Rod and Kathie Van Loh had to meet.

It was destined.

One synchronicity after another guided them to each other – and after 50 years – Lakewood Theatre in Lake Oswego, Oregon, helped them celebrate.

In November of 1973, the Sioux Falls Community Playhouse held auditions for Arsenic and Old Lace, Joseph Kesselring’s ingenious dark comedy about two sweet little old sisters on a charitable mission.

Abby and Martha Brewster’s charity recipients are lonely, old men. Their mission? To put them out of their misery. How? By offering them a generous glass of elderberry wine. Wine laced with a special family recipe comprised of arsenic, cyanide and strychnine.

Fortunately for the Brewster sisters, nephew Teddy, who believes he is Theodore Roosevelt – and has the uniform and bugle to prove it – is an eager grave digger. The cellar isn’t really a cellar – it’s Panama, and he’s down there digging locks for the Panama Canal. No problem!

Rod was already assigned to the show as technical director and to design and construct the set. The director asked him to also audition for a role. When Rod arrived at the audition, the room was nearly full. There was only one seat left. The one right next to Kathie.

Kathie says, “We started talking and never stopped.”

Kathie was cast as Elaine and Rod as Jonathan.

Rod had been a student and then teacher at Sioux Falls College.Dr. P. W. Patterson, who headed the theatre department, had talked about Rod Van Loh so much throughout Kathie’s college years, she almost felt like she knew him when Rod introduced himself at the audition. She was thrilled!

There were so many times they should have met but didn’t.

When Kathie was in high school, she was active in Young People’s Theatre at the Sioux Falls Community Playhouse. She was cast in the show Alladin while Rod, who was in college, was working on the set for that show. And they didn’t meet.

Rod’s brother and his date double-dated with Kathie and her date (later first husband) at the senior prom. But Rod and Kathie didn’t meet.

The day Kathie married her first husband, her maid of honor and his best man met with Rod after the ceremony. Rod knew they had been to a wedding, knew Kathie’s ex-husband, but didn’t know Kathie’s name.  

At one point, Rod was in Kathie’s apartment while she was living with her then husband and infant son. Rod had gone over because a friend he’d grown up with was very good friends with Kathie’s then husband. But Rod was in one room and she was in another. Again, they didn’t meet. 

But then, at the audition, they finally did!

Kathie and Rod bonded during rehearsals and got to know each other well. Rod was fresh out of the navy and living with his parents. Kathie was a single mom with a young son.

One late evening, towards the end of rehearsals, Kathie decided to bring two bottles of Boones Farm wine to the theatre, where she knew Rod was still working on the set. She also often helped with the set. They drank wine, talked, bonded more, and by the time Kathie was driving Rod home, it was nearly 4:00 am.

Kathie said to Rod, “If it wasn’t so late, I’d invite you in for coffee.”

Rod said, “It’s not too late.”

He came in for coffee and never left. (Somehow no coffee ever appeared.)

The Van Loh’s were married the following June in a simple ceremony in the side yard of a rented farmhouse near Trent, South Dakota. No invitations were sent, but they let people know they were getting married and 50, 60 people showed up, many of them friends from the Playhouse and Sioux Falls College. Kathie’s son stood up with them at the ceremony.

Rod went on to get his Master of Fine Arts degree from the University of Iowa and continued as designer/technical director. He was involved in 90 productions over a 35-year span. Kathie went on to teach and became the director of Young People’s Theatre where she had at one time been a student. They collaborated when Kathie directed, and Rod designed and tech directed Androcles and the Lion for Young People’s Theatre. In addition, Kathie directed high school theatre, and acted and directed in community theatre.

The Van Loh’s moved to Oregon’s coastal mountain range in 1996. Three kids and five grandchildren later, the still happy couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary next summer. But Lakewood Theatre, at Lakewood Center for the Arts in downtown Lake Oswego, helped them celebrate early during their production of Arsenic and Old Lace.

When Kathie called to book tickets for 12 (family members and this writer and her husband included) she mentioned their personal history of this play to the woman on the other end of the phone. That woman suggested letting Steve Knox, the theatre Executive Producer, in on the story. Kathie did.

The evening of October 7, 2023, we all went out for a delicious dinner at Lake Oswego’s Szechuan Kitchen, then to see the show!

Kathie and Rod were in for a pleasant surprise. Not only did the cast change one line of the play for this one performance (I hope Kesselring would approve) to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, from whatever city was actually in the script…the entire cast came out on stage after the show for a photo shoot with the celebrating couple. Producer Steve Knox couldn’t have been more kind and generous – we were all wowed and emotionally touched.

Besides, it was a great show.

Like the one in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in 1974.