Vail man marries high school sweetheart after 33 years apart |

Vail man marries high school sweetheart after 33 years apart

Randy Wyrick
Vail Daily
Patricia Capelle and John Hulleberg had not spoken in 33 years, since they attended high school in France. They found each other on social media, and got married in February. Hulleberg moves to France on April 28.
Special to the Daily |

John Hulleberg married his high school sweetheart, which joyfully happens sometimes, but not like this.

Hulleberg is over-the-moon happily married to Patricia Capelle from Sainte Catherine, France.

They met 33 years ago when he was a foreign exchange student in Lille, France. They lost touch after high school, got back in touch a couple years ago, and she traveled to the Vail Valley to marry him on Feb. 18.

Love will find a way, even though it sometimes takes the scenic route.

So cool in school

It was 1982 when Hulleberg graduated New Canaan High School in Connecticut, where he was a mighty fighting Ram. He decided the world could wait, and spent a post graduate year in France with the American Field Service student exchange program.

He spent that year wisely and well in Lycee Fenelon High School in Lille, France, for the French version of senior year. He lived with a French family that had three daughters, who were all wonderful, but none of them was Capelle.

Capelle and Hulleberg dated for six months in high school in France, and when his year was up he came home.

“Nothing was really said. We didn’t really promise to keep in touch, but still …” Hulleberg said, his voice trailing off a little.

They had not spoken since 1983.

Love notes

Fast forward to 2013. Life happened, as it does over three decades.

Time and distance drifted them apart. Technology pulled them back together.

Capelle said one of her former co-workers wanted to stay in touch with her, so she subscribed to LinkedIn.

A year later, one of those automatic notifications popped up asking Capelle if she knew John Hulleberg, whom LinkedIn said went to high school with her.

She did know John, she said, and after three decades the thought made her smile a little.

She dropped him a friendly note, and he wrote her back — immediately. They exchanged messages on LinkedIn, then emails and then talked, as folks will do.

“It was more like catching up, asking, ‘What have you been doing all these years?’ Hulleberg said.

They exchanged phone numbers, and when Hulleberg was out of commission with a knee replacement, he burned up the phone lines to France.

Finally, Patricia asked, “Why don’t you come see me?”

All sorts of reasons rolled through Hulleberg’s head, but none were good enough to stop him, because he really wanted to go.

And in early December, he did.

His plane landed in France, he saw her, and he knew.

“We hit it right off again,” Hulleberg said.

She came to Vail in February, and it just got better.

So good, in fact, they visited Judge Terry Quinn in Eagle and got married in his office.

Who moves?

Most married people tend to want to live together. And that lead Capelle and Hulleberg to the discussion about who’s moving. The discussion was abbreviated.

Hulleberg leaves for France on April 28.

He works at Ti Amo Italian Restaurant, which closes April 9. She has a professional job that she doesn’t want to leave, she’s a homeowner, and has a couple grown kids.

“I’m the one who’s able to pick up and go,” he said.

All Hulleberg has left to do is go to the French visa office in Los Angeles and get a visa.

Hulleberg’s French is 85 percent fluent. Give him a couple months in France and he’ll be fluent again. He reads and writes it, and can understand what people are saying to him. Give him a couple months immersed in it, and he’ll be great, as long as his high school sweetheart is immersed with him.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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