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Catonsville couple found love in the sky in 1955

"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.

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.

"It was just another adventure at first," she said. "I didn't think right away of marriage or anything but that's what developed then out of it."

During her five-day visit to America, Manfred proposed. Rosemarie, though, said she needed time to think about it. She came back a year later and the two were married on July 26, 1958 in a church in Pittsburgh

Because the ceremony was so far away, neither Rosemarie's nor Manfred's family attended the wedding. It was a small ceremony with one witness, one photographer and one of Manfred's closest friends as the best man.

"They were all the people we had," Manfred said.

Rosemarie chose a business suit over a fancy gown and the two had a simple lunch with their friends after the ceremony.

Sophie Tucker, then a well-known actress and comedian, happened to be nearby and decided to join their party.

"They were taking pictures of us and she sat at the other table," Rosemarie said. "And she said 'Come here, child.' (to me) and she put her arm around me and they took pictures."

The couple honeymooned in Niagara Falls with only $50, then began their lives together in Pittsburgh.

"We were on our own. Nobody told us what to do. And that was really good," Rosemarie said.

When his job with Westinghouse Electric Company brought him to the BWI Westinghouse plant 30 years ago, the couple moved to Catonsville. They have living there ever since.

Active members at the Catonsville Senior Center, they enjoy spending time at the North Rolling Road facility and corresponding with their daughters, both of whom live out of state. Heidi lives in Arlington, Va. and Monika lives in Clinton, N.J. Each has two daughters as well.

After nearly 55 years as a couple, they have no special plans for Valentine's Day.

But the couple will spend the day together.

"It will be just us two at home," she said.

"I might get a box of candy. She likes candy," he said. "I'm sure I'm going to get a card. I always do."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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