SWEETHEARTS AGAIN; COUPLE GET HELP FROM INTERNET.
Jack Compton and Connie Kemsley Shaffer were sweethearts who went their separate ways long ago, but neither ever forgot the other. Two divorces, nine children and a war later, they are back together again.
On April 9 in Las Vegas, Compton - a welding instructor at College of the Canyons - will marry Shaffer, who three decades ago sent him a ``Dear John'' letter while he was a soldier in Vietnam.
The bride-to-be, 50, is a mother of seven and lives in San Antonio. The future groom is a 51-year-old Valencia resident who has taught at COC for 21 years and has a son and daughter.
Compton and Shaffer graduated from Sylmar High School - he was the class of '64 and Shaffer finished a year later.
But it was their membership at a Mormon church in Sylmar that first brought the two together. After high school, he went to work as a welder in Burbank, then to Vietnam, and she left for Utah, where she enrolled at Brigham Young University. She ended up marrying a fellow student.
After fate and the Internet brought them together again last year, Compton flew to San Antonio and proposed to Shaffer right there in the airport, presenting her with a copper and brass rose he had crafted with welding tools. They are getting married about a week after his divorce becomes final, Compton said.
The nuptials will be held in a chapel at the Excalibur Hotel, 31 years after Compton first proposed.
She was a BYU freshman and he had just been drafted into the Army. Before he reported for basic training, he made a trip to Salt Lake City.
``When I got my draft notice, I drove up to BYU and proposed to her,'' he recalled.
Instead of accepting, Shaffer, 18 at the time, asked Compton to wait until she was older.
But while Compton was in the service, as an Army paratrooper assigned to mine detection duty, his beloved had met somebody else. Shaffer married a fellow BYU student in August 1967 - shortly before Compton was discharged from the military.
``She got married 21 days before I got home from Vietnam,'' he recalled.
Compton stopped by her parents' house, finding the newlywed couple there.
``She looked great, and I wished that the tall guy she married would have been me,'' Compton said. ``I think Connie wished she would have waited.''
From her 30-year marriage to a career Air Force man, Shaffer had four sons and three daughters ranging in age from 17 to 29. Her divorce became final last December.
Shaffer said her oldest daughter will be her maid of honor at the Las Vegas wedding.
Although they hadn't seen or spoken to each other since the 1960s, Compton's and Shaffer's paths began to cross again. Although her husband's career in the Air Force had sent the family to Japan, Germany, Taiwan and Ohio, she wanted to find her old high school and church chums.
Planning a reunion for last summer, Shaffer began poring over telephone books that are posted on the Internet. She searched far and wide before she found a computerized listing for Compton, and she made a lot of telephone calls to various Comptons before she reached his Northridge home.
Shaffer began sending newsletters. Compton, who was still married to his wife of 25 years, responded to one newsletter with a Christmas card to Shaffer, but opted not to attend the reunion, he said.
After all, he reasoned, that chapter of his life had ended long ago. Compton remembered ardently pursuing Shaffer back in the 1960s, and being rebuffed.
``So I left, tail between legs, and went back to living my life, and that was the last time we spoke for 30 years,'' he explained.
But last summer, when Shaffer called to invite him to the reunion, Compton realized that old spark was still there.
``I could feel from my toes to my hair the chills running through my body,'' he said.
In September, he separated from his wife and divorce proceedings began shortly thereafter. He called Shaffer, who was going through a divorce at the same time, and in October flew to Texas and proposed.
PHOTO (Color in SAC Edition only) Jack Compton, 51, is marrying his high school sweetheart, Connie Kemsley Shaffer, 31 years after they parted.
Shaun Dyer/Special to the Daily News