Vallecito valentines like newlyweds

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They live across the road from the little white church in Vallecito where they were wed in 1995.

"It took me a heck of a long time to convince her to take my name," says Ray Behrbaum, grinning as he shakes his head at the long engagement since 1983.

"I told him 'I don't want to get married, just slip me the diamonds,' " Helen says, laughing. She holds up both her hands to display her ring-covered fingers. "He's given me all these rings."

It doesn't take long to see how much the Behrbaums enjoy each other. They tease and laugh and finish one another's stories.

For 15 years, they ran Ray's RV and Auto Parts in Vallecito, until they retired in December.

"We started it together," Ray says. "I couldn't have done it without her."

Helen says the business "was hard, and it was great. Anybody can sell auto parts, but Ray gave outstanding service. The people we met and the friends we made were wonderful."

Enjoying their more leisurely schedules, Ray and Helen planned to head out today for a visit to the northern Oregon coast.

"I'll start packing this afternoon," Ray says. "Helen's been packing for two weeks."

First meeting

They met more than 20 years ago at a party in the old Utica Hotel. They were both divorced from long-term, unhappy marriages. Although they had never met before, they had many friends in common.

Among a group that had been decorating a room at the hotel for a surprise birthday party, they finished the project at the downstairs bar.

"We had a little party of our own," Helen says, smiling.

Ray says he was attracted to her right away.

"She was fun-loving you could tell that right off the bat," he says.

A few days later, when he saw Helen in town, he gave her a big, impromptu hug.

That did it for Helen.

"I said, 'Ooooh, he hugs good,' " she says.

The Union Democrat
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