Romance blooms for area couple
Petting the hand of his bride-to-be last Thursday, Richard Dikeman said it was a search for companionship -- not romance -- that drew him to the De Soto Senior Center managed by Mary Bichelmeyer.
The 77-year-old Dikeman became familiar with the center three years ago when he started picking up prepared meals for his wife, Margaret, who was battling cancer.
When she died last September, Dikeman started making daily visits as a refuge from his grief and depression.
"It was good for me," he said. "I came down here to eat and play cards with them."
Bichelmeyer took a fellow member of the "empty-house syndrome" under her wing, enlisting his help at the center and including him in her weekly itinerary of outings to hear her son Garry Bichelmeyer and fellow members of the Kansas Oldtime Pickers, Fiddlers and Singers perform.
"I couldn't believe it at first," Dikeman said. "We developed a friendship that turned into romance. It just kept evolving, and pretty soon I had to ask, 'will you?'"
Bichelmeyer didn't keep the nervous Dikeman waiting for an answer, saying yes on the spot. Still, the 75-year-old Bichelmeyer admitted the deepening relationship and proposal was something she never anticipated.
"I was shocked," she said. "You never know what God has in store for you in life."
The couple will be married at 7 p.m. Feb. 17 at the De Soto Community Center, 32905 W. 84th St.
"We thought about getting married on Valentine's Day," Dikeman said. "The situation turned out we could use the gym the same days as (oldtime) players. She's been an integral part of that for years."
Dikeman was warned of what was in store for him last Thursday at a celebration at the senior center marking Bichelmeyer's 10-year anniversary as manager of the center, her retirement and the couple's engagement. Katy Lamm, deputy director of Johnson County Area Agency on Aging, noted Bichelmeyer tireless energy and organizational skills bailed her out on numerous occasions and saved the threatened senior center from closing a decade ago.
Speakers and guests stopping by the couple's table also spoke of what Bichelmeyer has meant to the community. Mayor Dave Anderson said Bichelmeyer had nourished De Soto in many ways since she and her late husband, Leo, moved to the community in 1960 to open Bichelmeyer's Meat Market on Lexington Avenue.
"I was told you were known as the lady whose house you headed to if you were a kid needing something to eat," he said. "She has fed a lot of people not her own. She's fed us all in some way -- at the meat market, the senior center or through the music she's brought to De Soto."
Sharing hugs and wishing Bichelmeyer well, Lana McPherson and Anne Dabbs said they were among the children she fed. The Bichelmeyer home was a youthful hangout as friends visited the couple's seven children, they said.
The couple is using the time before the wedding to close down Bichelmeyer's house and prepare Dikeman's home on the Oak Country Golf Course. The wedding will be a casual affair, they said, with those attending asked to bring a covered dish, but no presents.
"We don't have room for anything," Dikeman said.
The wedding may be informal, but there is likely to be a big turnout. The ceremony will be conducted before the old-time performers monthly get-together. Regulars to that event will be augmented with friends and family.
Bichelmeyer has six surviving children -- including Tonganoxie residents Matt, Lee and Garry -- 15 grandchildren and more great-grandchildren of natural, step and foster varieties than she can quickly count, while Dikeman has two daughters in Olathe and a son in Alabama.
"They were shocked but they were very happy for me," Dikeman said of his family. "My son-in-law is actually going to perform the wedding."
He was getting an "instant family" and the friendship of all those in the community Bichelmeyer befriended, Dikeman said.
"It just proves my initial reaction was right," he said. "She's the one for me.
"I'll continue to share her with the community. I couldn't take her away from the community."
He will also embrace Bichelmeyer's passion for music. The couple is planning to add a weekly Lawrence dance night to the slate of musical events they attend.
"He hadn't danced in 20 or 30 years," Bichelmeyer said.
His gift to Bichelmeyer would be the opportunity to relax, Dikeman said.
"We'll still be going, but we'll take a nap in the afternoon," he said.