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Fargo couple, both with Down syndrome, find love together

FARGO - Jill Oland and David Stenslie are in love. The signs are easy to see. Jill calls him "honey" and gently takes his hand and folds it into hers as they sit on a couch in her cozy south Fargo apartment. When David looks at her, he stares tra...

Jill Oland and David Stenslie
Jill Oland and David Stenslie have been dating for 10 years. Carrie Snyder / The Forum
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FARGO – Jill Oland and David Stenslie are in love.

The signs are easy to see.

Jill calls him “honey” and gently takes his hand and folds it into hers as they sit on a couch in her cozy south Fargo apartment.

When David looks at her, he stares transfixed. She becomes his world.

Neither Jill nor David can say how long they’ve been in love, just that they are. Friends and family say they met seven or eight years ago. Maybe even 10.

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They’ve each had their share of challenges in life.

Both were born with Down syndrome, so they’ve navigated this world with fewer gifts intellectually than most of us simply take for granted.

In a recent visit with the couple, David, 52 and rail thin, is nattily dressed in a black suit, a blue shirt and dark blue tie. Jill, 45, wears a tan sweater and tan pants.

He looks ready to step on the dance floor and talks of dancing on Friday nights with Jill in Fargo, or perhaps going to a dance in Grand Forks.

Jill playfully tweaks his nose. “Hey, mister!” she says.

And his attention is once again focused on her.

“I know David loves me, and I love him,” she says.

“I like Jill a lot. I see her a lot,” David agrees, adding. “We are getting married.”

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On the back burner

 

Marriage is something Jill and David have discussed. But the idea was set aside a year ago.

Jill can’t have children, so that wasn’t an issue, family members said.

But marriage would cost the couple some social services benefits. David also had health issues crop up.

Each likes their current living setups. Jill has an apartment with a roommate, giving her a measure of independence. David lives in a group home.

They debate the what-ifs of getting married.

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David would like a big church wedding, noting that his church, Bethel Church in Fargo, “is really, really big.”

He’s even made a list of days on which he’d tie the knot with Jill.

Pick a holiday – Christmas Eve, Valentine’s Day, Independence Day. David says they can top it off with a slice of wedding cake at Bethel Church.

“OK, honey,” Jill says. But then she adds that they could get married on her turf instead, with her roommates in attendance.

“You’d marry me on Valentine’s Day,” she says.

Rebekah Schultz is Jill’s case manager at CHI Friendship in Fargo. Friendship is an organization that helps people with developmental disabilities. Until a few months ago, Schulz was also David’s case manager.

“They love spending time together. They love being together. And that’s what we celebrate,” Schultz said. “They just really love being together. Right now, they’re happy being together, and being in love.”


‘Jill gets life’

 

Jill and David’s relatives support them.

“They’re a cute couple. She really loves him,” said Rita Manikowski, the oldest girl among Jill’s nine siblings.

“Jill gets life. She probably gets it better than a lot of people,” the Geneseo woman said. “She has a lot of patience for him. He’s a slow talker, and she’s kind of boisterous. With us, she says, ‘Get to the point!’ With him, she’s patient.”

Manikowski said Jill and David appear happy with sticking to engaged.

“She has a right to love someone,” Manikowski said. “She takes it all serious. She’s not into it just for the glamour. She cares about people. I think it’s sweet.

“Everybody has a right to be happy. He makes her happy. And she makes him happy,” Manikowski said.

David’s mother, Janice Osowski, echoed those thoughts.

“We love it,” said Osowski, who calls Grafton her summer home. “It’s important for him to have a relationship. They are happy together, and it’s a plus for both of them. It helps make their lives more meaningful.”

Jill and David cook together. They regularly go dancing. They tour the area’s Christmas lights.

“When they’re together, they’re just kind of glowing and smiling. I guess we could all learn something from them,” Osowski said.


‘He’s a gentleman’

 

Jill works at a vocational training center in Fargo.

David is the entrepreneur, selling soda and candy at several Fargo-Moorhead area businesses.

He also holds down two outside jobs, working at Scratch Sandwich and Deli and the Penalty Box, both in Fargo.

“He treats me nice. He’s a gentleman,” Jill says.

“You want to marry me here?” she asks David.

“I do,” David says.

Jill calls David “a good egg.” But does she have other pet names for him, like sweetie pie?

At that question, her hands fly to her face and she giggles and blushes, rocking back.

The answer is “yes,” by the way.

“I love Jill,” David says.

He then doubles back to talking about going to a dance in Grand Forks. Jill rubs her hands together, a glint of mischief in her eyes.

She then reaches over with both hands, cradling his neck and head, and pulls him over to plant a soft smooch on his cheek.

A few minutes later, she hugs him and puts her head on his shoulder as he continues to talk. And they stay like that for a time.

Contented.

Happy.

Together.

 

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583

 

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