John Toma (from left), Cecilia Toma, Carol Jaroz (a family friend), Frances Klupar and James Klupar on June 17, 1979, in Parma, Ohio.
Mary Frances Klupar stands with her husband, John Toma, in the Lynch and Kennedy store, at the very spot they were reunited in 1996.
Story last updated at 9/12/2012 - 2:19 pm
Ever wondered about someone you pass on the sidewalk, see in the grocery store, or heard mentioned in stories? This is our attempt to track those people down, and grill them, lightly.
Mary Frances Klupar walked over to a table at the Historic Skagway Inn, which her son owns and she helps out with.
"Crunch, crunch," Klupar said, as she bent down to take a seat.
"What's crunching?" asked her husband, John Toma.
"My knees, my hips. I've been working since 6:30 this morning," Klupar responded.
She is 79 years old, and can be found most mornings making breakfast for the guests of the bed and breakfast, and Toma, 90 years old, squeezes in to the mix most mornings.
Klupar and Toma's romantic relationship sprouted in Skagway, but its roots dig much deeper. Both of them were married to other people when they first met in 1976, in Parma, Ohio. Klupar and her first husband, James, attended the same church as Toma and his first wife, Cecilia. Klupar and Cecilia became fast friends. They were both married to engineers; James was a chemical engineer for B.F. Goodrich Company, (currently the Goodrich Corporation), Toma worked for National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the precursor for NASA. The women formed a social group with other wives of engineers that also functioned as a Bible study group.
Klupar was raising five sons; Cecilia, three sons and a daughter.
The Klupar family lived in Parma for 12 years, until James became ill.
"He had to retire and we moved to Sun City West, Ariz.," Klupar said. Her husband was insulin-dependent, suffering from Type 1 diabetes, and then he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
"He managed it quite well," Klupar said. "He stayed well within the bounds. He was an engineer: he obeyed the rules well."
Despite James' obedience, he died prematurely. In 1992 he was riding his bike to the hospital and was hit and killed by a car. By this time Klupar's oldest son, Karl, had moved to Skagway and started his own family. He had also just won a bid on a former dry goods shop, Lynch and Kennedy, which operated during the gold rush days. The shop had been restored by the National Park Service, and Karl wanted to start a gift store. He needed help, and called his mother.
Klupar came up to Skagway in 1993, the store's first summer in operation.
"I said 'I'll come up and help you out, for one summer, then it's yours, and you can go with it,'" Klupar said. She returned to Arizona after that summer, as she had four other sons still there. But she had enjoyed her time in Skagway.
"It was fun and pleasurable," Klupar said. "I was with my kid, my grandchildren. And it's not hot."
So she returned. And returned. And returned.
Meanwhile, Toma was grieving the loss of Cecilia, who succumbed to breast cancer in 1992. He joined a bereavement group for people "coming back to life after we had lost people." In 1996, Toma and three of his support group members decided to take a cruise. One of the stops was Skagway.
Toma and his friends were wandering the streets of Skagway and entered the Lynch and Kennedy building. Klupar overheard them talking.
"John Toma, what are you doing here?" Klupar demanded to know.
Toma explained his situation to Klupar. Klupar hadn't known Cecilia had passed away.
"We agreed to telephone back and forth, see how things were going," Klupar said.
After that winter, Toma came up to visit Klupar in Skagway in 1997. Asked if they had developed a relationship, Klupar smirked, slyly, and responded, "No, just friends, very good friends."
When Toma left after his visit he and Klupar had a phone date every Sunday at 8:30 in the morning. According to Karl's wife, Rosemary, Klupar was concerned the "Casserolers" (interested widows in the area) were rapping on Toma's door offering culinary pleasures.
One day Toma didn't call. After waiting for his call, Klupar grew concerned and called Toma. He answered the phone.
"His response was he didn't know who I was. He didn't know anything," Klupar said. She called Rosemary and told her to call an ambulance to Toma's house.
"He had fallen off a ladder and had hit his head," Klupar said. "His kidneys had stopped and they took him directly to the hospital."
Without hesitation Klupar flew down to Cleveland, where Toma was then living.
"I got in a cab and went directly to the hospital," Klupar said. "I took care of him."
When he recovered, Klupar and Toma returned to Skagway for the summer tourist season in 1998. That's when they got married, at the Shrine of St. Therese outside of Juneau.
The couple now comes up to Skagway every summer. Karl, Klupar's son, and his family have since bought and manage the Historic Skagway Inn, and Klupar runs between breakfast and working in Lynch and Kennedy. Hence the creaky knees.
Both Klupar and Toma have a lot of charisma and a special twinkle in their eyes, a result of a unique Alaskan romance tale.