Strand Sweethearts

February 2019
Written By: 
Sarah P. Kennedy
Photographs by: 
Randall Hill

Is it hard to find love in a tourist town, where people come and go, a place where retirees transplant themselves after raising families elsewhere? Maybe. But as these four couples reveal, love finds us wherever we are.

Wilma and Tim Pond visit the Green Sea, South Carolina, farm where Wilma grew up and her parents still live.

Wilma Fowler Pond and Tim Pond

True love started with a hernia. Tim Pond had an appointment in the summer of 2003 to see a surgeon in Little River about a hernia. Tim saw Wilma Fowler Pond behind the check-in counter. He thought, “Wow.” He immediately began flirting as she took his contact information. He felt a connection between them.

Wilma has no recollection of this visit.

But Tim came back for another appointment, and this one Wilma remembers. More flirting ensued. He thought Wilma was beautiful, and he liked the way she carried herself.

“She was really in charge,” he said.

Wilma thought Tim was cute. She flirted back.

She had grown up on a tobacco farm in Green Sea, South Carolina—30 miles and a world away from the beach—and was intrigued by the well-dressed, well-traveled Connecticut transplant who had his own business. But after a 13-year marriage with an unhappy ending, Wilma wasn’t sure she wanted to start another relationship.

Tim did not give up. He began to stop by the office about once a week to say hi and bring lunch to Wilma. He liked that she was different than other women he had dated. She was shy and a little reserved.

“She was very country and very sheltered,” he said with a smile.

Wilma also found their differences appealing, and she was flattered by his attention.

“It was kind of exciting for me,” she said.

Still, she was cautious. She had a daughter to think about, and she didn’t have as much dating experience as Tim seemed to have. But her coworkers liked him, and she did, too.

Tim had no plans to get into a serious relationship. He hadn’t had one in years. When he moved to the Grand Strand in 1990, he was looking for a fresh start. He was 23, working in restaurants in New Haven, Connecticut, and partying a lot. Too much. He knew he needed a change. He had vacationed in Myrtle Beach with his family, and he was confident he could find work here. He also knew how easily he could fall into the same lifestyle from which he wanted to escape.

“Geographical cures usually don’t work,” Tim said.

But this time the relocation trick was just the ticket—eventually. His parents moved to Myrtle Beach, too, and he and his father, a retired college professor, went into business together, building and then managing apartments in Myrtle Beach. Tim also worked as a bartender.

Wilma, meanwhile, had found good work in the healthcare field after graduating from high school. She got married at 21, the same year Tim moved to Myrtle Beach. A few years later she gave birth to her daughter, Kristen.

“It was what was expected,” Wilma said. “You got out of school, you met a guy, you got married, you had babies, you lived a country life.”

But the marriage didn’t work out. She wanted better. Was it possible?

When sparks flew between Tim, the city boy, and Wilma, the country girl, the answer seemed to be: maybe.

After a few lunches together in the break room in Wilma’s office, Tim gave Wilma a note asking her to come see him at work that evening.

“I never in a million years thought she would come,” he said.

Wilma decided to go. She was nervous. This would be the first time they had seen each other outside the safety zone of her office. She bought new shoes. It was the turning point in their relationship. For Tim.

“I knew it was a two-way street then,” Tim said.

For Wilma, that moment occurred during a visit to the emergency room.

Tim had injured himself while building a house and called Wilma from the hospital.

“‘Can you come hold my hand?’” Wilma said Tim asked her.

Soon after that was their real first date, which they agree was at Broadway at the Beach. They went to a movie. They also squeezed into a photo booth and took a picture, which still hangs, 15 years later, on their refrigerator.

After that Tim began wooing Wilma in earnest, sending her spectacular flower bouquets every week.

“He was very much of a romantic, and I was not used to that,” Wilma said. “It was special.”

But the course of true love never did run smooth. After two years of dating, Wilma and Tim split up. Adjusting to life after divorce was difficult for Wilma and her daughter, and the tension created a rift. There was no communication between the couple for a year. Finally, Wilma could not take it anymore. She mailed Tim a note.

“What changed was me,” Wilma said. “That year was miserable.”

Tim called as soon as he received the note and asked to see her. The relationship resumed full speed ahead—with one little hiccup: When Wilma told her parents about Tim and asked if they wanted to meet him, her father said absolutely not. He had no interest in meeting a non-Southerner.

Wilma was flabbergasted.

“I thought, ‘My dad’s never going to accept him, but he has to,’” Wilma said.

And he did. Eventually.

“As they saw how happy Wilma was and how I treated her, they came around,” Tim said.

He also worked really hard to impress her parents during the first family dinner.

“It went great,” Wilma said.

“It wasn’t a disaster,” Tim said.

Family bonds and love grew over time. Wilma and Tim traveled to Paris, and Tim made reservations to dine in the Eiffel Tower’s Jules Verne restaurant. Wilma thought a proposal was imminent.

It wasn’t.

“I was deeply hurt when that wasn’t it,” Wilma said with a laugh.

Tim had loftier plans. For Wilma’s birthday in November 2007, Tim whisked her away to New York City. On their way to dinner one night, Tim said they had a stop to make. A helicopter awaited. Tim worried about getting the engagement ring past the metal detector without alerting Wilma, but she was focused only on her increasing anxiety. She had never before been in a helicopter. They rose into the air at dusk. It was beautiful. Tim proposed, and Wilma said yes. It was perfect.

Almost.

“It was so windy. I thought I was going to throw up,” Wilma said.

Upon landing, they returned to the hotel so Wilma could lie down for an hour before going back out to a celebratory dinner.

They got married five months later in Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

After a honeymoon in Tahiti, they happily settled into married life. In 2010 they became foster parents to a 13-month-old boy, Gavin, and adopted him a year later. Their lives are busy, but they make sure to squeeze in date nights and vacations for just the two of them.

“Together, she makes me a better person,” Tim said. “She’s a good mother. She’s a good friend. … We pick each other up.”

“I don’t think you understand what true love is until you meet your true love,” Wilma said. “He completes me.”

Gary Wendt fell in love at first sight with Janice Montagano in 2014 in a Market Common restaurant after meeting online.

Janice Montagano and Gary Wendt

Road construction almost ended this love story before it began.

After finding each other on the dating website OurTime.com, Janice Montagano and Gary Wendt made a date to meet face to face for the first time in April 2014 at a Myrtle Beach restaurant. Janice had picked the restaurant, but a new overpass caused her to miss her turn. She grew nervous, in no small part because she had stated in her online profile that she was “very punctual.” She called Gary to let him know what was happening, but he had left his phone in the car. Thirty minutes late, just as Gary began to think about leaving, Janice ran in the front door of the restaurant. Gary fell in love at first sight with the redhead in the blue jeans. Although Janice didn’t believe love could happen quite so quickly, she found herself deeply attracted to Gary. A new romance was born.

There was just one little hitch: Gary had recently moved to Murrells Inlet from Illinois, and he had to go back to tie up loose ends.

“It got serious for me very quickly, and then I had to go to Chicago and sell the house,” Gary said.

He also had to smooth out the wrinkles that had cropped up in his divorce proceedings. Gary was gone six months. He and Janice, who had moved to North Myrtle Beach a few years earlier from New Jersey, sent text messages to each other and talked on the phone while he was gone. Gary remained smitten.

“I was sold. I couldn’t wait to get back,” Gary said.

Janice wasn’t sure what to think.

“I was disappointed because we were very comfortable right away,” Janice said.

But she had a great life, so she carried on with work, friends and family while Gary was absent. She had no expectations. But that changed when she learned he was returning to the Grand Strand.

“When he let me know he was coming back, I was pretty excited,” Janice said.

The couple agreed to reunite at the restaurant where they had first met.

“I believe she was on time that time,” Gary said with a chuckle.

They fell into an easy, comfortable relationship. They were thrilled to have found each other after separately starting new lives at the beach.

Gary, born and raised in Milwaukee, got married at 21, raised three children and worked as a mortgage banker in Chicago. He enjoyed golf trips to the Myrtle Beach area, so it was not surprising when he moved here permanently after he retired. He played golf three or four times a week and met people that way, but he spent a lot of time by himself. He was lonely but wasn’t sure what to do about it.

“I haven’t dated in 40 years, so how’s that going to work? It’s not like riding a bike,” he said.

He saw an ad for the dating website and signed up. He went on a half-dozen dates, but there was no love connection.

“It wasn’t working very well,” Gary said. “I was persistent. There’s got to be somebody out there.”

Then he saw Janice’s profile and sent her a message. Janice was struck by his unusual profile picture.

“He was in a business suit,” Janice said and laughed. “He looked very conservative. … Here I am at the beach; I’m a little more casual. I said, ‘Hmm, he looks interesting.’”

They exchanged phone numbers and had a couple of hour-long conversations before they met in person.

Janice was happy to find that Gary was different from the other men she had met through the website.

“They were too forward, too self-absorbed,” Janice said.

She said she tried online dating at the insistence of her daughters.



“They said, ‘You need a boyfriend,’ so I said, ‘I’ll give it a try,’” Janice said.

Born in Philadelphia, Janice got married at 18 to her high school sweetheart in New Jersey, raised three children, worked as a sales manager for a home-building company and got divorced in 1999. In 2011 she moved to North Myrtle Beach, where she owned investment property, after the company for which she worked went bankrupt. She found a new job as a property manager, took Zumba and yoga classes, played trivia, and made friends at the neighborhood swimming pool. But after a few years, she felt like there was something missing.

“I was really getting kind of lonely,” Janice said.

She knew Gary was special as soon as she met him.

“He was kind of quiet. He was very sure of himself. He was very polite and nice. He was not forward, not pushy. He was just easy to be around,” Janice said.

As their relationship developed and their feelings for each other grew, Janice realized that he brought balance and comfort into her life.

“He’s a good anchor. He’s pretty steady. He reels me back in,” Janice said.

Gary appreciates that he laughs more now that he has Janice in his life, and that she takes such good care of him and their home, which they bought together in 2017.

“She’s very down to earth. She’s a very caring person. She’s very loving,” Gary said.

Janice began thinking it would be nice to be married to Gary, but she didn’t say anything because she didn’t want him to feel pressured. She didn’t think he wanted to get married again. So in August 2018, during a walk on the beach, when he asked her to marry him, her shocked response was, “What?” Then she said yes.

They found her engagement ring together in an estate-jewelry store in Charleston, one of their favorite places to visit. They are planning a summer wedding in Pawleys Island so that their six children will have the chance to meet one another for the first time. The 12 grandkids are coming, too.

At some point in the future, there will be a honeymoon trip to Paris. For now, the fun and fondness Janice and Gary share in their daily lives sustains them.

“She’s wonderful. I have no complaints,” Gary said.

“Wow,” Janice said.

They both laugh and look happily at each other.

“We present a united front to the kids,” Cassidy Moore said about parenting five children with husband Clyde Moore.

Cassidy Moore and Clyde Moore

It was the “dork” that grabbed Cassidy Moore’s attention. She was looking at profiles on Match.com, and she hadn’t found anyone in the Myrtle Beach area who looked interesting—until she came across Clyde Moore’s information. He had written: “I pride myself on being a great father … and a complete dork.” She liked his photo, too.

“He looked really cute and sweet and normal,” Cassidy said. “He talked about his well-behaved kids.”

Initially, she thought she wanted to meet someone without children because she already had two wonderful kids from her first marriage. But as she looked at online profiles and answered messages, she quickly changed her mind.

“I need someone who understands what it means to have kids,” Cassidy said.

That and a “wicked, sarcastic sense of humor” was what she wanted. And that was exactly what she found in Clyde Moore.

Born and raised in Lake City, South Carolina, Clyde was a divorced father of three with full custody of his children. When his kids were with their mom or grandparents, Clyde sat at home alone.

“I just needed some adult conversation,” Clyde said.

He didn’t drink alcohol and didn’t enjoy going to bars, so a friend’s girlfriend suggested he try online dating. About a month after he signed up with Match.com, he received a message from Cassidy. It was the first time she had initiated contact on the site, and Clyde was taken with Cassidy’s smile in her profile picture.

“It was the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen,” Clyde said.

He quickly replied and discovered Cassidy was smart, caring and shared his sense of humor.

“She was the total package,” Clyde said.

“We just hit it off,” Cassidy said.

After weeks of exchanging emails and talking for hours on the phone, Clyde was ready to make the 60-mile drive to Myrtle Beach to meet Cassidy in person.

Their first date was on Friday the 13th at a restaurant in Murrells Inlet. Cassidy was excited and nervous; but within minutes of seeing each other, they both knew: This was it.

“I’m never dating anyone else again,” Clyde said. “She’s the most genuine person I’ve ever met.”

They talked and laughed for hours. After that night, they spent time together as often as they could, between work and family responsibilities. Three months in, they arranged to have Cassidy’s two children and Clyde’s three children meet. The kids got along famously, much to the relief of their parents.

Just a few months earlier, Cassidy never could have imagined the turn of events. Raised in the Carolinas and Missouri, Cassidy moved in 2001 to Myrtle Beach for work and got married in 2003. When her marriage ended in 2009, she focused all her energy on being a mom.

“I told everybody, ‘I’m never getting married again. I don’t need that. I’m going to take care of my kids,’” Cassidy said.

And that’s just what she did, until she began to experience the same loneliness as Clyde when the kids were gone. She signed up for online dating in 2012 and eventually saw Clyde’s profile. Clyde thinks it’s probably for the best that Cassidy didn’t meet him sooner.

“If we met in our 20s … I was not as awesome as I am now,” Clyde said and laughed. “I was completely immature.”

They also learned a lot from their first marriages.

“You figure out what you want in a partner. You’re picky about who you spend your time with,” Cassidy said.

After months of dating Cassidy, Clyde moved to Myrtle Beach with his children. The couple’s relationship grew stronger. When Cassidy and Clyde got married in 2014, they skipped the big wedding and took their five kids on a honeymoon trip to the Great Wolf Lodge resort near Charlotte.

As the family settled into the rhythm of daily life—including school, work, sports and other activities—Cassidy and Clyde created a strong parenting partnership.

“Clyde and I are really good about talking to one another. We present a united front to the kids,” Cassidy said.

At the end of every day, the couple meets on the back porch to unwind and talk. They imagine what life will be like when the kids grow older, move out and have children of their own.

“I’m going to have 25 grandchildren because I’ve already wished five children on each of my kids,” Cassidy said with a laugh.

They dream about someday buying a boat and sailing the entire length of the Intracoastal Waterway. Whatever adventures the future holds for Cassidy and Clyde, they know they’ll be together.

“She’s my best friend,” Clyde said. “[She’s] the person I was meant to be with.”

Duncan the rescue dog rules the roost at home with Jude and Pat Bambrola in Myrtle Beach.

Jude Bambrola and Pat Bambrola

All Jude Bambrola wanted to do that fateful Friday was to hear her friend sing with the jazz band. She was nervous about going to a restaurant at The Market Common by herself, but her friend had told Jude she could sit at the band’s family table. When she arrived, however, the family table was full. She looked around and saw that the only place to sit was in one of two empty seats at the bar. She took one, and her future husband took the other.

But Jude was unaware that love had taken the seat next to her, and she had no desire to meet anyone or fall in love ever again. It was 2013, and she had just been blindsided by divorce after 26 years of marriage. She was still reeling from the blow.

“I absolutely said, ‘This is not for me anymore. I’m not trusting any man,’” Jude said.

A retired middle school math teacher and New York native, Jude moved to the Grand Strand in 2004 with her first husband. They built a house in Georgetown, where they could live close—but not too close—to his mother in Myrtle Beach. When Jude and her husband divorced, Jude moved to Myrtle Beach. Apart from Duncan, her Yorkshire Terrier-Chihuahua rescue dog, she was alone.

“What am I going to do now?” Jude thought.

Enter Pat Bambrola, the Italian romantic. He had moved in 2012 from New York to Myrtle Beach after retiring as a space-allocation manager for supermarket chain Price Chopper. He had been divorced since 2002 and had two adult children. He wasn’t seeing anyone.

“I don’t like the dating scene,” Pat said. “I was never a big dater.”

He had gone to the restaurant, close to his home, only to get something to eat that Friday, but he noticed Jude when she walked in. When they sat down next to each other, they began talking. Neither one remembers who started the conversation, but it flowed easily.

“It felt like I knew him forever,” Jude said. “He bought me dinner, walked me to my car, kissed me on the cheek.”

He asked if he could see her again, and so it began. They enjoyed the same activities. They were both from warm, loving Italian families. She thought he was kind, funny and sexy. He thought she was cute and sweet. He brought her flowers, held open doors for her.

“He was the first Italian I ever dated. I didn’t know what I was missing,” Jude said with a laugh.

It didn’t take long for them to realize they had, quite unexpectedly, fallen in love.

“It was a gift,” Pat said.

Jude agrees. She believes her father, who died shortly before she met Pat, sent Pat to her.

Pat soon wasn’t content to be only a boyfriend. He wanted to be Jude’s husband. She was scared about getting into another serious relationship, but a wise person told her, “Don’t let a bad apple ruin your future.”

They married at the Horry County Government and Justice Center in Conway one year after they met. Pat wore a tropical Tommy Bahama shirt and Jude wore a blue dress. They will celebrate their fifth anniversary in July.

The Bambrolas live within walking distance of the restaurant where they met, and they have created a life they both enjoy. They like to work in the yard and cook together. They enjoy going to Gordon Biersch, where they always sit in the same spot. They throw a couple of big parties every year, and love socializing with friends and neighbors. In the mornings, Pat gets up early, while Jude sleeps a while longer.

“I get her coffee every morning. I make sure breakfast is out for her,” Pat said. “We just take care of each other.”

“He nurtures me,” Jude said. “I never had a man who put my feelings first.”

They say that meeting later in life has been great for them. There is no stress from full-time jobs, no big financial worries. She enjoys crafts, and he works on his golf game. Taking care of the dog, Duncan, is their biggest concern.

“You can concentrate on being happy,” Pat said.

One thing that makes them both happy is travel. Pat didn’t do much traveling while he was working and raising children. Jude always loved to travel, and now she shares her enthusiasm and knowledge with Pat.

“I’m showing him the world,” Jude said. “There are very few places that I haven’t been; but when I go with him, it’s like the first time.”

They have booked a Caribbean cruise and a trip to Italy in the first half of this year. More trips will follow in months and years to come.

They look forward to what the future holds, and they are dedicated to making sure the other person feels loved every day.

“It’s just so good to be so happy,” Pat said.

“Together we’re unstoppable,” Jude said.

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