When I met Dick and Deanne Fink on Sept. 11, 2012, I was impressed with their devotion to one another each other. Deanne had been diagnosed with ALS — amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's disease — in April 2010. Despite her worsening condition, she was eager to be interviewed for Love Notes. But just 16 days after our conversation, Deanne passed away. We had not planned decided not to publish the Finks' story out of respect for the bereaved, but Dick, 71, and his family urged us to share their love story.
Dick Fink first met Deanne Steams Minor when they were eighth-graders at Countryside School in Barrington. His fascination with her continued through high school, but unfortunately the attraction appeared to be one-sided.
"I tried to ask her out, but she was too busy," Dick recalled.
Deanne, in fact, told him she had "bigger fish to fry." This in spite of the fact that Dick was a high school quarterback and quite the catch. (Deanne would laughingly call him "a little stud muffin.")
So Dick tried to forget about her.
"I dated some of her friends," Dick said, "and went to different dances because she wasn't available. So I had to do something, right?"
After graduation, Dick went to Bradley University in Peoria and Deanne remained in Barrington.
"She started going out with a friend of mine named Terry," Dick said. "One day he said, 'Deanne says she wants to go out with you, so why don't you ask her out?' and I said, 'Well, you're going out with her.' And he said, 'Well, not really.' "
It turns out Deanne thought of Terry like a brother and apparently no longer had so many fish in the frying pan. And that's how, the summer after Dick's college freshman year, he and Deanne went on their first date. They spent it on a Lake Michigan beach, where they looked up and saw the sky filled with shooting stars.
"It's a silly thing," Dick said, "but you're supposed to kiss each other when the shooting star went by. I was trying, but she wasn't subscribing to that logic."
Well, they eventually kissed, and a romance blossomed. They were married in 1963 at St. Anne Catholic Church in Barrington.
Their first child, Kathryn, was followed by two more daughters, Heidi and Heather. Enjoying their growing family, the Finks hit a stumbling block when they discovered that Heidi had special needs.
"Initially they said we would have to institutionalize her," Dick recalled. "That was the normal thing at that time. But we fought the system; we fought the state for funding."
The challenges Dick and Deanne encountered could have torn them apart, but instead they brought them closer together.
"This was 40 years ago," Dick explained. "They wanted to 'mainstream' her and have her go to regular class, and we rejected their plan and wound up getting funding until she was 21."
And then, of course, the latest, biggest challenge for the pair was Deanne's illness. Every night was different, Dick recalled, of the years he took care of Deanne.
"That's the strange thing about this disease — it's always different the way it affects the body. One day you can digest your food, and the next day you can't. … And as you take on this kind of responsibility (as a caregiver), you do grow more patient, more tolerant, more understanding."
Deanne did her best to put on a strong front. She wanted to make Dick happy and show her kids that she was "a tough cookie."
When Dick was asked what it was about Deanne that drew him to her in the first place, back when they were carefree teenagers, he paused and smiled. "There was just something about her. A real sparkle in her eye. And Deanne had a wonderful sense of humor; she always did. I think that's what … helped her so much through all of this."
Postscript: When I called Dick to tell him we would be running their love story, he was still grieving but held their happy love story close to his heart as well.
"You know, the day you were here," he told me, "she was so excited, and she really wanted to tell her story. She had a wonderful afternoon that day. That was probably the best she'd been in months, actually."
Heidi, their developmentally challenged daughter, has become his ally. Deanne died on Heidi's birthday, and a nurse comforted their daughter by telling her that Deanne was her Christmas angel.
"That helped Heidi a lot," Dick said. "She's actually a good support. … If she sees me wavering, she's always there."
The day Deanne died, he said, she "had this twinkle in her eye. … She gave me that look that got me interested initially, and she was saying goodbye without saying it. We both knew what she meant, though. It's hard to put into words. … You just have to surround yourself with people you care about.
"A long life can still feel short-lived," Dick concluded. "You have to cherish every moment."
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