In September 1976 at Weston Elementary School in Elkhart, fourth-grader Jimmie Johnson slipped a note into the coat pocket of Lisa Swartzell.
“I like you,” Johnson had scribbled. “Do you like me?”
The note was motivated by his crush on the “prettiest girl in the school,” Johnson says, a girl with short, dark hair.
What Johnson didn’t know is that the note would be his first move in a 37-year-long dream to win Swartzell over.
Looking back, Swartzell remembers the note in her pocket. She also remembers a party they went to during their short-lived childhood relationship.
When they saw each other next, it was in the ninth grade. Swartzell showed up as a new student in the art class Johnson was assisting.
Johnson was too nervous to say anything.
Swartzell, meanwhile, remembers thinking, “that’s the boy that liked me in the fourth grade.”
The two went separate ways after that.
Johnson took up photography and lived in Nashville, Los Angeles and Columbus. Swartzell stayed in Elkhart as a cafeteria worker at Riverview Elementary School.
Johnson, however, couldn’t forget Swartzell. For years he typed her name into Google to see if anything would show up.
“She was on my mind every single day,” Johnson said.
In 2011, 35 years after they first met, Johnson hit gold. Swartzell changed her Facebook profile to her maiden name and Johnson found her one day as he searched.
“I said, ‘There she is,’” Johnson said. “So I sent her a message.”
Swartzell’s reaction was similar to the one she’d had years ago.
“I thought, ‘That’s the boy who liked me in the fourth grade,’” Swartzell said.
To Johnson’s suspense, it took Swartzell a month to write back. Soon, however, they were chatting online and talking everyday on the phone.
Eventually Johnson confessed to Swartzell that he was still in love with her after so many years.
On November 8, 2011, Swartzell drove with her two sons, Cory, 16, and Jacob, 13, to Ohio to met Johnson. On June 7, 2012, Johnson proposed to Swartzell and she said “yes.”
The two were married on July 6 but not without a nod to the past that brought them together.
Their wedding day, 7/6, represented them meeting in 1976. Their wedding time, 4 p.m., represented them meeting in the 4th grade. And their wedding site, Weston Park, was where their elementary school once stood.
The couple says they have an uncanny ability to finish each other’s sentences and dress in the same colors without trying. They enjoy going to yard sales together and hope to move to Tennessee in the future.
One afternoon, Johnson and Swartzell sat on their porch in Elkhart, where they like to spend time together. They joked that even though they met in elementary school, they won’t let Cory and Jacob go on dates.
Johnson responded to the question of what he likes about Swartzell.
“There’s nothing I don’t like about her,” Johnson said.
Swartzell answered next.
“I like most everything,” she teased. “He’s used to being nice and neat. But I guess I’ll accept you the way you are.”
How is it possible that the two have found each other 37 years later?
“I believe everything is in God’s will,” Johnson said. “If it weren’t for that, we wouldn’t be together.”