How 5 Local Couples Made It Happen

The Argonaut asked our Facebook and Instagram followers to nominate local couples whose stories show that true love is still possible in our chaotic, challenging and often heartbreaking world. With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, don’t be afraid to take that leap!


Alma & Damien Petralli of Mar Vista — Married 10 years

“It was 2006. It was Fourth of July weekend and Damien was sitting right next to me. We were there for probably two hours and we didn’t say a word to each other, until this little girl came up and stopped right in front of us. She was so adorable and she just gave a beautiful smile at the two of us. And I looked at him and said, ‘She’s adorable, isn’t she?’ And he looked at me and said, ‘Yeah, she’s such a cutie.’

And then we started talking after that. And he said, ‘Well, what are you doing for the holiday?’ I said, ‘Oh, I’m not doing anything. My dad is in the hospital, diagnosed with cancer.’ He looked at me and said, ‘I’m so sorry you’re going through that because I lost my stepfather from cancer. It’s the most devastating situation you can go through. If you need someone to talk to, I can give you my number.’

At the time I was like, ‘I don’t know who this guy is.’ But I remember the first time we looked at each other I thought, ‘He’s got these beautiful eyes.’

So I said, ‘Why don’t you give me your number and I’ll call you.’ He said, ‘OK.’ And I left.

And then three days later, I was going through this horrible situation at the hospital. And I remember the guy I met at the DMV and I said, ‘You know what I’m going to call him and I’m sure he’s going to understand what I’m going through.’

And I called him. … We met for coffee at the Coffee Bean in Santa Monica at 9th Street and Wilshire. We talked every day after that. I had this connection with him. …

Within a week or two of us meeting, he showed up at the hospital at two in the morning and he left me a message. He said, ‘I just wanted you to know that I can see how you’re feeling and what you’re going through. I wanted to be here and support. I brought you some tea. … I left the tea for you where the security guards are, and hopefully you can get it.’

I was blown away. I just felt like he was the only person — other than my family — who was really truly there. …

We eloped in 2008 and we have a baby. He’s three years old.”

— As told to Christina Campodonico by Alma D. Petralli


Erika Cole & Mary McGrath of Culver City — Together 25 years

“I had been single for about two weeks, suffering from a dysfunctional relationship with five years in. Erica had been single for about a year and also coming from a dysfunctional relationship.

Two of our friends had talked to each of us regarding one another and one friend said, ‘You know you and Erica would really get along,’ and to Erica they said, ‘You know, I think you’d really like Mary. I think you would just be a great fit.’

One of them was a therapist, so of course she knew everything. And she was actually right!

We met at a Fourth of July barbecue where Erica was living and she had four dates set up for that night. I didn’t have any. So, one by one, she blew off all these dates and I thought, ‘I guess I’m the lucky winner!’

I was too shy to ask her to go see the fireworks by myself, so I asked a group of people and this other person came along. I was kind of happy that she did and not happy at the same time. So, we went to the fireworks in Marina del Rey at Burton Chace Park. Then she asked me to go up to Micky’s in West Hollywood and have a drink, so we did.

A month later, I said ‘What are you doing pay rent over there [in Hollywood]? Why don’t you just come over here?’ So she came over [to the Westside], and that was that. We’ve been together for 25 years since.”

— As told to Kelby Vera by Mary McGrath


David Fowler & Flower Miller-Fowler of Venice — Married 15 years

We’re both born and raised here in Venice. And still live here. Dave’s six years older than me, but we both were kind of in the same circles. … I didn’t know him that well until maybe I was in my early 20s. And we were just friends. We were both dating other people.

When I was 26 years old, he asked me to a concert and I was like, ‘Uh, I don’t know. We’re just friends, but hopefully he doesn’t think about me like that.’  I told him I had tickets to Cake and coincidentally he goes, ‘I have tickets to Cake.’ So he’s like, ‘I’ll drive.’

So we go to the concert and we were on the dance floor and he just like turned my face and kissed me. And this may sound corny, but it’s so true — it’s like fireworks! And I fell in love with him with one kiss!

We’ve been together ever since, and that was 18, 19 years ago. We were married on Aug. 20, 2002. And then exactly a year later, on that same date we got married — to the hour — our daughter Violet was born. … And then a few years later, we had twins, Maile and Malia.

The love story between is yes, we’re in love, we’re still together, and we’re super, super happy. But I’ve been in remission from Stage 3 cancer for three years and two of our daughters have Type 1 diabetes. And this all happened around the same time. I had no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, and he’s like, ‘You’re so beautiful!’

We’ve been through all these sort of real heavy, crazy times but it has not dampened our spirits or our love. We’re still very, very grateful to live right here in Venice. Our daughters go to the same school that we went to — Coeur d’Alene Elementary. My oldest now goes to Venice High.

It’s just kind of like a Venice love story.”

— As told to Christina Campodonico by Flower Miller-Fowler


Dimitri Veltkamp & Babette Labeij of Marina del Rey — Married 14 years

“We moved here for work for the music industry, which is how we met. My husband is seven years older than I am. I was 16 when I first met … well, not really met. I went to a concert. He was a really famous bass player in Europe. He was in one of the bands I went to see. I came in and I was just immediately in love, like you can be as a groupie kind of thing.

And I told my friend, ‘He’s going to be my husband.’ She started laughing. At that time he was already in a relationship and it was like looking at your idol, so it didn’t make sense.

Then, when I turned 20, we started playing in the same band, so we started touring together. And although I was already in love from the moment I saw him, I tried to look cool and be the cool friend in the band. And then it became a romantic thing. Now, 24 years later, we’re living in Los Angeles and have a daughter, who’s 18.

Dimitri already played a lot in America, so the first time he came here, he came back home to Europe, where we lived at the time … and he said, ‘I’ve been to Venice — Venice Beach. This is the place where I want to live.’ …

But every time we went on a holiday here, we stayed in Marina del Rey. And we fell in love with Marina del Rey. So one of our dreams became moving to Marina del Rey. And then I got a job opportunity for ‘The Voice,’ so it was 1 + 1 is 2.

In Holland and in Europe, we were living a lot without each other. He was touring. I had my school, my television career. So we were always on the road. We were not playing in the same band anymore, so our time together was sometimes difficult. Everything depended on the holidays together.

So when we decided to move to the marina, we became more like a family and we had to depend way more on each other, because it was a totally new experience. … It made us realize that we are strong together, that we can overcome all these situations. It made our bond even stronger. That’s what happened when we came here.”

— As told to Christina Campodonico by Babette Labeij


Orson Bean & Alley Mills of Venice — Married 25 years

Orson Bean and Alley Mills admit they’re an unlikely pair. Best known for playing a 1960s housewife on 1980s teen dramedy “The Wonder Years,” Mills, 66, is a Baby Boomer. Bean, almost 90, is a member of the so-called Silent Generation (though the famed wit and entertainer is known for being anything but).

Yet something they share, in addition to their home on the Venice Canals, is a rebellious streak.

“If we’d known each other as kids, we would have been best friends,” says Mills.

That sense of camaraderie resonates throughout the couple’s new biographical play “Alright Then” (a follow up to Bean’s solo show “Safe at Home”), playing at Pacific Resident Theatre through March 25.

On stage, they tease and console each other as they tell their life stories — from the time they first meet to childhoods marked by traumas, testing boundaries and breaking rules. Mills, a child of divorce, was a troublemaker at an elite Manhattan prep school; Bean, fleeing his alcoholic mother, bused tables as a teen to afford a room of his own.

An independent streak runs through both life stories — Mills as a single working actress for much of her adult life; Bean as a blacklisted comic during the McCarthy era (over chasing a girl, he says). But both found that missing piece, so to speak, 27 years ago when the couple and Mills’ mother met at a play reading in Hollywood held by Mills’ co-star on “The Wonder Years” Dan Lauria.

“I always thought she was a fox,” says Bean, recalling the first time he laid eyes on Mills. “When I saw her, I moved in. … I moved in pretty strongly.”

Mills also felt an immediate attraction, but remained cautious.

“I just thought he was vibrant, and hilarious, and really smart, and really great,” says Mills. “But my radar was out, being 40 years old. He sounded very married to me, because his kids lived with him [at the time] and he didn’t mention a wife. … Then when my mother told me, as we were walking to the car, that she’d asked him if he was married and he said, ‘No.’ … I immediately put his card by my bed. I thought, ‘Okay. I really, really like this guy.’ I kind of thought this really could be the one. Like, right away, I thought that.”

Some heavier reservations came later, when Bean asked Mills to marry him. Mills hesitated with a reply, knowing that their age difference might one day leave her a widow, but ultimately did not let the thought deter her.

“I realized,” says Mills, “that the reason I was single at the age of 40 is because the people that I kept picking were people that I was never going to able to be intimate with, truly. Every single one of the guys was trouble. I realized that I was afraid of intimacy because of so much disappointment in my childhood, and so much … I don’t know if trauma’s the right word, but betrayals and things that had hurt me in the past.”

For Bean, Mills’ “yes” — which arrived in an envelope wrapped in a Brooks Brothers sweater on Christmas Eve 1991 — was a relief.

“The days were like weeks, and the weeks were like months,” recalls Bean of waiting for her answer. “It was an eternity.”

But a wedding soon followed in 1992, when the couple married in a backyard ceremony, catered with the dish from their very first date: meatloaf and mashed potatoes.

“[Alley] said, ‘I want to be a June bride.’ … We settled on April,” Bean quips dryly.

Jokes aside, the couple hopes that their play — their story — shows that marriage is serious business.

“I think there’s a huge difference between living together, which so many young people do today, and getting married. When you really understand that marriage is a public statement of the fact that you are committed, that’s what gets you through the times when she is driving you nuts,” says Bean.

“Or he,” adds Mills.

Kidding aside, “I love the way that he looks at things. It always surprises me,” she says. “I love to laugh with him, and it makes me grow because he’s a very grateful person. You learn a lot living with a grateful person, an appreciative person. It really makes you want to be positive all the time, look at things in a different way, even really sad things, and really weird things.”

“Several times a day, she walks in from another room and I’m startled at how beautiful she is. I’m just startled,” adds Bean. “I really feel like I’m the luckiest sonuvabitch on the face of God’s green Earth.”

— Story by Christina Campodonico

“Alright Then” plays at 8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays through March 25 at Pacific Resident Theatre, 703 Venice Blvd., Venice. Tickets are $25 to $34. Call (310) 822-8392 or visit