PORTLAND, Ore. (WILSONVILLE SPOKESMAN) — The key to Cherie and Dave Sanville’s 53-year marriage is simple yet powerful: be best friends.
And though the couple claims their relationship’s initial success was due to the “luck of the draw” and their willingness to work at having a lasting marriage, the Sanvilles said crisis is what really drew them together. Immediately after their marriage, Cherie received a cancer diagnosis. Then Dave and Cherie’s only daughter died suddenly at age 26 and they were thrust into raising their granddaughter.
The couple, who’s lived in Charbonneau since 2001, credits their support for each other and their willingness to stay together through tough times for keeping it together. On March 20, the couple will be celebrating their 54th anniversary and they couldn’t be more in love.
“(Cherie’s) the most warm and caring human being I’ve ever met,” Dave said, causing his wife’s eyes to fill with tears.
“I’m a mush ball,” Cherie replied. “He is the kindest human being on the planet and anybody who knows him will tell you that. He doesn’t have a bad word for anyone, unlike me.”
A blind date
Born and raised in Portland, the Sanvilles met on a blind date back in 1963. Both were attending separate colleges — Dave was at a junior college in Boise and Cherie attended Oregon State University — so it wasn’t until the following summer that the couple really hit it off.
Dave had received his associate’s degree and moved home to complete his bachelor’s in health and physical education, and eventually his master’s degree in education from Portland State University (PSU). Cherie moved back to Portland and received her bachelor’s degree in sociology.
As Cherie remembers it, Dave was very quiet and shy — a type she usually stayed away from — but said she had to keep dating him to crack his shell.
“I did have to find out if he really did have anything to say so I had to keep going out with him to try to find out,” she said.
“I’m glad we figured out I had something to say,” Dave replied.
The two were engaged the following December and married in March.
“We walked down the aisle and we were strangers,” Cherie said with a laugh. “That’s what you did in those days. I mean it was time for me; I was tired of waiting. I mean, I was 21 years old.”
“I didn’t want to let her get away,” Dave added. “She was a keeper.”
Tragedy strikes early
But four months after the couple wed, Cherie was hospitalized with thyroid cancer. Fortunately, two surgeries later, the cancer was cured.
“After that experience was over, it was like we’d been married for five years because it was such a big deal,” Cherie said.
Over the years, Dave and Cherie had four children who gave them eight grandchildren. Dave worked as a health and physical education teacher at Madison High School, where he also coached football, wrestling — his main sport in high school — and track. Dave then became a physical education teacher and head wrestling coach at Warner Pacific College.
Though Cherie was a stay-at-home mother for many years, she also worked as a human resource manager and a temp aide, along with other various part-time jobs.
The Sanvilles lived in Bend for 10 years between the ’70s and ’80s before moving to West Linn for 17 years and then Charbonneau in 2001.
Dave and Cherie didn’t care for Bend because of its small size at the time.
“Back then you couldn’t get on your computer and order stuff and have it here in two days; it was really small; it was very cold and I missed the flowers and the trees and the seasons,” Cherie said. “We were anxious to get back here.”
Can you take Jillian?
And then in 2001, their daughter’s death turned their world upside down.
The Sanvilles’ daughter and her husband had just returned from Los Angeles, where her husband was playing arena football.
“They came in town and Jillian (the Sanvilles’ granddaughter) was in a car seat. We drove them to their house; she (their daughter) hopped out of the car. She was really excited to be home and went up, opened the garage door and Cherie hopped out and they were walking and she said ‘I feel lightheaded, Mom, can you take Jillian?” Dave said.
“She handed me the little baby carrier and she went down,” Cherie added.
Jillian Greene, now a senior at Wilsonville High School, was only two months old when her mother died.
The Sanvilles helped raise their granddaughter and when Jillian turned 12, they took her in full-time.
“She’s an outstanding one too. She’s a 4.0 student and a really good athlete,” Dave said. “She’s been recruited for track at several schools.”
“She’s risen above so much in her own life and still just excels,” Cherie added. “I think she has an inner light.”
Jillian credits her grandparents for keeping her afloat.
“They helped me grow and mature into the woman I am becoming today. They taught me to be ambitious and allowed me to believe that I could achieve anything I set my mind to,” Jillian said. “They helped me by always making sure that I knew I was loved. A day never went by when I wasn’t comforted or given support.”
After all, family — for Jillian, Cherie and Dave — is such an important aspect in their lives.
“I feel badly for people who haven’t experienced family life because it offers a lot of great things and a lot of hard things, but those all make you who you are,” Cherie said.
The couple said they were able to stay strong and raise their granddaughter because they had each other.
“What we are lucky for, blessed for, is we have had tragedy in our lives and we were able to keep it together,” Cherie said. “I think having each other’s back is the key and I think listening. We care deeply about having a marriage that lasted. It really mattered to us.”
In their free time, Cherie and Dave enjoy spending time with family and friends, going to the movie theater, watching the list of movies nominated for Best Picture during the Academy Awards that Cherie has compiled, working out together and dancing. They used to play golf together as well.
“I was so terrible I quit,” said Cherie, who is also vice president of the Charbonneau branch of Boys and Girls Aid — a program that helps facilitate adoptions, which she helps raise money for.
“My grandparents are some of the most positive people I’ve ever met. They always keep a smile on their faces no matter what and I really admire that,” Jillian said. “I think the secret to their relationship is that they always support each other through everything. You can tell that they aren’t just a couple, but they are also best friends.”