Photo courtesy of Peggy Van Wunnik.

Neighbor Peggy Van Wunnik, 71, grew up attending a Presbyterian church in Oak Cliff. She walked into Sunday school one October day, and a blond, blue-eyed guy she had never seen was sitting there.

At that time, the church-sponsored athletic league required attending Sunday school for three weeks a month to play on the basketball team. Theoretically, it prevented stacking the team with great players from all over town onto teams. 

But one of Peggy’s classmates managed to convince several guys to attend Sunday school just so they could play basketball. That’s why Jack Van Wunnik, a Catholic Dutch immigrant, was sitting in Peggy’s Sunday school class.

“I, all of a sudden, decided I needed to hang around to watch a basketball practice,” Peggy says. “Somehow, Jack and I just started talking afterward, and that’s when we officially got acquainted.” 

Jack, who had only lived in Texas for three years, would take her home after practice, and they’d sit in the car and talk. 

“He was too shy to ask me out. His best friend was the one who actually phoned me and asked me out on Jack’s behalf,” she says. 

New Year’s Eve 1968 was their first official date. They went with three couples to see the Dallas psychedelic rock group Southwest F.O.B. play at a club. Jack asked her if she’d like to go steady. Peggy said yes.

“He was so excited that he drove me to his next-door neighbor’s house, after midnight, so he could introduce me,” she says. 

After dropping her off, Jack’s key broke off in the ignition. He had to walk home in the cold January weather. 

“I woke up the next morning and thought,’ What have I done?,’” Peggy says. “But that was 53 years ago, and we’re still together.” 

They dated through senior year. Jack went to Texas Tech. Peggy stayed in Dallas to work. Interstate 20 hadn’t been built yet, the highways were smaller, and the speed limit was slower than it is today, but Jack drove home almost every weekend to see her. Jack lasted one year before he transferred to the University of Texas at Arlington. 

“He missed me too much,” Peggy says. They dated for three years before eloping in 1971 at the Oak Cliff courthouse.

“Nobody believes it now, because my husband comes across as really self-confident, but the idea of standing up in front of a church full of people just terrified him,” she says. 

Her mother was thrilled because she loved Jack, Peggy says. His mother, who survived the Nazi’s occupation of Holland, wasn’t thrilled. Jack had been a tough delivery when he was born, Peggy says, and he also was a bonus baby and the youngest of three boys. 

“Once the first granddaughter was born, all was forgiven, that’s for sure,” Peggy says. 

Van Wunniks waited exactly three years before having the first of three daughters. 

“I told each one of them before they started dating seriously, ‘I said you’ve got to marry a guy that makes you laugh,’ she says. “It makes such a difference. Even when I’m mad at him, he can say something to just crack me up.”

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