Denise Doering-Burmark and Dave Burmark, who began dating as eighth-graders at Truman Middle School in February of 1972, are still going strong 47 years later, now awaiting their third grandchild.
“Love is the first thing,” Denise said regarding the longevity of their relationship. “But you need to choose to stay in the relationship. You’ve got to have two people who are willing to work.”
The Lakebay couple knows something about empathy and listening. Both are longtime Peninsula School District employees, having worked in counseling at various schools. Dave now works at Peninsula High School as a career counselor; Denise is the counselor at Evergreen Elementary.
However, long before beginning their careers—through college, lean financial years, job changes, graduate school, and a growing family over nearly five decades—the couple has managed to make their relationship work.
Both are quick to point out that a long relationship does not equal an easy one.
“This is not a story where we’re going to tell you we never argue,” Denise said. “I have learned a lot from Dave about being more low-key and relaxed.”
“Denise and I are opposites in many ways,” Dave said. “We help each other. We still drive each other crazy sometimes.”
At Wilson High School, Denise saw leadership potential in her boyfriend and encouraged him to run for senior class president. He won.
Decades later, when Denise was feeling burned-out and exhausted in her job and considering leaving counseling to buy a mobile espresso stand, her husband researched the numbers, discussed their retirement plans, and helped her decide that transferring to a new school would be a wiser choice than leaving the profession entirely.
The relationship survived college at separate schools: Denise went to Pacific Lutheran University, while Dave took classes at Tacoma Community College. Both worked. Denise got an apartment with friends; Dave moved into his parents’ basement.
They were each 20 years old when they made the decision to marry.
“I said to him one day at Baskin-Robbins, ‘We should just move in together and get married,’ ” Denise said. “‘We might as well. We could save money.’”
“She’s very practical. I’d thought we would get married. But I thought I’d propose, and it would be after we were done with college,” Dave said.
The couple raised their two kids in Gig Harbor, but by 2006, with their younger child nearly 18, they were ready for a smaller house and moved to Lakebay.
The couple’s living room opens up to a view of the water and their porch stairs lead down to the shore. With kayaks, inflatables and a sailboat, the couple has succeeded in making their home on Joe’s Bay fun. Grandchildren Violet, age 8, and Rosie, age 2, live close to Peninsula High School and visit often on weekends and in the summer.
While the vast majority of adolescent relationships peter out within two years, camaraderie and enjoying the same activities helped the Burmarks make their love last, they said. “One of the secrets to their success is that they’re good friends,” said longtime friend Jon Torgerson.
The deliberate approach the couple takes to their relationship also makes a difference. “They still do everything together. Even small things, like taking the dog for a walk,” said son Keegan Burmark.
Ever since their childhood playing and riding bicycles around the neighborhood together, the Burmarks have made the most of every moment. “On nice evenings, we will just head out to the boat and float around. Sometimes we just leave it on the buoy and go out and sit,” Denise said.