I’m not sure what Neal Rabas wrote in the note he passed to his eighth-grade crush, but it must have been pretty good because she’s still smiling today.
In fact, Neal and Amy Rabas, two of the smiliest people I know, will celebrate their 32nd wedding anniversary in November. They have two grown children, Evan, who recently married Alyssa, and Sadie. Both Neal and Amy recently retired from long careers in public service – he as a police officer and she as a grade school teacher.
And, it all started with the kind of notes you slip under your desk and hope land in the outstretched hand you intended (and not the teacher’s).
“We’ve known each other since middle school,” Amy said. “We were friends first. We would pass notes to each other.”
Friendship grew quickly into something more just in time for the 1985 WIAA state basketball tournament, which some thought might have been distracting for one of their key starters.
“I was a freshman at UW Oshkosh. Neal was a senior in high school,” Amy said. “Neal played basketball at Denmark High. They won state in 1985. I went to Madison to watch him play in ‘the barn’. My friends and I showed up at their hotel room the night before the final game. His teammates weren’t happy we showed up.”
No worries, though. Neal took his eyes off Amy long enough to help the Vikings beat Prairie du Chien 63-59 in the championship game to earn Denmark the Class B title.
For the next few years, Neal and Amy endured a long distance relationship, with her pursuing an education degree at UW-Oshkosh and him police science at UW-Platteville. Amy didn’t own a car at the time, so she found creative and somewhat risky ways to spend weekends together.
“We made lots of road trips back and forth,” Amy said. “I got rides with random strangers from the ride board to Platteville. I can’t believe I did that!”
They decided they would move to whatever city offered one of them the best job. Because the Appleton Police Department hired Neal in 1989, they moved to the Fox Cities and, soon after, Amy began her teaching career in Kimberly.
Busy, stressful, happy, fun, productive years followed. Early on, they worked separate shifts and each strived to balance their job and family commitments. Amy counts earning a Master’s Degree at age 40 while working full time and raising a family as one of proudest accomplishments.
Both say their greatest source of the joy they exude so consistently is their family.
“Evan and Sadie,” Amy said. “Raising two wonderful children who are happy and successful.”
These days Amy and Neal are enjoying a retirement they earned through all those years of public service. They renovated a cottage and are enjoying their time with each other.
“It’s like being on a vacation every day,” Amy said. “We travel, visit friends and family. We stay active – hike, bike, golf, snowshoe, cross country ski. Our dream of living on a lake came true.”