Surrounded by a flurry of sense-stimulating distractions during a recent noon hour at Olive Garden in Davenport, one couple stops their lunch-date chatter and closes their eyes.
Sitting side by side in a booth, Alzada and Wayne Wachholz bless their meal — as they always do — and pray for God’s guidance during their day in the “big city.”
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, but the holiday is just another day for these two, who wed 62 years ago.
Every Friday, the Wachholzes, who live in Prophetstown, Illinois, drive almost an hour to Davenport for a special outing, which begins with salad, breadsticks and a plate of chicken parmesan at their favorite chain restaurant.
“It’s my Chicago away from Chicago,” said Wayne, 85, a retired Methodist pastor who grew up on the Windy City’s South Side. “It’s all here.”
Following lunch, which they split for less than $20, they make their way to Von Maur at nearby NorthPark Mall, where they listen to live piano music. From there, they cap off their day with a stop at Barnes & Noble for a cup of coffee and a bit of book browsing.
“He’s always driving me somewhere,” Alzada, 83, said with a smile between bites. “We’re old, but we feel very fortunate for the way we are health-wise.”
Although they usually stick to the same routine, their road trips to the Quad-Cities give the love-struck couple something to look forward to every week.
“She keeps me going,” Wayne said, referring to his wife. “When we like something, we keep doing it.”
Steady since college
Alzada and Wayne's story dates back to the early 1950s, when they met in history class at Carthage College, a private Lutheran school then located in Carthage, Illinois.
Over lunch, a reserved Alzada, who grew up on a farm about seven miles outside of Prophetstown, recalled the roots of her attraction to the older city boy.
“I wanted to be with a Christian man, and since he was a strong believer in Jesus Christ, I loved that,” she said. “Our Christian faith has kept us together.”
However, she remembers breaking up with him for a brief period not long after they started dating.
“Maybe you didn’t like me singing in the dorm when I was drunk,” Wayne chimed in with a laugh.
“That’s one thing for sure I didn’t like,” Alzada responded sternly with affection. “I don’t know why I did it, but then I couldn't resist being with him for any longer.’”
“Everybody was on my side,” Wayne said, reminiscing. “We had a lot in common.”
Service overseas, at home
Memories from their early days together on campus and thereafter, including a capella choir concerts and hand-in-hand jaunts to the local theater for 50-cent movies and 25-cent milkshakes, still shine bright in their sharp minds.
When Wayne graduated, the 20-somethings tied the knot at a small rural church that still stands down the road from Alzada’s childhood home in Prophetstown.
Almost 10 years after the end of World War II, Wayne enlisted in the U.S. Army and assisted in the cleanup efforts in Germany. In 1955, Alzada graduated and joined her husband in Kaiserslautern — Davenport’s sister city — where she taught American servicemen’s children.
In 1956, when they returned to Illinois, Alzada continued teaching for a few years while Wayne completed his seminary education.
During his 37-year career as a traveling pastor, the couple, who “worked as a team” in every community they moved to, raised two daughters, Faith and Linda, who now live in Wisconsin and Wyoming, respectively.
In 1996, the Wachholzes, who have four grandchildren, relocated to a home Alzada’s father built in Prophetstown, where they hope to spend the rest of their lives together.
Although she volunteers to play piano on Fridays at a nursing home near their home before their weekly trip to Davenport, Alzada stressed she does not want to move anywhere if anything happens to her "wonderful" husband.
"I'll be gone before she goes," Wayne said.
Just as the Wachholzes count on their Friday afternoon ritual, those who interact with the couple during their time in Davenport look forward to their dates.
“If they’re not here on Friday, we wonder,” said Marilynn Marsengill, a longtime hostess at Olive Garden. “They’re adorable.”
As they strolled into Von Maur, pianist Shelley Lawson welcomed them from a distance with her rendition of "City of Stars," the theme song in the new movie musical, "La La Land."
They recognized the tune and slowly took their seats on a nearby couch.
Lawson soon greeted her devout concertgoers with a bag of peanut brittle, a pre-Valentine's Day treat.
The musician, who knows all her fans' favorites, called Wayne her "surrogate father."
"My dad passed two years ago," Lawson said, fighting back tears. "He (Wayne) reminds me a lot of my dad."
As they sat listening, swinging their feet in unison to the music, they reflected on their decades together.
"I think there is such a thing as chemistry," Wayne said, as Alzada nodded her head in agreement. "Sometimes, it's just a natural thing. You don't have to work at it."
'Don't expect too much'
After an hour or so of active listening, the couple walked back to Barnes & Noble, where they browsed new arrivals and jotted down titles to order at their library.
"It's good exercise for us," said Alzada, who does not pursue much physical activity these days.
At the bookstore, Wayne, who works out about 30 minutes every day, ordered his go-to white chocolate mocha for a caffeine boost before their drive home.
While they have their differences, Wayne and Alzada credit their respect for one another for their longevity.
"If you don’t have respect, you don’t have much," said Wayne, who noted the importance of door holding and other simple habits and gestures.
"You feel good about helping the person you love," he said. "Don't expect too much from each other."
Back home that night, Wayne and Alzada played Scrabble at their kitchen table, a nightly tradition.
But their weekend fun did not stop there.
On Saturday, they visited nearby Sterling for a dinner and a movie. They dined at Culver's, saw "Hidden Figures" and stocked up on groceries at Walmart.
"No moss grows on us," Wayne said over the phone with his familiar chuckle. "That's for sure."