Painting new life together

After traveling, working as team, artists decide to give marriage a try

Posted: Friday, September 12, 2003

Cynics may say romance is dead these days, but they are wrong -- it has been driving around the western United States in a motor home for the last 10 years.

On Wednesday, Steve Hillyer and Shirley Lennox-Hillyer brought their romance to the Kenai Senior Citizens Center and made it official by taking their wedding vows.

The couple has spent the summer in the central Kenai Peninsula visiting Steve's family and have been regular visitors at the center. When they decided to get married earlier this summer, they thought the center would be the perfect place for the ceremony.

The center's staff members were excited by the prospect of the wedding, as well, so they offered to arrange it as a senior activity and hold it after lunch so all the Hillyers' new friends could come.

"We thought it was awesome," said Rachel Craig, the center's director. "They have been regular people all summer and it was kind of like doing it for your family. It was fun."

The staff provided the decorations, cake, piano player and sparkling cider for the 1 p.m. ceremony.

"They put themselves to a lot of effort," Shirley said. "It was really gorgeous, we were overwhelmed."

The bride and groom were surrounded by their new friends and family members.

Steve's son, Joe Hillyer, who lives in the area, officiated the ceremony.

"I enjoy (officiating), especially it being my dad," he said. "We've been praying for it so we see it as an answer for our prayers."

Steve and Shirley both have been married before and have several children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Shirley said they have wanted to get married for a long time but didn't know how it would affect their financial status. When they discovered their finances wouldn't be hurt, they decided not to wait any longer.

"I told her before, 'I love you too much to marry you,'" Steve said.

"We wanted to but we couldn't figure out how," Shirley said. "We're pleased as punch about the whole thing."

The couple's relationship began 12 years ago in Prineville, Ore. Shirley, now 71, was a painter and gallery owner in Prineville. She was born in San Francisco, raised in the Adirondack Mountains and has lived all over the country, owning galleries in California, Oregon and New York.

Steve, who will soon be 70, also is a painter and has owned a gallery with two locations in Anchorage, although at the time he met Shirley he was living in the Lower 48. He came to Prineville to do research for a painting. The owner of the hotel he was staying at suggested he check out Shirley's gallery.

"My goodness, there was a class-act operation there," Steve said. "Boy, that was the beginning of the end right there."

Steve said he was impressed by the dynamite gallery and its owner. Shirley was likewise charmed with the big-name Alaska artist.

"We both got fooled a little bit," Shirley joked.

"We both got what we de-served," Steve added.

They became business partners running the gallery together and ended up being life partners, Steve said. Running the gallery was fun, but didn't leave the two much time to pursue their own art.

"One day we looked at each other and said, 'This is crazy, why don't we do something else?'" Steve said. "Then one of us said, 'Why don't we paint America?'"

So 10 years ago the two sold the gallery and their house and bought a 27-foot motor home to accomplish this plan, which wasn't very well-defined at first.

"We had not figured it out," Shirley said. "It was so funny. Here we are rushing to take off and we didn't know where we were rushing off to."

Prior to that, the two's camping experience had been limited to weekend excursions with their families.

"If you take 27 feet and two very intense people, you've really got to get along," Steve said.

"And we found that we could," Shirley said.

The couple headed down the Oregon coast and stayed in various RV parks while working on their paintings. At one park they were asked to do a mural together in a lighthouse. They had never collaborated on a painting before, but decided to give it a try.

"We discovered we could paint together," Shirley said. "What he can't paint, I can. And what I can't paint, he can."

Shirley has a variety of specialities, including seascapes, landscapes, portraits and animals. Steve tends to be more technical in his painting. Much of his work is in the historical railroad and aviation genres.

When he first came to Alaska, it was with the intention of being an architect. That plan changed when he discovered he could pursue his main interest -- flying. He already had experience flying as a member of the Naval Air Force in the Korean War. He spent 11 years flying for Alaska International Airlines and another 11 flying on the North Slope during the pipeline construction era. When he stopped flying in 1982 to be a professional artist, he captured his love of aviation on canvas and added historical railroad images to his repertoire, as well. He has done commissions for the state of Alaska, including for its Marine Highway System and the USS Alaska nuclear submarine.

Since their success in that first collaborative mural, Steve and Shirley have traveled the western and southwestern U.S. for the past 10 years painting other murals on buildings, RVs and satellite dishes and other things in Oregon, Idaho, California, Arizona and Texas. Along the way they also have done their separate paintings, Shirley has taught painting classes and the two have been everything from campground hosts to groundskeepers and gift shop attendants in the parks they've stayed in.

They have been through floods, the fringes of a tornado, torrential rains and beating sun, but through it all they enjoyed the adventure and experiences. Now however, they are looking for a change.

"(Painting murals) is extremely hard work," Steve said. "It's time to crawl down off the scaffolds."

Steve also has found himself homesick for Alaska.

"I never really felt that I was away from Alaska," he said. "I wouldn't have stayed out so long, if I hadn't met (Shirley). ... It's the people that really make Alaska special. The people up here, they just basically take you at face value."

The two came to the state this summer to investigate the prospect of permanently settling here.

"He brought me up here to get me to like it, and he didn't have to," Shirley said. "I absolutely love it."

"I knew you would," Steve said.

The two are heading back down to the Lower 48 on Saturday to visit other friends and family. They will repeat their wedding vows in November in Santa Barbara for family members who couldn't make it to Wednesday's ceremony.

Ultimately, they plan to move to Kenai and become studio artists, selling their work on the Internet. They will still keep their RV in the Lower 48 and travel for a few months of the year, but are looking forward to returning to their new friends and a more permanent lifestyle in Kenai. Judging from the teary eyes and warm reception they got at their wedding, their new friends in Kenai will be happy to see the lovebirds return.

"I think it is really special that two seniors decided to get married," Craig said. "It's just really neat that we could take part."

BYLINE1:By JENNY NEYMAN

BYLINE2:Peninsula Clarion

Cynics may say romance is dead these days, but they are wrong -- it has been driving around the western United States in a motor home for the last 10 years.

On Wednesday, Steve Hillyer and Shirley Lennox-Hillyer brought their romance to the Kenai Senior Citizens Center and made it official by taking their wedding vows.

The couple has spent the summer in the central Kenai Peninsula visiting Steve's family and have been regular visitors at the center. When they decided to get married earlier this summer, they thought the center would be the perfect place for the ceremony.

The center's staff members were excited by the prospect of the wedding, as well, so they offered to arrange it as a senior activity and hold it after lunch so all the Hillyers' new friends could come.

"We thought it was awesome," said Rachel Craig, the center's director. "They have been regular people all summer and it was kind of like doing it for your family. It was fun."

The staff provided the decorations, cake, piano player and sparkling cider for the 1 p.m. ceremony.

"They put themselves to a lot of effort," Shirley said. "It was really gorgeous, we were overwhelmed."

The bride and groom were surrounded by their new friends and family members.

Steve's son, Joe Hillyer, who lives in the area, officiated the ceremony.

"I enjoy (officiating), especially it being my dad," he said. "We've been praying for it so we see it as an answer for our prayers."

Steve and Shirley both have been married before and have several children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Shirley said they have wanted to get married for a long time but didn't know how it would affect their financial status. When they discovered their finances wouldn't be hurt, they decided not to wait any longer.

"I told her before, 'I love you too much to marry you,'" Steve said.

"We wanted to but we couldn't figure out how," Shirley said. "We're pleased as punch about the whole thing."

The couple's relationship began 12 years ago in Prineville, Ore. Shirley, now 71, was a painter and gallery owner in Prineville. She was born in San Francisco, raised in the Adirondack Mountains and has lived all over the country, owning galleries in California, Oregon and New York.

Steve, who will soon be 70, also is a painter and has owned a gallery with two locations in Anchorage, although at the time he met Shirley he was living in the Lower 48. He came to Prineville to do research for a painting. The owner of the hotel he was staying at suggested he check out Shirley's gallery.

"My goodness, there was a class-act operation there," Steve said. "Boy, that was the beginning of the end right there."

Steve said he was impressed by the dynamite gallery and its owner. Shirley was likewise charmed with the big-name Alaska artist.

"We both got fooled a little bit," Shirley joked.

"We both got what we de-served," Steve added.

They became business partners running the gallery together and ended up being life partners, Steve said. Running the gallery was fun, but didn't leave the two much time to pursue their own art.

"One day we looked at each other and said, 'This is crazy, why don't we do something else?'" Steve said. "Then one of us said, 'Why don't we paint America?'"

So 10 years ago the two sold the gallery and their house and bought a 27-foot motor home to accomplish this plan, which wasn't very well-defined at first.

"We had not figured it out," Shirley said. "It was so funny. Here we are rushing to take off and we didn't know where we were rushing off to."

Prior to that, the two's camping experience had been limited to weekend excursions with their families.

"If you take 27 feet and two very intense people, you've really got to get along," Steve said.

"And we found that we could," Shirley said.

The couple headed down the Oregon coast and stayed in various RV parks while working on their paintings. At one park they were asked to do a mural together in a lighthouse. They had never collaborated on a painting before, but decided to give it a try.

"We discovered we could paint together," Shirley said. "What he can't paint, I can. And what I can't paint, he can."

Shirley has a variety of specialities, including seascapes, landscapes, portraits and animals. Steve tends to be more technical in his painting. Much of his work is in the historical railroad and aviation genres.

When he first came to Alaska, it was with the intention of being an architect. That plan changed when he discovered he could pursue his main interest -- flying. He already had experience flying as a member of the Naval Air Force in the Korean War. He spent 11 years flying for Alaska International Airlines and another 11 flying on the North Slope during the pipeline construction era. When he stopped flying in 1982 to be a professional artist, he captured his love of aviation on canvas and added historical railroad images to his repertoire, as well. He has done commissions for the state of Alaska, including for its Marine Highway System and the USS Alaska nuclear submarine.

Since their success in that first collaborative mural, Steve and Shirley have traveled the western and southwestern U.S. for the past 10 years painting other murals on buildings, RVs and satellite dishes and other things in Oregon, Idaho, California, Arizona and Texas. Along the way they also have done their separate paintings, Shirley has taught painting classes and the two have been everything from campground hosts to groundskeepers and gift shop attendants in the parks they've stayed in.

They have been through floods, the fringes of a tornado, torrential rains and beating sun, but through it all they enjoyed the adventure and experiences. Now however, they are looking for a change.

"(Painting murals) is extremely hard work," Steve said. "It's time to crawl down off the scaffolds."

Steve also has found himself homesick for Alaska.

"I never really felt that I was away from Alaska," he said. "I wouldn't have stayed out so long, if I hadn't met (Shirley). ... It's the people that really make Alaska special. The people up here, they just basically take you at face value."

The two came to the state this summer to investigate the prospect of permanently settling here.

"He brought me up here to get me to like it, and he didn't have to," Shirley said. "I absolutely love it."

"I knew you would," Steve said.

The two are heading back down to the Lower 48 on Saturday to visit other friends and family. They will repeat their wedding vows in November in Santa Barbara for family members who couldn't make it to Wednesday's ceremony.

Ultimately, they plan to move to Kenai and become studio artists, selling their work on the Internet. They will still keep their RV in the Lower 48 and travel for a few months of the year, but are looking forward to returning to their new friends and a more permanent lifestyle in Kenai. Judging from the teary eyes and warm reception they got at their wedding, their new friends in Kenai will be happy to see the lovebirds return.

"I think it is really special that two seniors decided to get married," Craig said. "It's just really neat that we could take part."



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