A Tribute to Romance

Jim and Jessica McCune Bary and Yvonne Gordon, Both 38 Mike Hill, 57 and Ellie Donovan, 55 Cliff and Joan Stearns

Photos By John Jernigan • Introduction By Dean Blinkhorn

“Love is life. All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.”

— Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, Ocala Style features four of the area’s best-known couples photographed in their own unique settings by award-winning photographer John Jernigan. This year’s group — Jim & Jessica McCune, Bary & Yvonne Gordon, Mike Hill & Ellie Donovan, and Cliff & Joan Stearns — may vary in age, race, and work experience, but they all share one common trait: They are loving, devoted couples.

In the following pages, these accomplished local pairs reminisce about their favorite Valentine’s Day memories. Rather than tell their stories for them, though, we chose to let their own words come through instead. I hope you enjoy their anecdotes as much as I did.

Names: Jim & Jessica McCune
Occupations: Jim: County Judge of Marion County. Jessica: Parish Nurse/Health Ministry Coordinator, Munroe Regional Medical Center, Pastoral Care Department, RN and LMHC

What’s your funniest “couple” story?

The church where we married suggested pre-marital counseling that included personality testing. When the psychologist met with us to review the tests, he raised his eyebrows. Both of us were first-born children, had lived alone a long time, and were strong willed. He smiled and suggested we always have a clear division of tasks and responsibilities lest we boss each other around too much!

What makes your spouse so special to you?

Jessica: Jim has the energy to care about my work and the people I work beside. He is generous with his time and helps with my volunteer projects. While the courthouse was closed during the hurricanes, the hospital remained open for business. He put on a Volunteer and Senior Services badge for Munroe and answered the phones at the discharge/courier desk.

Jim: Jessica keeps me honest and challenged. Her broad range of interests expands my horizons. Her comfort level with risk is a good balance for me, as I tend to be much more cautious.

What do you do to keep your bond fresh and exciting?

We both enjoy travel, history, and learning about other cultures. We have been able to go on short-term mission trips and learn about other countries from the inside out. It is inspiring and renewing to learn people all over the world are very similar.

What’s your most memorable Valentine’s Day gift?

Two years ago, Harvest International, a local mission board, hosted a Valentine’s dinner to raise money for a rice and beans fund for school children in St. Martin in South Haiti. They are hosting a similar dinner this year and it is a nice way to spend the evening with friends.

Names: Bary & Yvonne Gordon, both 38

Occupations: Bary: art director. Yvonne: businesswoman

How did you first meet?

We grew up in Birmingham, England, and we were both from large families. We were neighborhood friends who went to elementary school together then went to separate colleges. At 16, we were re-introduced through a mutual friend.

What’s your funniest “couple” story?

Bary: When we where having our first child and the contractions were five minutes apart, I told Yvonne it was time to go to the hospital. She insisted on having a shower and washing her hair. Within a half an hour of arriving, she was having the baby, so what did she decide to do? She called her mom in England!

What makes your spouse so special to you?

Yvonne: After 23 years, I feel like we just met. Bary is my best friend and I wish everyone could experience the kind of love that I share with my husband. He is the best Valentine’s gift I could ever have.

Bary: Yvonne is the center of my life. She makes me feel like the luckiest man in the world.

What’s your most memorable Valentine’s Day gift?

Yvonne: A whole day at the spa getting pampered.

Bary: One year my wife sent me flowers. Guys don’t usually get flowers, but it was nice.

What are your favorite Valentine’s Day traditions?

Yvonne: Bary always buys me a wonderful card, sends me flowers, and takes me out to dinner. We also have lots of massages, a bath, and a nice glass of bubbly.

Names: Mike Hill, 57 & Ellie Donovan, 55
Occupations: Mike: Administrative Director for the Robert Boissonneault Oncology Institute. Ellie: retired teacher

How did you first meet?

We met in the Undergraduate Library at the University of Florida during exam week on May 30,1968.

What’s your funniest “couple” story?

Ellie: Since there are so many Mikes in the world, I’m in the habit of calling Mike “Honey Bun.” Soon after we switched cell phone services to take advantage of the two-way radio feature, I pushed the button on my handset and said, “Honey Bun, are you available?” My squeaky little voice interrupted a serious business meeting. Since then, he tries to remember to turn his phone on vibrate and I try to remember to simply say, “Are you available?” when I use the radio feature.

What makes your spouse so special to you?

Mike: I’m a high-energy person and having grown up as an Air Force brat, I’ve always been goal oriented and in the habit of accomplishing tasks quickly. Throughout the almost 34 years of our marriage, Ellie has brought balance into my life, continually guiding me with her loving, gentle manner.

Ellie: Mike’s thoughtfulness, sense of humor, and the support he’s given to our family endear him to me.

What do you do to keep your bond fresh and exciting?

We go dancing, escape for weekends at the beach, and have sunset wine-and-cheese picnics whenever possible. We also go out on dates regularly so we have time to talk without interruptions, sometimes take classes together to learn new things, and take vacations together every year.

What are your favorite Valentine’s Day traditions?

We always do something romantic on Valentine’s Day, but it changes every year. Before the girls were born, we’d go out to dinner. After our daughters came along, we’d go out on a Valentine’s family date. Since they’ve left home, we’ve come full circle.

Names: Cliff & Joan Stearns

Occupations: Cliff: U. S. Congressman. Joan: Community College Administrator (Assistant to the President)

How did you first meet?

We met at a party in Westport, Conn., in the fall of 1970.

What’s your funniest “couple” story?

It is too difficult to pick just one. The Canadian camping trip sans rain protection, matches, and general supplies during a monsoon… soggy. Running the sailboat aground on New Year’s Day… damp. Taking a brief bike ride on the cape that extended many more miles than planned… exhausting. Installing our first garage door opener… priceless.

What makes your spouse so special to you?

Cliff: Joan is special because she is fun to be with and no one can make fun of me better than she.

Joan: Life with Cliff has always been exciting because he enjoys doing new things. He has considered me his partner in all areas of his life.

What do you do to keep your bond fresh and exciting?

We talk numerous times every day and plan travel and “getaway” time as much as possible.

What’s your most memorable Valentine’s Day gift?

Joan: One of the more memorable gifts I received was a night at the National Theatre in D.C. to see Contact. Absolutely delightful!

Cliff: A gift of The Art of Living by Epictetus, a manual on virtue, happiness, and effectiveness.

What are favorite Valentine’s Day traditions?

Recycling the Valentine’s card from the year before over a quiet dinner.

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