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Partners made at single's dance

May 01, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Some of the singles at Dee Raney's parties just want to dance. Others hope to find that special dance partner.

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At the Gateway Inn building on Martin Street in Martinsburg, Raney has created a social event with a name that's easy to remember: Singles Meet Singles on Sundays.

Several of those singles have met and fallen in love. Five couples have gotten married since Raney held her first dance in September 1998. Another eight couples are engaged to be married.

Raney said the singles are usually 40 or older.

"All in all, this has been a very nice congenial crowd," she said.

Many singles travel a social circuit from Maryland to Virginia to West Virginia. Those attending Sunday described the Gateway dance, which is held either two or three times a month, as pleasant, comfortable and friendly.

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"It's a nice, clean, decent dance," said Rose Kline, who assists Raney by giving out name tags at the door. Admission is $6.

With the dance not halfway over, 39 women and 34 men had arrived Sunday.

In a faintly lighted ballroom, DJ Christine Bartles of DVK Entertainment usually plays two fast songs for every three slow ones, "so they can get to talk and mingle," she said.

The dance floor was full as Elvis Presley crooned "Can't Help Falling in Love." A few people sat out Lou Bega's "Mambo Number Five," but they were back for Glenn Miller's "In the Mood."

Next door to the ballroom is the dining room of the Peking Restaurant, a brighter spot for nondancers to eat or smoke. Mike Chan, who has owned the restaurant for 25 years, said his Sundays are busier since the dancing started.

Raney decided to hold her own dance shortly after another singles dance in Martinsburg shut down. A friend, Carolyn Fraley, helped Raney organize it, but Fraley was no longer involved after a few months.

Raney credited Ed Gillwald, whom she met at a singles event, with pushing her to start a dance. "I knew it was needed," she said.

Gillwald, 63, who has worked for General Motors for 32 years, helps run the dance. Raney, 61, said Al deQuillfeldt, who died of cancer on Thursday, made decorations for each of the holidays.

Raney looked away and laughed when she was asked about jobs she has held. The last one - cross-country truck driver - lasted five years.

She said she has owned race horses and been a secretary, and she and her former husband owned beauty salons and service stations. She said she has been married more than once.

Once Gateway couples get married, they're only allowed back for an annual anniversary celebration.

Raney bent the rule this week. Donnie and Francis Harley sat at a table across from Michael Adams and Darlene Laird-Adams. The husbands shared ashtrays with their wives as the couples gazed at the dance floor. They commented that the faces had changed since the couples last attended.

The Adamses, who live in Harpers Ferry, were Raney's first success story.

Michael, 41, had been married for more than 20 years until his wife died. He has a 21-year-old son, John.

Darlene, 46, had been taking care of her parents and her two children, Haley, who is now 16, and Adam, who is now 9.

Michael and Darlene were already on the ballroom floor when he asked her for a dance.

About a week later, Darlene recalled, Michael turned to her and said, "I'm just looking for someone to take care of."

"That was it for me," she said Sunday. "There was no way another girl was going to get her hands on him."

They were married in November 1998, about seven months after they met.

Donnie Harley, 59, had been married for 28 years. Francis Harley's wife died two years before he met Donnie.

Francis, 66, saw Donnie sitting in a group as he walked past her and thought she looked "interesting" and "very charming." He gathered up his nerve on the second pass and asked her for a dance.

They went to dinner in November 1998 and decided in May 1999 to get married the following month. They're now fixing up an old house that they share with an adult schnauzer and two puppies.

Nancy Fruhwirth and Linda Sheehan said they don't focus on finding mates, instead treating each mixer as an evening of fun.

"We came here to dance and socialize," said Fruhwirth, who lives in Winchester, Va., and works in a doctor's office.

"And have a drink," added Sheehan, who lives in Stephens City, Va., and works for F&M Bank.

Sheehan said that at a recent dance she met someone she knew from 14 years ago and they went on another date. "Possible, probably, maybe," was how she characterized the chance for romance.

Fruhwirth had a date a week ago and was wondering if it would lead to another one.

At the next table, Ande Hunt and Ray Bierlein explained how their relationship began.

Hunt was on line for the buffet. Bierlein wanted an unusual way to meet her.

Bierlein recalled: "I went up to her and said, 'I would like to have some vegetables - if you're standing in line.'" Then he sat down.

Hunt was not sure how to react. She said she was embarrassed, but she brought him a plate of vegetables.

They enjoyed a few fast dances. "I said, 'Why not a slow dance?'" remembered Hunt, an eighth-grade science teacher.

"And we've been dancing ever since," said Bierlein, a postal distribution clerk.

Phyllis St. Clair of Hagerstown, Kline's sister, did a lot of swiveling and laughing and chatting during Sunday's dance. During a break, she said she's not sure she's ready to date again after suffering two bad break-ups.

St. Clair, a 59-year-old grandmother of four, was married for 37 years. She was also engaged to be married again until about five weeks ago.

She said she knew just about everyone in the ballroom and had stories to tell about several of them, including one new arrival whose life love was on the mend.

"They come back after they get their heart broken," she said.

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