Academy of Country Music Awards, kicking off at 6:30 p.m. EST and streaming live on PEOPLE.com, Facebook, Twitter, PeopleTV.com, or download the PeopleTV app on your favorite device.