AP NEWS

It’s a love story created at a bookstore, but not sold there

February 4, 2020 GMT

WASHINGTON, Pa. (AP) — This is a 22-year-old love story created at Barnes & Noble, but not sold there.

It began Oct. 2, 1998, at the national bookstore chain’s Kansas City store. Sharon Irwin, an employee of several months, turned 26 that day, creating a buzz among her co-workers.

Eric Vajentic had just been hired. He was turning a page in his life, getting acclimated to a new area after moving from Iowa. Eric congratulated Sharon and asked, in classic small-talk style, whether she had plans on her natal anniversary.

“I said, ‘My best friend came out to visit from back home,’” she recalled over the telephone last week. “He said, ‘Where’s that?’ and I said ‘a little town in Southwestern Pennsylvania where I grew up.’ Then he said, ‘I was born in Southwestern Pennsylvania.’

“I told him the small town was Washington, then he said ... ‘I was born there.’”

He certainly was, on Sept. 2, 1972 – exactly one month before his future bride. And in the same medical facility, Washington Hospital.

A quarter-century after their births, 816 miles to the west and, seemingly, against 800 million to 1 odds, these Washington natives met and, quickly, captured one another’s heart in America’s heartland.

Theirs is a storybook romance that culminated with a wedding back home, less than a year after that serendipitous birthday exchange, and has remained at a peak while raising two teenage sons, working and cheering a transcendent football team.

They are 47 now and still living in Kansas City. Parts of their hearts, however, reside in this corner of Penns Woods.

“I’ve always considered Pennsylvania my home, even though I lived there for only six years,” said Eric, a financial analyst. He initially resided in Burgettstown, but his family relocated to Montrose, Iowa, in 1979 after his father was transferred by his manufacturing company. Eric and Sharon made it a priority, though, to return to Washington County at least twice a year afterward.

Sharon was from Amwell Township and graduated from Trinity High School in 1991, but she and her family moved to Kansas City soon afterward for the same reason: dad’s job.

The Vajentics have traveled back to their roots many times, visiting relatives and friends. Eric and Sharon still have aunts and uncles living here, and Eric has a grandmother outside Eldersville, but they don’t make it back as frequently as they once did. It’s not easy commuting long distance when you have two maturing kids – Dominic, now 19, and Ben, 14.

One such return will always stand out – it led to a subsequent trip down the aisle on Sept. 11, 1999, when the couple exchanged vows at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church in Burgettstown, where Eric’s parents were married a generation earlier.

The couple’s ties to the tri-state, not surprisingly, extend to sports. That was evident when they opened their wedding gifts, which included a brick engraved with their names that would be placed on a walkway outside PNC Park, which was under construction on Pittsburgh’s North Shore.

Both are avid Steelers fans in enemy territory, in the energized hometown of the Chiefs, who Sunday night made their first Super Bowl appearance in 50 years when they confronted the San Francisco 49ers.

“We’re going to watch the game at home, and Eric will be wearing his Steelers gear,” said Sharon, a medical coder at at a Kansas City Hospital.

“Sharon and I have differing emotions,” Eric said, laughing. “I’m somewhat sad because the Steelers aren’t playing, but it’s hard for me to get emotionally invested with the Chiefs. She’s happy for the city.”

“Even though the Chiefs aren’t our top team,” Sharon added, “everyone around here is excited.”

Her 26th birthday may be an indelible memory, but the couple closed the book on their Barnes & Noble careers long ago. They’ve had a prosperous journey together, longer lasting than a 16-hour drive back to Washington County, back to the roots that – incredibly – became intertwined on the western border of Missouri.

It has been a novel experience.

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2RUTQDw

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Information from: Observer-Reporter, http://www.observer-reporter.com