It all started with a dance two years ago. Weeks later, divorcees Tammy Riley and Ted Lanich went on a 17-hour first date that included a zoo visit, covered bridges on a country drive, the Flight 93 Memorial, dinner and fireworks.
And on July 4, the Lanichs celebrated their one-year anniversary as husband and wife.
But it all started at a Singles Making Connections dance in 2012, where they met for the first time.
“I’m very thankful for those dances, even if I hadn’t met someone,” said Tammy Lanich, 49.
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The Lanichs might have found love by chance. But Jeffrey Goss, the co-founder of Singles Adult Ministry and Singles Making Connections, said he prefers to look at it as a little divine match-making.
“It’s not us, it’s the good Lord above,” Goss said. “He enables us, and we’re just devoting our time.”
The Lanichs are one of eight marriages, but there are many more long-term relationships, that have developed through the dances since first starting them in 2008, he said. Goss never intended to provide a local match-making service. In fact, he and Singles Making Connections partner Gloria Esh don’t promote dating. They advocate friendships with mutual respect.
“We hear this time and time again: They don’t want the bar scene,” Goss said. “They just want a safe place to go and meet people.”
Goss originally worked with the Mount Nittany United Methodist Church in Lemont to hold the dances. It gave adults a way to seek new relationships through a religious community, he said. Today, Goss and Esh have taken the dances into the community for broader reach.
“We don’t stand on a stack of bibles,” Goss said. “But we recognize that many churches are structured around and are family-driven. So that might be an uncomfortable environment for singles, or even those who have gone through a divorce.”
People like Tammy and Ted Lanich.
Tammy, who used her maiden name Riley after a divorce, attended her first dance in 2008, after several friends from Altoona convinced her to go.
“Everyone was friendly, and we continued to go,” Tammy said.
Ted Lanich wasn’t really the dancing type, until June 16, 2012.
“Well, maybe I’ll meet someone there,” he said, convincing himself to attend the singles dance in State College that night.
When he walked into American Legion Post 245, he said he was scared to death. He didn’t know anyone. Goss suggested 48-year-old Lanich, from Tyrone, sit with the Altoona group because they came from the same general area. Ted fit right into the conversations and was drawn to Tammy.
“I thought, ‘My goodness. She’s the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,’ ” Ted said.
When everyone else got up to dance, he just sat there.
“He said, ‘I don’t dance,’ ” Tammy remembered. “And I said, ‘Well, then you’re gonna sit there all night by yourself because that’s what we do.’ ”
That logic was good enough for Ted, so he joined her on the dance floor.
The dances were first held at community locations in 2012 after a discussion between Goss and Esh about reaching more people because there were singles spending holidays alone with a microwavable dinner.
Although faith plays an intricate role in why Goss and Esh organize the dances, the real focus was on helping others find new friendships, Esh said.
“At our first dance, several people shared that they would not go to a church dance,” Esh said. “We realized then that we could reach more people by working beyond the church walls.”
Soon, Singles Making Connections was organizing picnics and special events, too.
Esh — who went through a divorce and today is in another long-term relationship — said there’s a lot of value to just helping people get back out into the world. Many of them have given up.
“Finding love like Ted and Tammy is so inspiring,” Esh said.
Ted and Tammy Lanich were engaged on Feb. 9, 2013. Ted proposed at a singles dance.
“He was acting goofy,” Tammy said, “and I couldn’t figure it out.”
When they were married last year, they went back to Prince Gallitzen State Park for the ceremony, the same spot on that 17-hour first date where they sat and talked for hours.
They never expected to find love again at a dance. But that’s why they continue to go and help with the dances. And they tell others to get back on the dance floor.
“We talk to them,” Tammy said. “We say, ‘We were in your shoes, but you can’t give up hope.’ ”