Tim Schnabel is a retired marriage and family therapist from Walton County.

Sandi and Mike have never been a conventional couple. Nevertheless, Nancy and I have admired and cared for them as they have been following their dreams and honoring their commitments for the past 30-years. They met as servers at the long defunct restaurant chain Steak and Ale in Stone Mountain. Sandi was single, supporting the first of many horses she would own until this year. She was also a full-time college student completing her degree in business. Mike was divorced with three sons, working a poorly compensated full-time job he abhorred as a supervisor over many women. But he thoroughly enjoyed waiting tables in the evenings. They married in February of 1990, while Nancy and I exchanged vows that May. They are a dozen years younger than us. We saw them from time to time and enjoyed their company.

They did their best with weekend visits with Mike’s three sons and it was not easy as they did not see eye-to-eye with the ex-wife’s parenting. In 1994 they disclosed to us they were quitting their jobs, selling their home and heading to Las Vegas. Mike felt he would be just as effective having his sons stay with them for several weeks at a time rather than the short weekends he was getting. Family and most friends pushed back on their decision to relocate with harsh judgments. Nancy and I said words to the effect that we would miss them and encouraged them to go for their dreams.

After arriving in Vegas Sandi began waiting tables and Mike went to dealer school for blackjack only to realize he enjoyed waiting tables more. They in essence became professional servers and did very well. Sandi once waited on the wealthiest man in Nevada who grumbled a lot and left a meager tip. Another time a famous star left her a $500 tip with only a bill of $150!

They thrived on practically being their own bosses and at the end of their shifts, enjoyed the benefit of not bringing work home. After 10-years Sandi was yearning for a living environment with way less steel and concrete. They uprooted and headed to Tucson, Arizona for a more soothing change in scenery. They bought a vending machine operation of some 100 machines based all around Tucson that spit out snacks. While Sandi worked a day job and helped with the business when she could, Mike serviced the machines, refilled them and collected the money. It was profitable.

Around the time Mike was worn out and they decided to sell the company, Mike got a call from his sister who said she was overwhelmed caring for their parents here in Walton County with rapidly declining health. Would he return to help? He and Sandi both agreed to commit their lives to caring for Mike’s parents for the balance of their lives.

They put their furniture in storage, leased their home, transported Sandi’s horse to a farm in Loganville, loaded the dogs in the car and drove back to Georgia. Sandi quickly obtained a full-time job, Mike returned to what he loved, waiting tables and along with his sister, worked out a plan to care for their parents. He also studied and obtained his real estate license.

Their commitment was simple… care for Mike’s parents, make their lives easier, enjoy their company and be with them the remainder of their days. That journey took over four years with his mom passing this June. As with many long-term and devoted couples, his father passed a short 6-weeks later. While Mike might have regrets on not being the most present and best father, I can tell he finds great satisfaction and meaning in having been a devoted son. And he is most grateful that Sandi was his devoted wife on this often exhausting and difficult journey.

They are back in Tucson now where they relish the dry heat and the desert. They are allowing the family who leased their home to continue living there. They have leased a house for three months to sort out how they will proceed. When I asked them how they continue to propel themselves as pioneers into the unknown their answer formed quickly… they are not afraid of rolling up their sleeves, they honor their history of making a decent living in an unconventional manner and abide in their faith that all will end well enough.

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