Catonsvile couple married 54 years

Manfred and Rosemarie Walsmann, who have been married for 54 years, are shown in the Catonsville Senior Center. The two met on a flight from Frankfurt to Rome in 1955. Manfred, 83, born in New York, fell in love with Rosemarie, 85, a stewardess who was on a vacation trip to Italy . (Photo by Nate Pesce / February 12, 2013)

"In the air," she said. "In the clouds," was his answer. These were the responses when Catonsville residents Rosemarie Walsmann, 85, and her husband Manfred Walsmann, 83, were asked how they met nearly 60 years ago.

He was 25. She was 27.

He was going to visit family in South Africa. She was headed for a vacation in Rome.

Now, as Valentine's Day approaches, they are in their 54th year of marriage.

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Manfred was in the United States Army stationed in Germany when he decided that he wanted to visit his parents who had moved to South Africa years before. He hadn't seen them since the move and decided to use all four weeks of his vacation to make the trip.

Rosemarie, a native German, was working in the offices for KLM Royal Dutch Airlines and had decided to use one of her free flights to take a vacation.

After briefly interacting in the KLM office at the Frankfurt airport that fateful day in October, 1955, they began their respective trips.

"We entered the plane both at the same time at Frankfurt and we flew towards Rome," Manfred said.

The plane, an old propeller model, was scheduled for a one-hour layover in Rome to refuel before continuing on to Johannesburg.

A less-than-desirable seating arrangement set the stage for their encounter.

"I had bought a camera. I took lots of pictures when I was in the Army," Manfred said.

"I saw the Alps," he said. "But I was sitting in an aisle seat and there were two British ladies in the other seats and I couldn't look out and take pictures of the Alps. But I remembered that my (eventual) wife was sitting in the back."

Rosemarie was seated in the back part of the cabin with other KLM employees and, luckily for Manfred, had a window seat.

"I asked her whether I could possibly just take a few pictures out the window and she said yes. That's how we met," Manfred said.

After landing in Rome, the new friends had "a coffee or a Coke" and spent Manfred's hourlong layover talking and getting to know each other.

When he returned to the airport and prepared to board his flight to South Africa, he heard his name over the loud speaker being directed to go to a specific telephone station in the airport.

"I said, 'Who in the world knows me in Rome? I don't know a soul in Rome.' So I went to the telephone and it was my wife and she said, 'We haven't said goodbye yet.'" Manfred said. "So that's what we did. Said goodbye. And I got her address and was going to send her postcards from South Africa, which I did. And that's how it got started. We started to correspond over the years."

"I didn't think of marriage or anything, but it was nice," Rosemarie said of that first meeting. "But it was nice, and then corresponding, that was fun."

When Manfred returned to Germany, the two went on a few dates and spent some time together.

After he returned to the United States and completed his Army duty in January 1956, they continued to stay in touch via letters and phone calls. In 1957, Rosemarie made her first trip to the U.S. to visit.