4 Dans, 4 Jennys to gather for Valentine's Day

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LANCASTER, Pa. (AP) — It's the Dan and Jenny Party tonight in Millersville, on Valentine's Day.

Four couples, all sharing the first names of Dan and Jenny, will gather to eat, laugh, play some games and celebrate the night and their love for each other.

Dan and Jenny Gehman. Dan and Jenny McClary. Dan and Jenni Kirkley. Dan and Jenny Kaminstein.

The couples have more than 60 years of marriage and more than a dozen children among them. Some are high school sweethearts. Others met in the working world.

Some of the couples already know each other. Some will be meeting for the first time tonight.

"The setup is ideal for me because I am horrible with names," says Jenny Gehman, who is hosting the party with her husband, Dan. "In a party like this, I can't go wrong. I feel completely safe."

Mrs. Gehman decided to invite the Dans and Jennys when she realized the unusual convergence of names among a group of current or former neighbors or work friends.

"I wanted to do this for a while and Valentine's came up and I thought, 'Wouldn't this be fun?' " she says.

Besides sharing first names, the couples also have some other things in common:

— The meet-cute.

"We met at the psychiatric hospital," Mrs. Gehman says. "That explains everything else."

The Gehmans, married for 23 years, met when she came to work at Philhaven, a behavioral health-care center in Mount Gretna, where her future husband had just left. Mutual friends introduced the pair.

Dan and Jenny McClary, a Willow Street couple who have been married for 26 years, met as teenagers.

McClary says his wife moved into his Michigan high school when her dad became the new superintendent in the district. He was 18 and she was 16.

"I always joked I started dating her so I could graduate," he says.

— The oh-wow factor.

Dan Kirkley met his wife of 10 years, Jenni, when both worked one summer at Black Rock Retreat in Quarryville. He was a lifeguard. She was a camp nurse.

He remembers the very first time he laid eyes on her, at an orientation meeting for the staff.

After working alongside his future wife and seeing her in action in all kinds of circumstances, Kirkley, who says he is kind of a quiet guy, asked Jenni to go for a walk with him at the end of that summer. He told her that the way she interacted with the kids at the camp was wonderful and, in fact, something he was looking for in a future wife. Would she be interested in pursuing a further relationship?

"She didn't say anything for a minute or two, which felt more like an hour," he says.

Gulp.

"Then she said, 'Can I hold your hand?' "

Whew.

Jenny Gehman remembers the very first time she saw her husband, when he poked his head around a door and into a room where she was working.

"He just had this smile you couldn't wipe off his face," she says.

The two spent time together that summer and then Gehman left to go overseas, for mission work. She landed in the hospital, due to an illness.

Gehman asked a friend to send her some flowers on his behalf. Mrs. Gehman thinks her future husband was thinking maybe carnations, but the friend, who wanted to encourage the relationship between the couple, chose a dozen long-stem red roses.

Excited and overwhelmed, she asked the friend, do you think this means what I think it means about Dan's feelings? The friend said, oh yes. She sent Gehman a card, spilling out her affections for him.

"He thought this was a good thing, and he just played along," she says, adding with a laugh, "Dan never did pay for those roses!"

— The peanut butter to the jelly.

Kirkley says he is reserved but his wife is more open to inviting others into their home. She's ready to jump into things a bit more, while he likes to sit back and examine the options first.

"It's amazing how, in some ways, I didn't know what I needed in life," he says, until he met Jenni.

McClary says his wife traveled in her youth, while he grew up in the same Michigan town. He loved her "momentum," which he says carried them forward after they married.

All five of their children were born in different states, and they have lived in Ethiopia and Germany, where they had the perhaps unenviable job of being dorm parents to 30 girls.

But through it all, they have shared the same sensibilities.

"We are calm and laid-back people," McClary says. "People like to have us around when they are panicking, because we are not."

— The link.

The Millersville International House, a home for international students from area colleges, is the one link connecting these four couples.

Dan Gehman works there. Jenny Gehman did in the past.

Both Dan and Jenny McClary also work there. (Dan McClary says there are actually three Dans who work there. He jokingly calls Dan Gehman "The Alpha Dan" because he was there first.)

As a child, Jenni Kirkley lived in the International House for a time, while her family was waiting for their house to be completed.

The Kaminsteins, who were not available for an interview, employ a baby sitter who lives in the International House.

— The things they love.

McClary: "She's cute. She's pretty. She's very much a common sense person."

Mrs. Gehman: "He always rubs my feet every single night."

Kirkley: "I love my wife because she is patient, kind, forgiving and forever hopeful — in short, she loves me."

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Online:

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Information from: Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era , http://lancasteronline.com

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