Although they have only been married 19 years, Lauren and Buz Monahan’s love story technically began in high school more than 50 years ago.
“I tell him often that I wish we had gotten together earlier, but it wasn’t meant to be until it was,” said Lauren, coordinator of the Frank Strang Senior Center and Ms. Senior United States.
“Now, we can see and understand the big picture.”
It is hard to believe they didn’t unite sooner, as they had lives which uncannily mirrored each other. Both had fathers who worked in government jobs and were stationed with their families at Fort Buchanan in San Juan, Puerto Rico — Lauren’s father with the Coast Guard and Buz’s with the FBI. They attended Antilles High School, as did all children who lived on the base, but they were two years apart.
They knew each other, as Lauren was captain of the cheerleading squad, while Buz was captain of the football team, but never dated.
Their paths diverged after Buz graduated in 1967. Lauren teases Buz about following his then-girlfriend to a Minnesota college. Lauren, in turn, moved back to her home state of Florida, and graduated from high school in 1970 before attending the University of Florida on an athletic scholarship.
Separately, Lauren and Buz both followed in their fathers’ respective footsteps: Lauren, with a stint in the Coast Guard, and Buz, who had a nearly 30-year career with the FBI.
Lauren immediately went to work in the park and recreation field right out of college, and married a little later in life, while Buz married twice and fathered three children.
They were both at a crossroads in the late 1990s — Lauren was a widow, and Buz’s second marriage was ending — when a prospective high school reunion was planned.
“I barely knew how to use a computer, but I saw where our school was having a multi-year reunion, and saw the list of those who were supposed to attend,” she recalls. “I saw his name, and emailed him, telling him I was glad to see his name on the list.”
Buz quickly responded and said he remembered watching her throw the discus and shot put for the high school track team.
“He remembered me all right — he even remembered very specifically what I was wearing!” she said with a grin.
They began to email back and forth, corresponding for about a year before seeing each other in person at the reunion
“We clicked so strong at the reunion,” Lauren said. “It was meant to be for sure. We were two of the same souls.”
“I am convinced we were together in an earlier life,” Buz added.
By then, Lauren knew Buz was her destiny, and moved from a very settled life in Florida, to be with him in Mississippi.
At the time, he was given six months to live, and suffered from “massive heart failure,” he recalled.
“At one point, I was on the heart transplant list.”
“I just lost a husband with heart issues; but that’s how much I knew it was right,” Lauren said.
Whey they later married, it was in a double wedding with Lauren’s father, who was remarrying after Lauren’s mother had died.
At first worried that the setting might not be to her liking, Lauren said the chapel was “beautiful” and the ceremony “was very special” since they were able to share their anniversary with her father.
Buz’s health recovered, and the couple moved to Knoxville 18 years ago to help take care of his ailing mother.
Lauren started working at the Senior Center almost immediately, and has been there ever since, continuing her career in the parks and recreation field.
“I love what I do,” she said. “It lets me do a little bit of everything.”
It has also allowed her to participate in the glamorous senior pageant circuit, which she refers to as “my hobby.”
It is a past-time that Buz has supported from the very beginning.
“He is most of the reason I am always in the top five,” said Lauren, who has amassed numerous crowns and awards over the last decade.
“He goes with me, makes my lunches, takes pictures, cuts music. He might be out in the lobby, doing intelligence.
“We are a team.”
So much so that Buz is known among pageant contestants and officials as “King Buz” and has himself been honored with a pageant “Spirit Award.”
Buz still has some health issues. He had another congestive heart failure scare last fall, which prevented Lauren from competing in the Ms. Senior USA pageant.
Pageant organizers, disappointed she could not compete, developed a new pageant configuration, and named Lauren the first Ms. Senior United States.
Buz also recently had a hip replaced, with plans for the other to be replaced in March, and has had a double ventricle pacemaker implanted.
However, there are many appearance demands in her current role, along with an upcoming “lifetime award” competition and vying for Ms. Senior Universe, both later this year, and they are making plans to meet Lauren’s schedule together if at all possible.
The couple also plans to renew their vows in Las Vegas, this time at Treasure Island Resort, which ties right back into the beginnings of their relationship, as their high school team were nicknamed “The Pirates.”
The Monahans don’t have big plans for Valentine’s Day, except that Lauren said she “expects two pounds of chocolate.”
The couple seem to celebrate the holiday nearly every day already.
“There is no one we want to spend time with, other than each other,” Lauren said. “We never fight — we never have.”
She also sees Buz in an even more tender way.
“I wouldn’t be who I am without him.”