High school sweethearts rekindle their love 46 years later in the Black Hills

Published: Oct. 14, 2022 at 12:58 PM MDT
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RAPID CITY, S.D. (KEVN) - We all remember our first love.

For many, it came in the form of a high school sweetheart and many of us also remember how that relationship came to an end.

“I was the high school cheerleader and Jim was in athletics, football player, and the high school had this initiative where for a dollar you could get a carnation and give it to somebody you were interested in,” said Sheree Kozel-La Ha. “And so Jim gave me a carnation.”

“Typical story you often hear of going off to college and you and your summer sweetheart go on different paths,” said Jim Zwijack. “Through 40, in fact, we were just talking about it yesterday, it’s been 46 years ago that I came as a football player at the School of Mines.”

“We didn’t know what the future was going to bring,” continued Sheree. “And I know for Jim, I think part of it was wanting me to have some freedom to experience my Junior and Senior year of high school. Life happened. My father died. We zigged and zagged, I guess that’s the easiest way to say it, and took us in different directions.”

Jim made a life for himself in South Dakota and Sheree did the same in Illinois.

Each of them experiencing college, marriage, kids, and even the death of a spouse.

“I reached out to Jim when I heard about Susan’s passing,” Sheree said on the passing of Jim’s wife. “It struck me very hard and we had stayed in contact for birthday greetings and maybe holiday greetings. I was lucky enough to see the building, through Susan’s Facebook, of the house, and so I reached out to Jim right away when I had found out what happened.”

Despite tragedy, Jim and Sheree’s friendship grew over almost two years. Finally blossoming into love just like it did in 1976.

“There was that window of, I call it the 14 months,” continued Jim. “I thought, there’s no way I can get this Illinois woman out to the Black Hills to visit me. And I kind of semi-gave up until mid-winter of this year, she said ‘Jim, I think I want to take you up’ after my third effort of getting her out. We had no expectations and there was some chemistry that developed.”

“When he did come out to visit in August, we tried to go through 40 years in that visit and that visit was amazing,” said Sheree. “And we couldn’t stop talking and it evolved into two-hour visit, three-hour visit, four-hour visit, and there was definitely, it just felt like coming home. And that’s a beautiful thing. And third times the charm, he asked me to come out for the third time, and I thought, ‘I’m doing it. I’m going to make my dream come true.’”

Jim and Sheree created the CARB - compatibility analysis relationship building - program, to reconnect and build a foundation.

“It was amazing, the chemistry right out of the gate. You know, two mature sixty-somethings can really cover a lot of ground. There’s some edit material right there,’ laughed Jim. “Sheree had two visits. She had a May visit for just four days and a July visit for just four days. We knew that this 13-day visit, her third flight out, I knew this was going to be special. I knew it was going to be important. So we came across a fantastic photographer and she did a wonderful shoot on the property to share this special moment. How do you not recreate a magical moment from 1976, to 2022?”

“Sheree’s been wonderful about making an effort to come out to the Black Hills,” continued Jim. “There has been six plane tickets purchased by Sheree and all the way into Valentine’s Day.”

“I’m heading a big construction project at my library,” said Sheree. “So now, that’s my goal to finish that out and then see what the future holds with this wonderful man.”

“It’s just been wonderful,” Jim said. “And now, I think I got her almost right where I want her.”