They ‘met cute’

Local couples share their fateful introductions

Kelli Saam and Jerry Olenyn
Kelli Saam was working for a TV station in Nashville when she got word that Jerry Olenyn would be joining her news team as sports director.

“I thought he had a unusual last name,” Saam said. “It never occurred to me that it would one day be mine.”

Saam and Olenyn, newscasters for KHSL and KNVN in Chico, were married in 2000. Theirs is a match made for television, by television.

The two worked together covering a story about the Houston Oilers’ move to Nashville. From there, the couple started watching movies together and eventually found themselves in love and starting a life together.

Saam and Olenyn made the move to Chico a few years later, raising their two boys between shifts in the newsroom.

“We just don’t talk about work too much,” Saam said. “And we only work about three hours together. It allows us to have our own individual experiences at the station and at home.”

—Toni Scott

Larry and Mary Wahl
For more then 60 years, the Wahls have been close friends. That’s why it seems like they’ve been together forever, even though they’ve only shared the last 15 years as husband and wife.

Larry’s family moved to Chico in 1945 and quickly became friends with Mary’s. They literally grew up together, attending family dinners and picnics.

Even at a very young age the two felt a romantic connection.

“We would sneak a kiss while our folks were playing Canasta,” Mary said.

But it wasn’t until decades later when they finally decided take the plunge.

In 1989, Mary’s mom passed away and Larry, who was living in Virginia at the time, called to send his condolences. In that phone conversation, Mary realized the spark was still there.

Larry soon moved back to California to be with Mary. The couple was married in front of Bidwell Mansion.

“Larry’s parents were so excited when we told them,” Mary said. “They said, ‘Why didn’t you do this sooner?’ It was what they had wanted all along.”

The Wahls now own three UPS stores in Chico, and Larry holds a seat on the City Council.

—Toni Scott

Phil and Sue Ruttenberg
The Chico Cabaret owners’ romantic and theatrical partnership began in Santa Rosa on Feb. 6, 1978, where both were junior-college students. Phil was with a group headed off to play tennis when they stopped by Sue’s house. While others went off to change clothes, the two were left alone to talk, and talk they did.

“We really hit it off,” Sue said. Phil agrees: “I could feel this sincerity and deep interest in anything I wanted to talk about.” To this day he wonders if the others left them alone there thinking that would happen.

Thirty years later, 25 of them as husband and wife, they have three great kids (Ben, 20; Kate, 19; and Sam, who at 17 is the only one still at home), successful teaching careers, and wide recognition as the first couple of Chico theater. This year, on Feb. 6, Phil sent 30 balloons to her kindergarten classroom to commemorate the day they met.

—Robert Speer