Rich Blattner didn't impress Ronna the first time they met.
He was dark-haired, cute and kind of a jerk.
But more than 44 years later, she'd wouldn't trade him for the world.
It all began with a chance meeting at school.
"I was playing golf with my buddies at Triple Lakes Golf Course in Millstadt," said Rich, 68, of Edwardsville. "It was a Wednesday, the first week of summer classes at SIUE."
The golf game took longer than he had expected.
"Our front nine was fine, but when we started the back nine, we found ourselves playing behind a foursome of older ladies who played unbelievably slow. We tried to get them to allow us to play through, but no dice."
He finished the game at 4:30. Class started at 5:30.
"It was 1968, long before I-255 was even a pipe dream," Rich said. "My only route was Illinois 157, mostly two-lanes and a 45 mile-per-hour speed limit -- or less -- through Cahokia, Centreville, East St. Louis, Belleville, Caseyville, Collinsville. ..."
He parked in a far lot on the SIUE campus and raced to the third-floor Peck building for his American Education Systems class.
"The professor was just a few steps behind me," he recalled. "I bolted for the remaining empty seat, flopped down and noticed an attractive young thing sitting in the desk next to me.
"I said the only thing I could think of at the time. 'Ya know, they shouldn't allow women on golf courses.'"
"I have been working to get him straightened out ever since," said Ronna, 64, as the two sat in their windowed family room, atop a bluff, which overlooks her family's Brockmeier Sod Farm and St. Paul's United Church of Christ where they married.
The Blattners have two children, four grandchildren and share a love of music. Both are part of SIUE's Community Chorus that will perform "Carmina Burana" this spring. A grand piano anchors the room. It's lighter than the old, ornate model that made a couple moves with them. They recalled it fondly.
"It was an old upright, nicknamed Killer," Ronna said.
"If you moved it," said Rich, "you would die."
They have lived on the East Coast, the West Coast and in between.
When they met, she was an education major. He was a physics major.
"It was the only education class I took," he said. "That was one of the things that impressed her."
He was from East St. Louis. Her family owned the farm at the south entrance to the campus.
"We went out for a walk one time through the hills," Ronna said. "I knew the hills of the university like the back of my hand.
"We were yin and yang," he said.
"We still are," she said. "He was a little wild for me."
"I tended bar for a buddy's wedding. I wound up with a keg of beer in the back of my convertible. I had been drinking all afternoon."
"I should have sent him away," said Ronna.
Instead, she let him stick around. A couple months later, she nursed him back to health after he dislocated his knee in a softball game. He was in a toe-to-hip cast for 13 weeks and ended up staying with her family.
"He was pitiful when he was hurt," she said. "That's what really bonded us -- his injury."
They got engaged that November and married March 21, 1969.
"I thought at one point, 'Holy cow, I don't even know this guy,'" said Ronna.
"We were both in school," said Rich, "and I had a big stack of medical bills, no job, and my mom had passed away."
Ronna got her teaching degree. Rich earned his master's in physics took a position (thanks to U.S. Rep. Melvin Price) with the FBI lab in Washington, D.C., worked six years as a research chemist for the University of Illinois, then moved in 1978 to Foster City, Calif, near Stanford University. With a partner, he started Charles Evans and Associates, a chemical analysis lab.
"The business was pretty successful," he said. "We went from two to 150 employees."
One of his best employees? Wife Ronna.
"Our company was a high-tech lab," she said. "The people were highly intelligent, hard working and fun to be with. They ran the business like a big family. I was the company mom. I did whatever needed to be done. When they were short an HR person, I was there. I worked in accounting. I was a receptionist.
"I loved it. I knew everybody's business. I'd hear their complaints, and then go to the boss and say, 'We need to do something about this.'"
Rich played a lot of golf, using the game at one point to lose weight.
"My diet was no food and golf every day," he said. "I lost 55 pounds."
Ronna was more into camping, hiking, rollerblading and skiing.
They moved back to the Midwest in July 1993.
"He got tired of running the company, and my father passed away," said Ronna.
"For us, it was a homecoming," said Rich. "She wanted to come back and work the farm with her brother."
This time of year, her brother Ken services equipment and she walks down the hill to do the farm's paperwork.
"We grow blue grass and fescue," said Ronna. "We have 170 acres of sod and harvest one-third a year."
They also farm 300 acres of conventional crops that include soybeans and wheat.
"My brother is the heart and soul of the business."
Ronna is right alongside him in the summer.
"She puts on a big straw hat and off she goes," said Rich. "She farms and I watch her. I retired when I was 48. When people ask, 'What do you do, Richard?' I say, 'I watch my wife work.'"
He's also served as an adjunct physics professor, corresponds regularly with a prison penpal and is meticulous about yardwork.
Family photos and scrapbooks fill the home. They talk proudly of their son Russell's stint in the Marine Corps, their daughter Richelle's Montessori teaching career, and the fun they have with their four grandchildren, ages 10 to 18.
"It's been a fast 44 years," said Ronna. "I will have to say, every year it gets a little bit better. I never dreamed that would be the case."