A DJ on the radio the other day asked listeners to call in and tell of their worst Valentine’s gift ever. As you can imagine, callers chimed in with lots of examples- a map, a fast-food dinner, an unsigned card, or nothing at all. While it was certainly entertaining, that’s not what has stuck with me the past week in regards to Valentine’s Day. What has stuck with me is an encounter I had last week with two Girl Scout alumnae and supporters, Patricia and David Gerling.
If you’ve never met the Gerling’s, I hope after reading this you feel like you know them. They have an amazing love story that actually started at Girl Scout Camp Texlake. I sat down to interview them and walked away in awe of the tremendous partnership they have and the love that they feel after 35 years of marriage.
In the summer of 1977, Patricia Wolf headed to Camp Texlake for her last summer, working as the Business Manager. She had attended Texlake for years, as a camper and then as staff. That same summer, David Gerling headed to Camp Texlake as an Assistant Ranger, prodded by his father to get his first real summer job.
They met moving mattresses and preparing the camp the week before the first campers arrived.
“We can both remember the exact moment we saw each other --it was like, ‘you know, who is that guy, I’ve never seen him before,’” said Patricia.
“But that was the minute and later I came to find out that he was working on staff.’
“I remember seeing this girl and going ‘Wow!’, said David. “I didn’t know why I said wow, but I remember the moment, very specifically.”
With the grueling schedules of summer camp staff, they would work for two weeks, then get 24 hours off. All the camp staff spent time together on their days off, and Chip (Patricia's camp name) and David became friends in that group setting.
During their free time, they’d talk about politics, sports, school, family, and animals. “We also talked about our goals in life,” Patricia said, “And we got a sense of…” “…What the other person’s goals in life were; where they were headed,” David finished for her. Yes, y’all, they are that cute; they finish each other’s sentences.
They’d go sailing with other counselors on Lake Travis, or sit and talk on the porch of Starke Lodge together. “We do everything together, and we always have,” Patricia said.
Of course, as they got to know each other over the course of the summer, they had lots of fun camp memories. David described to me how he earned his camp name that summer.
“We were doing a talent show for the campers at the craft house and I had been preparing for it secretly, “he said. “I was going last, so I was either going to be a grand finale, or, if it didn’t go well, I would just sneak off into the night.”
“So the music starts, I throw open the window and jump through it and startle everyone. Then I started singing the Yogi Bear song. After that moment, everyone said ‘That’s your camp name- Yogi.’”
If you’ve ever been to resident camp, or seen a movie about a resident camp, you know that the campers and counselors are always playing tricks on one another. David shared a memory of pranking the counselors with Sonny, the camp ranger, then realizing that the camp director was pranked, too. Uh oh.
“Sonny set me up to this,” David said. “We thought it would be really funny. 'Central' was located in main camp and was the location of female showers and restrooms for counselors and administrative staff. The showers were open-air on the top. So one day, Sonny said to me, ‘David, it would be really funny once there’s a crowd in there, if you take the water hose and spray the cold water from the well over the top of the shower.’
“So I run out there, grab the hose and squirt it over the top. And we are just dying laughing. Then, I hear the voice of the Camp Director Skipper who's in the shower,” David said. “I turn around and Sonny is nowhere to be found. Of course, Skipper somehow knew it was me.”
Of course the fun and games of camp couldn’t last forever and summer camp ended. Patricia finished her last year at St. Edward’s and David headed to Texas A&M in College Station to start his freshman year in the Texas Aggie Band. They dated long-distance, with Patricia visiting once a month during her senior year.
”We didn’t have the internet, so we wrote letters,” said Patricia. “And we didn’t have cell phones, and it was long distance charges, so we didn’t talk to each other during the week.”
“We couldn’t talk until after a certain time on Saturday,” David added. “We’d set the clock since we could only talk for 20 minutes because it was going to cost $6. And back then, $6 was a lot to pay on a phone call.”
David and Patricia got engaged on Easter in 1979. Patricia graduated from St. Edwards and moved to College Station, where she began working at Texas A&M. In May of 1980, the two married.
Both of them attribute much of their family success to the influence of each of their parents. They have two children who they raised in College Station, and to whom they instilled those same family values.
Their son, Bradley, now lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and works with computer technologies for Bank of America. He earned his Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow. Their daughter, Kellie, lives in College Station and is a paraprofessional in the high school Special Education Department. She sold lots of Girl Scout cookies and earned her Girl Scout Gold Award, too.
Patricia and David Gerling are still very much in love. They still laugh at each other’s jokes, kiss in the middle of stories, and are committed to an equal partnership.
“Marriage is a relationship built on love, trust and support for one another,” David shared. “I have to bring 100% to the game and she does, too. When she was going through her cancer treatment (Patricia is a 12-year breast cancer survivor), I was there for her as her soulmate and as her nurse, and to keep her strong. By keeping her strong, it kept us strong,” said David.
Keep them strong it did. In case you haven’t fallen in love with this couple yet, Patricia said this of their relationship: “We never really looked back, never thought twice. We really found true love and meaning to life in lots of different ways. David's my best friend, my soul mate; he's my companion.”
So whether you’ve met your Yogi Bear, your soulmate or you are still looking, we wish you a Happy Valentine’s Day full of laughter and frozen Thin Mints (the Gerling’s favorite version of the Girl Scout Cookie).