Love hibernates 40 years to bloom at last

They met in their sophomore year in high school.

It was 1958 when Les Landers first befriended Jean Sexton.

"He brought me into his crowd, but he was too shy to ask me out," said Jean, who retired from state service on Thursday.

When Les walked into the classroom, he would drop something near Jean's desk so he could look at her.

"I thought he was a klutz, but he was just taking a chance to look at me," she said.

A teenager in love, Les couldn't muster the courage to ask Jean out and lost the opportunity.

"He said he was going to ask me out in the 11th grade, but I started to go with another guy."

Jean and Les graduated in 1960 from Culver City High School and went their separate ways.

Both ended up living in Nevada, Jean in Carson City and Les in Las Vegas. Each got married and raised children.

Jean moved to Carson City in 1979 after divorcing her husband. She raised her son, Bert, on her own, shepherding him through Carson High School and the University of Nevada, Reno.

Les moved to Las Vegas in 1964 and went to work for a casino. He now works at the Rio.

On May 20 of this year, Jean went to her 40th reunion with the man she dated until her senior year in high school.

Les went there with a purpose.

"He went to the 40th reunion to see me," she said. "That was his main purpose for going. He has a friend who is a newspaper writer. He told him that he was going to go to his 40-year reunion."

When they saw each other, the rest of the reunion disappeared. They spent the entire evening talking.

"It was like the scene in 'West Side Story' where Tony and Maria are in the gymnasium and everybody else faded out. That was the way it was with Les and I."

After several hours, Jean's date, Paul, came up to her and told her he was getting ready to go.

"It was 20 minutes to 12 when Paul came up to Les and me at our table and looks at us and says he's getting ready to leave," Jean said. "That's when Les looks at Paul and says, 'I lost her 40 years ago and it ain't happening again.'"

Being a lady, Jean left with her date. But Les' words stayed with her.

"I never realized until that moment how he felt with me," she said.

Jean got in touch with Les and he asked her when she had to be back at work. She had the time, so she made the trip home with a long stopover in Las Vegas.

"I stayed with Les in Las Vegas," she said. "That sort of sealed it."

Sort of, but it was Les' visit to Northern Nevada that really brought the couple together.

"His first visit up here was June 17, the opening night of the Reno Rodeo," she said.

Jean puts a lot of stock in coincidence. It happens that June 17 is also the date she and Les graduated. After the weekend was over Les went back home, but he was not long out of Jean's life. The phone call came three days later on June 20.

"He kept saying 'yes' on the telephone," she said. "I didn't know what he was doing, but then he reminded me it was leap year and I was supposed to ask him to marry me. That's why he kept saying yes."

The next few weeks are going to be busy for Les and Jean. She had her retirement party on Thursday and began the drive to Las Vegas that night.

"He wanted to get married up here," she said. "So we are going get married in the Silver Queen at high noon on Sept. 10."

Jean positively glows when she talks about her future. And Les

"Les is just the best person in the whole wide world," she said. "Even his grown children said that they have never seen this man so happy."

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The first meeting of the Carson City chapter of the Red Hat Society will meet 11:30 a.m. Friday at the Roberts House.

Chris Salerno of Carson City said the requirements to join the society, inspired by the Jenny Joseph poem "When I Am An Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple," is that members wear a purple outfit and a red hat and be over the age of 50.

"In the Carson City chapter, our queen mum is Patty Temple," she said. "We will have 10 women in the society at the first meeting. Women are invited to join the society by being given a red hat by a member."

Chris said chapters of the society are springing up all over the country.

"The statement of purpose is that we are the women in the red hats. We make no apologies or excuses. We ask no favors. We are the mothers, the matriarchs of society. Little girls grow up but they are never too old to play dress up or have tea parties."

The Web site for the national organization is

Kurt Hildebrand is the assistant managing editor of the Nevada Appeal and favors khaki over purple. Reach him at 881-1215 or e-mail him at


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