WINONA LAKE — There are multiple ways people meet their significant other — online dating platforms, through friends, at work, church, a party, bar or sporting event, just to name a few.
Roger and Carol Smith’s love story began a bit differently. The Winona Lake couple met when they were each being paired with a guide dog at a facility in New York called Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
Carol has always suffered from visual impairment but had some sight until her early 20s. In 2000, she was living in Maryland and waiting for a service dog. After several delays occurred with the school Carol had originally planned to go through, a friend suggested Guiding Eyes for the Blind.
“When I called them in September, they told me they couldn’t get me into the October class,” Carol said, “They had filled their last vacancy moments before I called, but they said I could come in November.”
Carol and Roger met at the facility in November 2000. Carol was there to get her first guide dog, and Roger, who was born blind, was there getting his fourth.
“We met up and became friends. He had a lot of experience and I was new,” Carol said. “I was saying ‘I’m not going to get a dog. This isn’t going to work. I keep making mistakes’ and he said ‘Wouldn’t you rather make mistakes now so they can show you how to fix them instead of doing everything perfect and then you get home and you don’t know what to do when you make a mistake.’”
“So he was my mentor,” Carol said. “He helped me keep my perspective.”
The two stayed in contact.
“He left for Indiana and a week and a half later I went back to Maryland,” Carol said. “The following weekend I got a phone call and it was Roger, checking to make sure I got to bring my dog home.”
Roger was born in Wabash County but has lived in the Kosciusko County area since age 3.
His parents owned and operated the Unique Bakery in Warsaw from the mid-40s through the late 70s. Roger attended a residential school in southern Indiana but helped out at the bakery on weekends, holidays and during summer months.
Roger and Carol spent the next 18 months talking by phone. In 2002, Carol came to Indiana for a visit.
“Before I left, my mother said ‘Don’t you go out there and do something stupid, like get married,’” Carol said. “Essentially, I’ve been here ever since that visit.”
The couple were married Aug. 6, 2002.
“We’ve had one argument — I should say I’ve had one argument,” Carol shared. “I was really upset. I was trying to argue with him and I said, ‘It’s not fair — you won’t argue back’ and he said, ‘That’s true — if there’s nobody to argue with, there’s no argument, is there?’ So we don’t argue.”
Due to the fact that both are blind, there have been obstacles over the years.
“I was very independent when I was living in Baltimore. When I came here, I couldn’t do anything because I wasn’t eligible to go on the senior buses because I was too young,” said Carol, who is 23 years younger than Roger.
Roger was using the senior transportation offered through Kosciusko Community Senior Services so Carol was able to accompany him when he rode the bus to the senior center.
“We’ve had to be on our toes,” Carol said. “We do what needs to be done, sometimes we just need a little bit of extra help — and other times we amaze people with what we can do.”
“Occasionally you just have to ask someone for help, but we all do,” said Carol. “That used to bother me so much in the beginning because I used to be able to see a lot — I was legally blind, but I could still read print and see things. As it deteriorated, I’ve found that I have to ask for help sometimes.”
In 2018, their lives changed. Roger had gone to the wellness center to do exercises, then returned home and took a nap.
“He woke up and was confused and didn’t know where he was or what day it was,” Carol said. “He never really got a full diagnosis, but at one time they thought he might have had a stroke. There were so many things that had happened to him that they couldn’t pinpoint it.”
Roger was sent to Grace Village, then returned home for six weeks, but ended up in the hospital again and was sent back to Grace Village.
“The doctor told me I wasn’t going to be able to do this by myself,” Carol said. “He couldn’t stay at home because he couldn’t stand up by himself.”
Roger, now age 90, has been residing at Miller’s Merry Manor in Warsaw since that time.
“Because of the senior services program, I met David (Neff, executive director of Kosciusko Community Senior Services), which is how Roger ended up here,” Carol said. “When Grace Village said we needed to find someplace for Roger to stay, David went with me and we went around and checked out all of the nursing home facilities that were available back in 2018 and we decided that Miller’s would be the best place.”
Carol, accompanied by her faithful guide dog, Addie, has been going to visit her husband at Miller’s six days a week since that time.
“He’s still here…he still has difficulties,” Carol said. “I come out here almost every day. I don’t come on Saturdays because there’s no transportation. On Sundays, David (Neff) takes me to church and then he brings me over here after church.”
“If I don’t make it out to Miller’s one day, the next day when I come in at least one or two staff members will say something like, ‘Oh, you’re going to put a smile on his face — he doesn’t smile when you’re not here.’ I know he misses me,” Carol said.
Carol, who remains in their home in Winona Lake, acknowledged the adjustment has been difficult, as she had to learn how to manage the bank account and deal with insurance and tax information — all things Roger took care of in the past.
“Lake City Bank has been very helpful with any questions I have, anything I need. They’ve been very good to me. They recognize me when I come in the door. They give Addie treats,” Carol said. “I’ve met so many people who have taken time to help me out. We’ve had people shovel snow for us.”
“I’m very grateful to Kosciusko Senior Services. They take me to doctor’s appointments,” said Carol. “There have been times I’ve been out of medication and didn’t have a ride and I’ve called and they’ve managed to get one of the drivers to go pick up my prescriptions and bring them to the house. It’s a great organization. It gets me out of the house, too, around other people.”
Although they now reside at separate locations, the bond between Roger and Carol remains strong.
“Roger put his application in at Guiding Eyes for the Blind in July of 2000, and I applied in September. It’s funny how that worked because I shouldn’t have been there at all and yet we both ended up there at the same time and became best friends,” Carol said.
“I still call that a God thing.”