Sustainable marriages

By
From the September 2010 edition

On June 7, Cindy and Larry Hilsheimer celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary—a big moment in any couple’s married life—by working late. There were no cards, flowers or romantic candlelit dinner at their favorite restaurant. Isn’t this is a major violation of the rules of marriage?

Apparently not.

“We’re pretty low maintenance with each other,” says Cindy, who is managing principal of SC Search Consultants, an executive search firm. She describes the few hours she and Larry spent together that night unwinding after yet another long day at their offices as “another day in paradise.”

And she really seems to mean it.

As Larry, president and COO of Nationwide Direct & Customer Solutions, says, “There’s no one way to do it; everyone’s different and has to find their own way.”

Unfortunately, there are no secrets to marital bliss or a foolproof set of rules to follow. Life and love don’t work this way, except in the movies. In real life, it’s about hard work, filled with ups and downs and only a 50 percent or so success rate.

But three Central Ohio power couples have figured out how to forge lasting marriages, somehow combining high-profile and hectic careers with children, community service and their own interests. They agree there are no secrets to wedded bliss and that even the best of marriages include problems.

But they say there are some basic guidelines to follow. For instance, friendship, respect and trust are vital to former Columbus Mayor Greg Lashutka and his wife of 28 years, Catherine Adams, a former attorney and the owner of Caterina Ltd., a German Village shop. “There better be unconditional love because there will be bumps along the way,” he says. Catherine adds, “And don’t try to change your spouse or control one another.”

But perhaps even more important is a practical matter probably too often overlooked by couples: the significance of maintaining separate bathrooms. That’s a key to a successful marriage, at least according to Fred and Kathleen Ransier, partners at the law firm Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease. “Even when we go on a cruise, we have separate bathrooms,” Kathleen says. “Fred goes to the health club, brings that night’s clothes and gets dressed there and picks me up for our date.”

But, in the end, maybe all you do really need is love.

“Kathleen stands out as a role model for a lot of lawyers today,” Fred says of his wife of 36 years, whom he proudly calls a trailblazer for female and black attorneys in Columbus. “She’s taught them how to be a mother and a community leader and a business leader—and how could you not be in love with that?”

Fred & Kathleen Ransier

They met in 1971 during orientation before the start of law school classes at Ohio State.

“Go ahead, you like to tell it,” Kathleen says of their how-we-met story.

It seems Fred, who really does like telling the story, was standing at the bulletin board with another law student, reading the lengthy list of assignments. “And up comes Kathy Hayes and she introduces herself and says, ‘What are you looking at?’ We tell her—and that there are hundreds and hundreds of pages of reading assignments we had to do for the first day of class. And she says, ‘Oh no, that can’t be true.’ ”

He pauses.

“That was the first time she doubted me,” Fred says, and they both laugh even though he’s told this story (and delivered the punch line) more than a couple of times.

The few minority students in their law school class hung out and studied together, which meant Fred and Kathleen got to know one another. And it also meant Fred had to break through the dreaded “friend barrier.”

“He gave me a ride home one day and I tried to get out of the car and something was holding me back,” she says.

It was Fred.

“He pulled me back toward him and kissed me and said he’d been wanting to do that for a long time . . . and I said let me think about that.”

Fortunately, for Fred, the more she thought about it, the more Kathleen liked the idea of kissing him. One of the other things she liked about him was he let her be her in an era when women were just beginning to assert their rights, making many men uncomfortable or intimidated. “I was always very outspoken and he encouraged me to be outspoken,” Kathleen says.

By their final year of law school, the two were living together—a fact they hadn’t told their parents. Their job searches had each of them getting interviews in different cities. It was time to decide their future together, one way or the other.

“Everyone else around us was saying, ‘Don’t you see it? We do. Go ahead and get married,’ ” Kathleen says.

“But like so many other decisions we’ve made, we made them as lawyers and we assessed the situation,” Fred says.

“We can take a month to buy a toaster,” Kathleen adds. “But we were already a unit, I knew.”

They were married Nov. 16, 1973.

They first worked with William Johnson, one of the few black Columbus attorneys to run a firm, and later formed their own law office in German Village. They now have two adult children, Bradley and Fredrick. A third child, Charles, was born with severe birth defects similar to Down syndrome. He died in 1999, living years longer than predicted by his doctors.

“I knew that for Kathy to have a successful career we needed to control our own practice,” Fred says, adding this was difficult for African-American lawyers in the 1970s. “There were only about 20 black attorneys in Columbus back then,” Fred says.

But they beat the odds to create and maintain a successful law firm—Ransier & Ransier—and care for Charles, who needed a lot of attention. “His condition was so severe many of the experts told us he should be institutionalized,” Fred says. “But we energized around this and it became a positive in our lives.” (They joined Vorys in 2001.)

“We wanted to love this child,” Kathleen says. She tended to Charles when he had medical issues, which was often. Fred held together the law firm and took care of their two other boys.

“I’m the nurturer,” Kathleen says.

The two also have nurtured many area organizations. Kathleen currently is on the board of Huntington Bankshares, the Ohio State Alumni Association and the Columbus Regional Airport Authority. Fred, on the board of Experience Columbus and KidsOhio.org, is a former trustee of Central State University and an ex-member of Columbus City Council, before resigning in 2000 to spend more time with his family after the death of Charles.

“We are each other’s best friend and we tied our lives and careers together,” Fred says. “I trust Kathy’s judgment; it doesn’t matter the topic. I like the way she thinks and to this day if I have a problem at work, she’s the first one I turn to.”

Despite this friendship and mutual trust, there have been problems.

“There were times we had to work at it and it wasn’t always perfect,” Kathleen says. “We got counseling for marriage and counseling for dealing with a child with disabilities.”

And then there was the stress of losing Charles. “We had to deal with losing this wonderful person,” Kathleen says.

The key to their success is a strong foundation and desire to work things out.

And exercise.

“We played a lot of tennis together,” Kathleen says, adding Fred usually won. “He had the big serve. But in ping pong and pool . . . I kill him!”

Larry & Cindy Hilsheimer

Believe it or not, the Hilsheimers also met during their first day at Ohio State. What the heck is going on over there?

But their relationship took longer to blossom. “We sat next to each other the first day, during orientation for the accounting majors,” Cindy says. “We said hello and were cordial.”

And that was it for more than two years. They each had sort of significant others and were busy with classes and jobs, three part-time ones in Larry’s case. During Cindy’s third year, she was president of the accounting club and organized the annual gala—for which she wanted a certain kind of companion.

“I needed a more conservative date,” she says, adding that her boyfriend at the time was a little too much of a wild man for an accounting gala. “One of my girlfriends said, ‘Let me call Larry Hilsheimer; he probably has a suit.’ ”

Fortunately, Larry indeed did have a suit, so he attended the party with Cindy and was a perfect gentleman. He was scheduled to graduate at the end of the school year (only his third), but he dropped a class so he could return for fall quarter. The reason was simple: Cindy.

“I was smitten,” he says.

There was one problem when he returned: “She was dating someone else,” he says. But Larry didn’t give up and that December he invited her to a holiday party at an accounting firm where he had worked. Fortunately, she had a dress, said yes . . . and three months later they were engaged.

The couple now has three children: Lauren, Kristina and Jon Michael.

Their marriage is based on respect, trust and a healthy dose of independence. And, yes, the whole respect, trust thing is starting to sound like a broken record. But what the heck, there must be something to it.

“And we don’t sweat the decisions,” Cindy says.

“We trust each other to make the right decision,” Larry says. Their New Albany home is a perfect example. “I had zero involvement in building this house,” he says. “Cindy’s brother designed it and she handled everything.”

Another key is their mutual love of anything and everything to do with the business world—and their involvement as board members for several nonprofit organizations. “We love business and to talk to each other about our challenges and successes,” Cindy says. “I know a lot of other couples don’t talk to each other about their careers, about what happened during their day. Maybe they’re just not that interested in it.”

A partial list of the organizations they are involved with either together or separately includes the James cancer hospital, the Columbus Metropolitan Library, the New Albany Foundation, Pelotonia, Nationwide Children’s Hospital and Battelle For Kids.

“Our goal each day is . . .” Cindy begins. “To do the best you can,” Larry says, completing the sentence.

Time, or the lack of it, seems to be the biggest issue for the Hilsheimers. Their solution? “We don’t sleep much,” Cindy says. Larry notes, “We go to bed at 12:30 and I’m up at 5 to go work out and Cindy’s up a little after me.”

The Hilsheimers also had some stressful times centered on one of their children. When Cindy was pregnant with Jon Michael in 1993, she had some problems and was put on bed rest for the final four months. For an incredibly active, on-the-go executive, this was like a prison sentence.

Cindy managed to find a way to take the rest out of bed rest.

“She worked from bed,” Larry says. “She was on the committee to renovate the Statehouse and she worked on that from bed and we still had dinner parties. In our bedroom.”

A table would be set up next to the bed, where Cindy “sat” and Larry took care of business, climbing up and down the stairs to serve the other couple or two.

It really wasn’t a big deal, Cindy says of that period. She and Larry have learned to be an adaptable, go-with-the-flow couple.

“People always ask me how do we balance so many things,” she says. “You can blend a professional life and community and family and your partner. And it all becomes part of a fulfilling life.”

Greg Lashutka & Catherine Adams

The second time was the charm for this couple, who each had first marriages that ended in divorce. In 1980, Greg, a former football star at Ohio State, was Columbus city attorney and Catherine worked as a law clerk for a Columbus judge. She was filling in for the judge during a minor procedural hearing when Greg first laid eyes on her—and liked what he saw.

“I decided to show some courage and call her, but by the time I did she was out of the country with her parents,” Greg says.

“I heard you called my office every day while I was gone,” Catherine says.

“My recollection of that isn’t so strong,” Greg says with a guilty chuckle.

Eventually, Catherine returned from the trip and the two started to see each other. Their first date, naturally, was an OSU football game.

“I was impressed with his integrity,” says Catherine, who is nine years younger than Greg and had no idea he was a former Buckeye. “But I had heard of him as city attorney and a girlfriend who worked in the office says, ‘He’s the guy for you.’ ”

Soon after they started to date, Catherine accepted a clerkship with a judge in Washington, D.C. “Greg didn’t ask me to marry him. He told me he was going to marry me,” she says.

“She eventually came to a point of reason,” Greg says.

But not before Catherine spent six months in the nation’s capital. “I came back for him,” she says. And they were married June 5, 1982.

Greg says he learned some important lessons from his failed first marriage, lessons that prepared him for Catherine. “I think you have to know who you are and what you want out of life before you can pick a mate,” he says, adding it took him awhile to figure this out.

Again, a sense of independence is at the heart of this marriage. “You have to do things together—and apart,” Greg says. “I knew I would always support myself and have my own profession and I was able to do that, with Greg’s support,” says Catherine, who became a partner at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey soon after they married. (Greg has two children from his first marriage, and he and Catherine have two together, Stephanie and Michael.)

As for Greg, he served two terms as city attorney, was a partner at Squire, Sanders & Dempsey and decided to run for mayor in 1991. But first, he and Catherine talked it over with the kids. “When we were married, Greg was city attorney and I knew I didn’t own him; the city did in a sense,” Catherine says. “And when he was mayor, it was the same thing, and I could live with that.”

There was no question Catherine would keep working. After all, she was independent, career minded and, she says, “I had to work. He took a big pay cut to become mayor.”

After Greg was elected to a second term as mayor, he suffered a heart attack in 1997. And in 2002, after he left office and landed a position as an executive at Nationwide, he endured another one. “Catherine was a great nurse,” he says. “And I worked harder on nutrition and my exercise got more rigorous.”

Working out is important for Greg and Catherine. “It’s important to be dedicated to fitness, to be in good shape mentally and physically,” she says. “And you can’t be jealous of the time the other one spends doing this.”

The little things also are a high priority for this couple. “Flowers, cards, they’re important,” Greg says. “If it makes her happy, it makes me happy.”

“One time he surprised me and had my guitar restrung,” Catherine says. “That was very romantic.”

While this is one of the reasons Catherine loves her hubby, she knows she has to take a little bad with all the good. Greg’s foibles include a dishwasher obsession. “It has to be loaded the way he wants it loaded and if it’s not, he’ll rearrange it,” she says.

Catherine also has learned over time that “not everybody wants to hear my opinions all the time.”

Another key is to support each other’s dreams. “You have to take some intelligent risks, you need excitement,” is how Greg explains it. Catherine was there for him when he took the leap and ran for mayor, and he was there for her when she left law to create a shop that sells high-end European housewares.

“Initially, he wasn’t sure,” Catherine says. “But then I took him to see a similar shop in Annapolis and he got it and was 100 percent behind me. He became my banker and my schleper. Whenever I need something heavy moved, I call Greg.”

To quote eminent marriage expert Fred Ransier: How can you not be in love with that?

Steve Wartenberg is a freelance writer.