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Valley pair’s devotion conquers all – Fight for freedom lead to happy couple’s union

By Laurie Roberts, Republic Columnist
The Arizona Republic
March 25, 2009

The bride, at long last, stood at the door to the chapel, dressed in white — winter white — with a touch of Kelly green to mark the happy day. In her hands she carried a bouquet of pale yellow roses and on her face, a radiant smile.

“I just knew whatever was in the way, it was a stumbling block,” she said, as the time for the late-afternoon ceremony drew near.

The groom, seated a dozen feet away, was dapper in his navy-blue blazer, his eyes shining as he watched his bride greet their guests. It was, he said, “a wonderful day,” the day when he would finally get to marry Marge and go home.

Just a few months earlier, R.B. Sleeth was locked away in an Alzheimer’s ward in Scottsdale, prevented from doing the things the rest of us take for granted — freedom to live as we please, to love as we please.

But the story really begins 15 months ago, on their first wedding day. R.B., a retired executive with Armour Foods, had met Marge Foley in 2003, when she was the nanny to his grandchildren.

They fell in love, and for two years they lived together, but R.B.’s sons objected, believing that Marge was after their father’s money. The couple were minutes away from taking their vows on Dec. 17, 2007, when his sons interrupted the wedding, declaring their father mentally incompetent and vowing to file an emergency petition to have one of them named his guardian.

“They broke it up and said there’s not going to be a wedding.” R.B. told me recently. “My big mistake was, I was so shocked I didn’t say, ‘Yes, we’re going to continue. There’s going to be a wedding and that’s it.’”

The son who became R.B.’s guardian said in court records that he just wanted what was best for his father as his health declined. And what was best, he decided, was to cut off all contact between R.B. and Marge, letting him live out his days in a “high-end quality assisted-living residential setting, with the level of care and supervision commensurate with his needs.”

Which, for 10 weeks late last year, meant locking him up with people who don’t remember their own names.

Those 10 weeks were tough on R.B. “Indescribable,” he calls them. While others in the ward wandered the halls, R.B. — who, by the way, does not have Alzheimer’s — kept to his room.

“I want to go to my home,” he wrote while there, adding that he wanted to marry Marge, get a dog and “enjoy the comforts of my home such as sitting by the pool in the evening, enjoying the beautiful sunsets and moon that are so special in this Valley.”

R.B.’s friends were horrified as his imprisonment. Forty of them, including former Gov. Rose Mofford, in November joined R.B. in petitioning Commissioner Richard Nothwehr to appoint a new guardian, a neutral person who could assess whether R.B. needed all this protection.

Within weeks, he was moved out of lockdown but still was in an assisted-living center, still not allowed to return to his home in Paradise Valley.

Finally on Feb. 17, Nothwehr appointed a new guardian. Jane Anne Giesler has been doing this work for 21 years. She quickly figured out that R.B. didn’t need to be in an assisted-living center. In fact, she told me that R.B. doesn’t need any special care.

One month to the day after she became his guardian, on St. Patrick’s Day, 70 of R.B.’s and Marge’s friends gathered at First Baptist Church of Scottsdale to bear witness to the fact that love has no expiration date.

They’ve watched over the past year as R.B. lost everything he knows and loves, Everything, that is, but Marge, who remained by his side no matter how tought the fight, now matter how ugly.

Now, they were there to watch as R.B. Sleeth, age 80, took his 74-year-old bride’s hand. “This is a great day,” said Pastor John Bosic, as he stood to marry R.B. and Marge. “What we’ve seen in the last 18 months is an incredible reminder of God’s faithfulness.”

A reminder too, in these tough times, that sometimes stories really do have a happy ending.

You look at Marge and R.B., standing there at the altar, and you can’t help but smile as you watch the old couple say the time-honored vows, to have and to hold from this day forward.

And so the story ends.  And begins.

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