Once Upon A Time

The everlasting love stories of five local couples


By Sarah Levitch
Photos by Kathryn Harrington and Andrea Hutchinson


This month, as we celebrate love of all kinds, we also celebrate the stories of love. While we all grow up with rather fantastical expectations of what it means to fall in love, with once upon a times and happily ever afters, reality rarely adds up to this dream of love at first sight or knights in shining armor. As we mature, we learn that love is more than just a word. Love is an action. Love is an expansive force that we’ll never stop learning about. Time brings us new ways of giving and receiving love, as well as new perspectives and interpretations as each love story constructs a unique paradigm of what it means to love. To celebrate this love, we interviewed five local couples and asked them to share their love stories and versions of happily ever after with us.

Bob & Marita Willis.

Bob & Marita Willis

Once upon a time, there were two children who lived next door to each other. One was a sharp, fashionable young lady named Marita, and the other was a polite, respectable young man named Bob. Growing up, their two families became like one, as they spent their days playing baseball or going to the local, non-profit organization, The Cabbage Patch Settlement House. As the two grew and talked of more important things, Bob began to see Marita in a different light. Little did they know, their love would blossom into a 45-year marriage filled with fine dining, rides in their convertible and the birth and death of their two children. Over time, Bob, now a Senior Account Executive at Assured Partners, and Marita, CEO and Chief Empowerment Officer at Hope Collaborative, have a love that only became stronger. They have an unbreakable trust cultivated through years of laughs and cries. With Marita, Bob feels the world is limitless. To watch Marita praying on her knees every morning is something special. For Bob and Marita, love comes to life, as they’ve learned how to love through building a family and a life together. Their love is never stagnant, as they allow each other the individual space to explore the world, eager to hear what the other has learned and experienced. The cherry on top of it all? According to Bob, Marita is a good kisser.

Kris & Tonya Abeln.

Kris & Tonya Abeln

There once were two high school Governor’s Scholars who both attended the University of Louisville. Though young and unknowing, the world did not give up on the union of Tonya and Kris, for it wasn’t until their third encounter that the couple came together. They first met as Governor’s Scholars in the summer of their junior year of high school, next meeting as familiar faces at college orientation. Excitement filled them both during these initial interactions, and their sophomore year of college sealed the deal as they ended up living across the hall from each other and had political science class together. In stereotypical college fashion, Kris and Tonya’s first date was a Halloween party, where Kris dressed as a cow and Tonya a black cat. From the start, both were sure of their love, and by Christmas, they were bringing each other home to meet the family. Now in their 40s, Kris, an Orthopedic Surgeon for Baptist Health Floyd, and Tonya, Vice President of Corporate Communications for Churchill Downs Incorporated, with two toddlers and 17 years of marriage plus seven years of dating under their belts, understand love more than they ever have before. Tonya is reminded of this love when Kris comes home with her favorite wine or junk food, or when she gets butterflies locking eyes with him across a crowded room. Advising her girlfriends to interview potential partners as if they’re starting a business together, Tonya understands that love is like getting up and going to work every morning. As unromantic as it sounds, the commitment and effort Tonya and Kris put into their relationship are what makes it even more romantic.

Teague DeLong & Eric Wentworth.

Teague DeLong & Eric Wentworth

One day not long ago, two young men met for a quick, casual drink. Both nervous and unassuming, the love of Eric and Teague grew organically, as the two moved in together after a few months and later adopted a dog. Knowing that Eric came from a conservative family and his coming out wasn’t all smooth sailing, Teague realized that their love was something special when Eric brought him to a family wedding. Over their eight years of being together, Eric, now the Co-founder of The Hub Louisville, The Champagnery and Mōdica Superfood Cocktails, has taught the spontaneous Teague to be more level headed, and Teague, Senior Brand Specialist for Blue Grass MOTORSPORT, has taught the reserved Eric to be more of an extrovert. As the two continue to learn and balance each other out, they find the real love in the sacrifice and commitment they make for one another. Eric and Teague express their love in the quotidian activities of binging their favorite shows, crafting cocktails or creating elaborate dinner parties for friends. They are always looking for ways to make each other smile as they work towards building a future together.

Steve & Terri Bass.

Steve & Terri Bass

There once was a recently divorced real estate agent who was charmed by an unexpecting knight. Driving a yellow convertible Mercedes, Steve appeared as a player in Terri’s eyes, yet he continually sent flowers, doughnuts and cards to her office, knowing that the chase was the key in the game of love. Sick of his persistence, Terri agreed to a date at Del Frisco’s restaurant on March 16, 1983, and after a lovely conversation about his friends and family, Terri realized she had judged the book too soon. Inside, Steve had a warm heart and a spirit that filled any size room. Now after almost 38 years together, Terri, a successful realtor at Lenihan Sotheby’s International Realty who is on the board of numerous local charitable organizations, such as Family Scholar House that Steve is also a supporter of as well as U of L’s LBGTQ Center and Gilda’s Club, cannot imagine spending her days, troubles and joys with anyone else. She knows Steve always has her back and she has his. Not everything is always peaches and cream, but with a willingness to talk, they can make anything work. Though Steve may not hold Terri’s hand all the time, she knows he loves her when she receives a package of ice cream or caviar. After raising two daughters, Steve and Terri’s kid-centered relationship passed the empty nesters test, as they continue to love each other through nights of wine and fine food or anytime they are exploring the world together. Settled into a nice rhythm of going to bed and getting up at the same time, Steve and Terri balance each other out as perfectly as a bubbling glass of champagne and a salty bite of caviar.

LaShondra & RaeShanda Lias-Lockhart.

LaShondra & RaeShanda Lias-Lockhart

Once upon a time, there were two passionate women who connected through Facebook. Though skeptical of being asked out through messenger, RaeShanda agreed to what she thought would be coffee. LaShondra, determined to begin a relationship with RaeShanda, took her to Mesh Louisville restaurant for a date that turned into a four-hour conversation. As their relationship flourished and they opened up to each other, RaeShanda was imagining an over the top, dramatic proposal, so LaShondra caught her by surprise when she proposed after a horseback ride in Georgetown, Kentucky with their friends. Fresh off a horse in jeans and a t-shirt, RaeShanda agreed to marry her love. Today, for RaeShanda, Owner of All is Fair in Love and Fashion, and LaShondra, Property Manager at MMS Group, nothing is hidden. They argue, apologize and speak truthfully. LaShondra frequently comes home with gifts for RaeShanda, such as a new pair of pajamas or tweezers, anything she sees when she’s out that makes her think of her wife. Even if the gift is not something RaeShanda needs, she recognizes the thought and love behind it.