If Kimberley Dean and Ron Palmer’s 37-year romance sounds like a TV show, that’s because it was one. “How I Met Your Mother,” to be exact, in which two characters agreed to marry if both were single at 40.
Their Friday wedding fulfills a similar pact they made a few years back, according to Kimberley: “Ron was talking about all his benefits through work and not having anyone to give them to. Just jokingly, I said, ‘The last one who turns 50, which would be me, if I’m not married and you’re not married, we’re just going to marry each other.’ He said, ‘Done!’ — never imagining any of this would happen.”
Well, it’s happening.
Kimberley, 51, and Ron, 54, will marry in Como Park’s Japanese Garden — not Ron’s first choice of location, which he jokes would be the zoo, where Casey, the famed gorilla, could witness.
It could be argued that Casey (who now resides at the Louisville Zoo) would be an appropriate guest because maybe he could address the 400-pound gorilla in the room: Can a marriage that began with a jokey pact work?
“Oh, absolutely,” says Kimberley. “I have no second, third or fourth doubts in my head. Now that we’re getting so close, details like needing to call the florist lady, I am stressed about those things. But marrying him? I’m not stressed at all. I’ve been divorced since 1998, so I go in with my eyes completely wide open.”
The key element to Kimberley and Ron’s relationship is that they’ve been friends for 37 years. They met at St. Agnes School, where she was an eighth-grader and he was a junior.
“I would watch him come down the stairs when the high school kids were changing classes and we would wave at each other,” says Kimberley, who works in the Roseville Community School District’s youth enrichment program. “We ended up taking a picture together and, by fall of the following school year, when I was a freshman and he was a senior, we were dating.”
Like many a high school romance, this one didn’t last.
“I wanted to go sow my oats, so to speak. So we went our separate ways,” says Ron, a safety coordinator for Xcel Energy. “By the time I felt like maybe we should give it a try again, she had met somebody else and got married and then I went off and got married.”
Three decades of not-quite-right timing ensued.
Ron’s marriage only lasted seven years. Kimberley’s was longer — and gave her daughter and maid of honor Kayla and son Konner, who will give her away — but she, too, divorced. A second stab at dating didn’t feel right, but they continued to keep in touch.
“I don’t think six months ever went by in all this time that we weren’t in contact,” says Ron. “She helped me a lot. After my marriage and with me having numerous girlfriends over the years, I would always call Kim when I had something to complain about: ‘Why do women do this?’ She was my go-to person.”
“He would still call my mom after all those years, wishing her a happy Mother’s Day,” says Kimberley. “He would call if he had girl trouble. I would call him to take a dead hamster out of my son’s cage because I didn’t want to touch it.”
According to Kimberley, the “pair of goofballs” had an unbreakable bond, one which is expressed in “their” song, REO Speedwagon’s “Keep on Loving You.”
“Over the years, I would get a call that said, ‘Turn on KS95’ and there it would be or I would hear the song come on and text her and, if she didn’t answer, I’d leave the radio playing it on her phone,” says Ron.
REO could practically have been talking about them in the lyrics to that hair band classic: “When I said that I loved you, I meant that I loved you forever.”
“I think we both knew, even in high school, that we were supposed to be together,” says Kimberley.
Ron agrees: “I truly did love her back when we were kids. I’ve always loved her. She’s such an awesome friend.”
‘It can happen’
Friendship started to look like something else when they went to Roseville’s Taste of Rosefest the summer of 2016. Afterward, their conversations became more frequent. Soon, Ron invited Kimberley to his hunting cabin in Finlayson, Minn.
That’s where Kimberley popped the question. Well, a question.
“I don’t remember exactly what I said but it was along the lines of: ‘What do you think if we try this again?’ ” Kimberley recalls. “There was a lot of hesitation on his part. He told me later he worried that, if a relationship didn’t work, we would lose one of the very best friends we ever had.”
“That was a big risk,” agrees Ron. “But we decided to try.”
This time, it took.
Ron iced the deal last New Year’s Eve Up North, when he suggested they investigate frozen Gooseberry Falls. Worried about falling or freezing to death in the below-zero temperatures, Kimberley took one look at the ice and headed for the warmth of their car. But, when she turned back, Ron was on one (very frigid) knee, holding a tiny blue Tiffany’s box.
Long story short: She said “yes.” To the surprise of no one.
“It felt like it was supposed to happen, like it was meant to be,” says Kayla Dean. “I would say there’s no better match in the world for either of them.”
Put Kayla firmly in the knew-it-all-along camp.
“Out of everyone my mom has ever been with — even thinking about my dad, who we don’t have a relationship with — I would say Ronnie has filled that father role for Konner and me,” says Kayla, who thinks there’s a lesson in her mom’s romance. “People who are meant to be together will always find each other. It may take 37 years, but it can happen.”
The benefit of time
Ron and Kimberley agree they may have needed all of those years to become a marriage-ready couple.
“When she got married, I thought, ‘Ah, she’s gone,’ but, as a young man in my 20s, I thought women were all over the place and I could get along with any of them. I thought that was the norm,” says Ron. “As it turns out, and as I have learned, it is not. I never got along with anyone else as well as I got along with her.”
“The only thing that sucks is that we’re in our 50s. How much time do we have left?” asks Kimberley, who adds that “we had to go through all those relationships — the good, the bad, the ugly, the complete heartbreak — to get to where we are right now. We’ve even talked about, if we had gotten married all those years ago when we were younger, would we still be together?”
Marriage expert William Doherty says statistics on young marriages are not promising.
“Knowing each other better, as they do now, is generally better, but [this situation] is so unusual. They do know more of what they’re getting than lots of people who get married do,” says Doherty, professor of family social science at the University of Minnesota.
“I’m not predicting bad things but many people who have lived together get married and say that not much is going to change, that it’s just a piece of paper. But that’s not how it works. When people get married, things really change.”
Kimberley and Ron have gotten a taste of that change since he moved into her Como Park home about a month ago. There’s been a learning curve — she’s maybe a little neater than he is — but both say it’s going great.
In fact, living together has helped remind Ron what it was like to fall in love with Kimberley all those years ago.
“When we were kids, we would walk down the Midway at the State Fair and the fireworks would go off,” says Ron. “If we were together, we would always stop and watch.”
Anyone who has seen an old movie knows what it means when they cut from kisses to fireworks: passion. So it’s appropriate that those State Fair fireworks still lit up the sky during the decades when Kimberley or Ron weren’t together. And that this summer, 37 years after they met, the two will watch them as husband and wife for the very first time.