Love Milwaukee-Style: 5 Real Couples

Ah, love. It can be the biggest thing in life, inspiring the highest highs and, at its worst, the lowest lows. Here, we give you five couples who personify true love.


Growing Love and Much More

Photo by Aliza Baran

SHARON AND LARRY ADAMS don’t just make each other happy or complement each other.

They bring the best out of each other, helping them grow into new people in their more than 20 years together. And, as a couple, they’ve brought the best out of Milwaukee. “I love the notion of growing,” Sharon says. But before meeting Larry, “I did not know how to grow much.” Sharon was working as a consultant when she moved back to Milwaukee after decades gone, mainly living in Detroit and New York. They first met in the mid-’90s, when she hired Larry, a retired Marine electrician, to fix the outlets in her aging childhood home. At that time, Larry was surviving by “drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes,” he says. “It was anything to keep my adrenaline going for the next job.”

Sharon asked Larry to stay for tea after he was done working. To his surprise, he said yes. That spark hasn’t wavered since.

The two married in 1998. In 2000, they founded Walnut Way Conservation Corp., a nonprofit at the core of the revitalization of hundreds of houses in the North Side neighborhoods surrounding where Sharon grew up. (The couple still live at Sharon’s childhood home on North 17th Street.) Now they are focusing on cultivating an “environmental hub” to promote green jobs. It’s called Adams Garden Park, 1836 W. Fond du Lac Ave. Their neighborhood is already filled with peach trees and beehives, planted thanks to the Adamses and Walnut Way.

That landscape grew just as the Adamses had together.

Larry admits he never intended to learn how to be a gardener or beekeeper. He just wanted to work, a lot of times going solo to do it. That changed after Sharon came into his life.

“Sharon is a gatherer. I’m a drummer,” Larry says, pointing to the traditional African instruments in the front room of their art-filled home. “The drummer puts the music out for the purpose of attracting the people to come. But in this work? Sharon has been the drummer. … Sharon was able to take and cultivate people.

“I just want to move and change the paradigm of whatever is happening. If it’s negative, let’s make it positive.”

“The secret sauce in our union: That you find a purpose,” Sharon says. “And we’ve had the privilege of sharing that purpose in service with and for others.”

Advice from the Couple

“Listen first, listen second, then listen some more. And listen for understanding, not for argument. The second thing would be to cherish. There is a point in every day where I am thankful that Larry and I are together.”

– Sharon Adams

Snow White and the Two Lovebirds

Photo by Aliza Baran

MY UNCLES, Joseph and David Rogan-Nordstrom, met in a church. They weren’t there for the gospel but for the rehab.

The future couple had three years’ sobriety between them in the summer of 1991. They’d separately joined a support group for gay addicts and had agreed to help with a play, Snow White and the Seven Drunks. Rehearsals were held at All Saints’ Cathedral on East Juneau Avenue.

David, now 77, was afraid of Joseph, 56, at first. He immediately recognized Joseph as “really, really cute,” but says he at first questioned if he could “be around that energy.”

David likes sitting in the back of a room with coffee and a book and a dog or cat at his feet. Joseph isn’t like that and was even less so in his younger days. He’s the kind of guy who talks to every single person at a party.

Joseph asked David out for coffee during rehearsals for the play. They ended up closing a Downer Avenue coffeehouse at 2 a.m. after sipping caffeine for six hours and opening up in the way only burgeoning lovebirds can. They wed two years later; the matrimony was made legal in Minnesota in 2013.

“We fit perfectly,” Joseph says. “There have been so many different levels of growing and appreciating each other and getting to know each other and appreciating each other even more.”

They now own Cowboy David’s Bakery and the Kickapoo Valley Ranch guest cabins near La Farge, 35 miles southeast of La Crosse and 140 miles northwest of Milwaukee.

By day, Joseph is as energetic as ever, tidying cabins, complaining about closed-minded politicians on Facebook and showing off at trade shows. David bakes constantly and still often rides the eight horses they keep at the ranch. By night, they’re usually cuddled up in their cabin-home, petting their dogs and watching television – “The Voice,” “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Glee” are some favorites.

David grew up in La Farge. When he left as a teenager, he never planned to move back. That’s obviously changed.
“It’s a part of the state that’s a little bit more politically conservative, but people are quiet about their stuff,” says Joseph. “We’re just two guys doing our thing and sharing our joy.”

Advice from the Couple

David doesn’t open up easily. It took months before Joseph even knew David’s age. “I was developing some very strong feelings for a person who actually did not have any past,” Joseph says. “Some of us have a lot of wreckage. And you know what? That’s OK.”

A Lifetime Together (Kind Of)

Photo by Aliza Baran

GINO TASSARA, 30, and Isabelle Koenig, 31, have always been together. They just haven’t always been together-together.

They went to grade school together in Shorewood. Remained classmates at Shorewood High School. Continued their education and friendship at UW-Madison. They’d gone abroad together, on school trips, twice before they turned 19.

But they had never been on a single date.

As it turned out, Isabelle needed to get hit by a truck first. Like, literally.

She was living in Chile, teaching English, when she got into a bad car accident. A really bad one.

When the car she was in got T-boned by someone who had run a red light, the car skidded for about 100 feet. Isabelle was sitting against the window, and the left side of her scalp was basically rug-burned off by the pavement.

After five surgeries, she came back home to the Milwaukee area. Gino was one of the first people to welcome her back, inviting her over for dinner a few times and just generally helping out and being a friend as she recovered.

Gino had already developed feelings. Isabelle hadn’t caught on yet.

“I hadn’t thought about him in that way,” she says. “Then, all of a sudden, I was like: ‘Oh, duh.’”

“I’d been chipping away at her for a long time,” he admits.

The couple got married last June and are often seen at Bucks games or searching for new hotspots in Milwaukee’s food scene, when they aren’t making pasta at home. And they love their dog, Rico. As for their cats, Isabelle says,

“We mostly love them.”

Advice from the Couple

Sometimes your friends know you better than you do. Before Gino and Isabelle went public with their budding romance, they were nervous how it might affect their relationships with their shared pals – needlessly, as it turned out. “It didn’t change anything,” Gino says with a smile – and a couple of people even saw it coming.

There and Back Again

Photo by Aliza Baran

STABILITY ISN’T REALLY the norm for Cedric LeMoyne and Gina Barrington.

They’re definitely together, though they often live apart. Cedric is a musician who has been the touring bassist for Alanis Morissette for 15 years; his 2020 is loaded with tours for the 25th anniversary of Jagged Little Pill. Gina is a hair and makeup artist who often travels the Midwest and beyond to get her celebrity clients looking their absolute best.

Together, they’re also half of Rose of the West, the acclaimed Milwaukee-based dream-pop band that Gina cooked up at Cedric’s encouragement.

Gina didn’t even want to go to the concert Cedric was playing the night they met in 2000. Her friends “forced” her to go. Soon after, “I fell in love,” Cedric recalls. “Then I chased her for months. She finally succumbed.”

They dated for a while, broke up, but remained friends as they went separate ways – she got married to someone else, and they each had a kid.

In 2015, they were both single. He chased her again. She succumbed again.They married in 2016.

70 Years Started in Milwaukee

Photo courtesy of their daughter, Linda

THE LOVE STORY of one of the country’s oldest couples starts in Milwaukee. It doesn’t end here.

Marcia and Warren Bowlus met thanks to a piece of candy. When Marcia was still a preteen, a serendipitous wafer candy got stuck in her throat.

“In those days, the doctor would come to your house,” Marcia, now 87, recalls. By coincidence, the doctor was on the board at the University School of Milwaukee, founded in 1851. The doctor told her the school was looking for one more sixth grader: Marcia filled the role.

She quickly caught the eye of her male classmates: star athlete Warren Bowlus in particular.

Marcia asked him to go on a hayride. Then they saw the Lifeboat in theaters; movie tickets at the time were a nickel, she recalls. Eventually they started going for literal long walks on (or near) the beach, sometimes spanning from the Coast Guard base along the lake up to Whitefish Bay, some 10 miles north.

They frequented sporting events — “He taught me all I know about baseball. He taught me all I know about football,” Marcia says — and even saw Hank Aaron hit his first home run in County Stadium during his rookie season in 1954.

That love of sports became a defining factor in Warren’s life. He says that, ever since high school, all he ever wanted to do was be a coach.

They married on Dec. 27, 1950, while he was still in college at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. They moved to Kendall, Wisconsin, then to Hayward, way up north.

Next Warren coached some “great football teams” at Menomonee High School. Then more “great teams” were cultivated at West Bend. He became an assistant coach at Western Illinois University. It was around then that Marcia, a lifelong artist, got her masters and he got his Ph.D. in physical education and administration.

By 1970, the Bowluses had set up shop at Kent State University. He was there, in charge of physical education, at the time of the tragic Kent State shooting. Marcia, when she wasn’t drawing or teaching, was busy wrangling two kids.

Next, it was off to Davenport, Iowa, where Warren became an assistant superintendent in charge of athletics.

Warren (perhaps accidentally) quotes Johnny Cash: “I’ve been everywhere, man.”

The Bowlus legacy is strongest at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. The family made its return to Wisconsin so Warren could become the college’s athletic director. Before retiring in 1988, Warren’s leadership helped expand the athletics programs; he got added to the school’s hall of fame in 1990 and even has an academic award for student-athletes named after him.

But enough about educational-athletic ventures. Warren and Marcia credit their nearly 70 years of marriage to their ongoing friendship: nothing more.

(For those of you keeping score at home, a 70th anniversary is known as your platinum anniversary. That’s even more impressive when the average American marriage doesn’t usually last much longer than 40 years.)

“If you’re friends first, you get over the bad patches,” Marcia says. “You get grumpy sometimes. That’s just part of life.”

Nowadays, their lives are a little bit slower paced, but they haven’t changed too much.

They’ve been on an astronomical 75 cruises. Marcia likes sketching newfound friends on the boats.

Cruising used to be a way to avoid cold weather. After retirement, they moved to San Diego, so cruises became more of a diversion. “We’d go wherever the sun was,” Marcia says.

After spending a stretch in Seattle, the Bowluses relocated to central Florida, where they still reside.

“It’s been just an outstanding life,” Warren says.

She adds: “The longer you’re together, the better it gets … It’s like a loaf of bread. You need a little bit of kneading before it can rise.”

This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine‘s February issue. 

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Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan