Amelia Island, Fl. — As he scanned the handwriting on the envelope postmarked from Norway, Ken McGruther’s heart sank to his shoe tops.
This wasn’t the familiar gentle curves of cursive from his soulmate of so many years who everyone knew by the nickname Jory.
No, this lettering was more primitive in style. The letters had sharp angles and jagged edges that appeared almost to be stabbed on the envelope. Whatever the envelope contained, McGruther knew it couldn’t be good.
McGruther was serving in the U.S. Navy when the ominous letter had arrived.
He was a native of Birmingham, Michigan, a quiet town just north of Detroit.
In 1960, Ken served on “The New Year’s Eve” dance committee that selected ‘silver shadows’ as the dance theme for their Birmingham Seaholm High School classmates. Ken was the senior class president, on the varsity baseball team and named as a prestigious “Who’s, who” of Seaholm.
By contrast, Jory Pettersen was quiet and stayed in the background. As an American Field Service program exchange student at Seaholm from Tromso, Norway she was trying to find a comfort zone with her American classmates.
She arrived at Seaholm for her first day of school with the formal name Jorunn, which is pronounced in an American tongue almost as urine.
“No way!” her homeroom teacher exclaimed. “From now on, you’re Jory.”
As an exchange student, everybody wanted to know about Jory. She was featured in the 1960 first edition high school newspaper.
“Bermuda shorts are a favorite of Jory’ s since she came here two weeks ago. The first thing she did was to buy seven pair and she has
been very happy with them. Also for the first time Jory encountered hamburgers and pizza, which she is fond of at the moment.” the newspaper reported.
“Americans are so friendly and they are always smiling,” was her
comment when asked what her impressions were of the people she
When they first caught a glimpse of one another in the hallway, Jory and Ken had felt the ‘connection.’ The Silver Shadows dance would be bittersweet, because as 1960 became 1961, the teenagers knew only five months remained before Jory would have to return home to Norway.
“Unbeknownst to all but some very close friends, the two of us fell quite in love in the weeks just before and after Graduation back in 1961. We dated just about every day, ‘hiding in plain sight’ in a sense, but then had to go our separate ways,” Ken said.
Ken would go one to Dartmouth, graduating in 1965 and then his Navy career. In 1979, he would become the commander of a guided-missile destroyer and rise to the rank of captain.
Jory indeed went back to to Tromso, married and had children.
Despite the separation, Ken and Jory wrote letters to one another. As a military by-the-book officer, his letters were respectful of Jory’s marriage. The two kept in touch frequency with updates on their respective lives.
Then sometime in the mid-1960s, “the letter” arrived.
It was from Jory’s husband, Tore, who asked Ken to respect the marriage and to stop writing Jory.
“I know you two still have feelings for one another,” the husband wrote.
Distraught, but knowing Jory’s husband was right, Ken stopped writing. He never told Jory that there would be no more letters.
In Norway, Jory couldn’t understand why there were no letters from Ken. She would wonder for the next four decades why Ken stopped writing.
The years flew by and Ken went on to become a professor at the U.S. Military War College, and Special Advisor to U.S. Intelligence Agencies on the long term U.S. strategic issues as they pertain to China and Russia.
Jory and her husband Tore were married for 44 years.
In 2011, it was time for Seaholm’s Class of 1961 50th high school reunion.
“I had stayed in touch with classmates over the years and told them to keep me informed of any reunion plans,” Jory explained. “I always wanted to come back and visit Birmingham.”
Ken, now retired, was excited to see old, hometown friends for the 50th.
Jory and Ken had no idea the other would be attending the reunion.
“After 48 years of no contact, I had long ago buried all those feelings for her,” he said. “But I never stopped thinking about her.”
The night of the reunion, Jory and Ken worked their way individually thru the crowd of old friends. Finally, their eyes met again after all those years.
“The same ‘thunderbolt’ hit again – we almost by accident were right in front of each other and both of us simultaneously experienced what can only be described as an ‘Eternal Moment’ when the floor simply fell away from beneath us,” Ken wrote on Seaholm’s 1961 class website. “For all the rest of our lives and loves over the last 50 years, we both knew in an instant that at some deep and important level we still had a place in each other’s heart.”
But was this indeed love or a deep hurt that had festered for so long that it needed this by chance meeting to heal?
Fate was dealing the couple a favorable hand. Jorunn was not immediately returning to Norway. She had planned to spend three weeks after the reunion visiting friends across the country. So she asked Ken to visit her in New York City.
“We wanted to see if what we felt at the Reunion was real and eternal, or maybe just a mirage and a wonderful 50 years old echo,” Jory said. “We did meet. We found it was real, and is real. And it is growing. What we felt at being together for two days in New York City far exceeded what either of us had any right or reason to expect or even dare hope for.”
Ken and Jory shared their amazing story on the Seaholm 50th Reunion website.
“We now accept that we are firmly and deeply back in each other’s hearts and hope and plan to stay there. What exactly it will become we do not yet know, and the Atlantic Ocean is still wide, but we have agreed between ourselves that whatever else it becomes there is something wonderful and powerful happening and we want to ride it as far as we can, and we are not going to hold back this time, or let “practicality” this time get in the way of building a love for the ages,” Ken wrote to classmates. “We look forward to many happy times together, and entertain the possibility that at some point it won’t be just visiting each other, but that we will be traveling together forever wherever we go.”
The couple eventually married and now live in Fernandina Beach, Fl.
We were seated at the same table as Ken and Jory for the “Spring Fling,” a special dinner-dance where they shared their story. The other couples at the table sat in amazement and awe of their enduring love story.
Jory was about to embark for Norway to visit her kids and Ken was following about a week later.
The best ending for this story is perhaps Ken’s last line from the high school website.
“Talk about a reunion, right? So thanks, Dave (a classmate), for asking, and for enabling what was for the two of us certainly the very best reunion of all!”