When John Joseph Springer wanted a wife, he handed out a personal card. His picture to the right, his name across the top, his home and cell phone numbers across the bottom, eight of his interests in between. Fellowship, movies, laughs, crying, walks, dancing, sharing, healing.
“Instead of ‘What’s your sign?’ I’d say, ‘I’m looking for a wife, here. Or here, I’m looking for someone to help me spend money,’” Springer says, gesturing as if handing out his card.
Springer, 72, lives in Covington, but calls Renton his home town. He’s come to Renton every day since taking a job in Seattle in 1976. He’s now retired. He’s handed out near 2,000 of his cards in the last three to four years.
Springer’s son and his graphic designer friend made the cards a couple years after Springer’s wife of 41 years died in 2000. Springer hoped the card would get him remarried.
“I was single and wanted to be married; I just really did,” Springer says.
He finally got his chance with Linda Woo. A bout with cancer had just about convinced him to give up the single life. Then Woo walked across the room.
The room was in Renton Senior Activity Center. It was October, during a Thursday afternoon dance. Woo asked Springer to dance.
“She said, ‘I need a dance partner.’ I said, ‘I need a life partner,’” Springer recounts.
He gave her his card and told her to call him. She reciprocated with her own card from her years as head of periodicals at the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library.
The pair got engaged on Valentine’s Day.
Springer at first wasn’t sure things were going to work between he and Woo. With her short black bob and young face, Woo looked far too young. (She’s 70.) With a ponytail, earrings and necklace, Springer says he looked “terrible.” But Woo didn’t care.
Woo is also more educated than Springer. She earned two master’s degrees, and before her Suzzallo job, worked as a librarian in Hong Kong and as tour director of an
upscale travel agency.
Springer worked for 25 years as a biomedical technician at Providence Medical Center in Seattle. He spent 21 years before that in the U.S. Air Force as a sergeant in missile navigation. That left him with a bad case of post traumatic stress disorder and a drinking problem that he’s since overcome. Woo’s father was a general in the Chinese Nationalist Army.
“The joke is what does a sergeant in the Air Force want to do? Marry the general’s daughter,” Springer laughs.
“She’s totally out of my class,” he adds.
“We are very different, but we get along,” Woo says.
The pair got engaged after a few short months. But the engagement wasn’t immediate.
Like Springer, Woo had been single for several years when the couple met. She divorced after 40-some years of marriage. But unlike Springer, she wasn’t looking for a mate.
“He said he was looking, but I didn’t hear. I just wanted a dance partner,” Woo says.
Still, it took only one date to convince Springer he had found his wife. A friend told Springer to take her to Leschi, near Woo’s home. On one side is a romantic restaurant overlooking Lake Washington. On the other a coffee shop. If it looks like it’s going to work, take her to the restaurant, the friend said. If not, the coffee shop. Springer took her to the restaurant. While in the car, he was chatting nervously. He leaned close, and Woo kissed him to shut him up.
“What happened was every bell and whistle in me went off,” Springer says. “I felt like I was 15 and it was my first kiss. For me it was over, but she didn’t know that.”
After that, Woo went back to Taiwan for three weeks. Woo grew up in Taiwan, after Chinese communists drove her family and other Chinese nationalists there. Springer e-mailed Woo love letters every day.
“I thought he was crazy; he (didn’t) even know me,” Woo says. But she answered his e-mails from a nearby Starbucks.
Soon after, Springer wrote Woo’s four adult children, saying he wanted to marry their mother. “They all went crazy,” he says. Especially Woo’s daughter who works as a King County prosecutor. They thought things were moving too fast.
“‘Mom, you act like a rebellious teenager’,” Woo recalls her children saying. “But we’re 70,” she rebutted.
Still, Springer’s proposal took five hours. And the deal wasn’t sealed until a Valentine’s-Day talk with Woo’s sister in San Francisco. The sister then helped pick out Woo’s engagement ring.
Woo’s children now approve of their mother’s impending marriage to Springer. Especially since Woo cut off his ponytail. Springer now combs back his short gray-white hair.
Springer and Woo haven’t set a wedding date, but they know it will be on some future Valentine’s Day. Springer feels like he’s in a movie.
“For me it’s just very romantic,” he says. “Like a movie: The sergeant meets the general’s daughter.”
A movie that Springer says was meant to be. For example, all of Woo’s children have names staring with “R” and all of Springer’s names starting with “J.” Both he and Woo were also born in Chicago. He in Chicago, Ill., and she in Wuhan, China, known as the Chicago of China.
“That’s just another part of my mystical, ‘John sees miracles in everything,’” Springer says.
Springer immediately knew Woo was the one. In an early love note to her, he wrote “I’m your shadow.”
Woo was less immediately sure. But she was impressed with Springer’s 31 years of sobriety and the help he has given to those hooked on drugs or alcohol. He also volunteers at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, Renton Senior Activity Center and Renton Farmers Market. At the market he’s known as the Dancing Cowboy, or Farmer John.
“Everywhere I go, people have something nice to say about him,” Woo says. “He’s really helped a lot of people. They really respect him.”
Woo respects Springer too, and she loves him.
“I really wasn’t looking, but we love each other and want to be together,” Woo says.
The two have separate homes — his farm house in Covington and her city home in Seward Park. Eventually they plan to build a house together.
They already spend plenty of time together. Her healthy cooking has replaced his TV dinners. They’ve been on cruises and to Las Vegas. And they attend three to four dances a week — at Renton Senior Activity Center and other area places. Springer recently got a passport so the pair can do more extended traveling.
Springer may have thought love wouldn’t visit him again, but now he knows different.
“You’re never too old for romance,” he says. “Being romantic and falling in love — you’re never too old.”
He’s eager to spend the rest of his life with Woo, who he calls his “Asian bride.”
“Every time I look at her I can’t believe it,” he says. “I truly feel like I’m the high-school nerd marrying the homecoming queen. Taking her away from the quarterback.”
“So that’s what this is about,” he adds. “Finally I get the homecoming queen, the general’s daughter.”