One look at Barry Burris and Monica Venice and you know they’re in love. They touch, they hold hands, they stare into each other’s eyes and dream of the future as any couple would do. Barry and Monica both have Down syndrome, and they met on the Big Island of Hawaii where the word aloha means many things, the best of which is love.
The year was 1999, and Barry and Monica had signed on for a memorable Hawaiian tour with Trips Inc. Special Adventures of Eugene, Ore., an accredited travel company that provides vacation opportunities for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Barry and Monica met on the day of the big picnic. Barry spotted Monica standing to one side and walked over to say hi.
“I didn’t remember seeing her,” he would say later.
They exchanged names, and he wasted no time asking her for a date in the hot tub. In gentlemanly fashion, he showed up at her door to pick her up, and their relaxing soak in the spa was the beginning of a relationship that has spanned more than a decade.
“That trip was the best!” said Barry. “I just loved it!”
Doing the hula in love
Back on the mainland, he and Monica went their separate ways, but they had traded addresses and phone numbers and remained in touch. In 2004, they took another Hawaiian cruise through Trips Inc. and picked up right where they had left off.
Monica’s favorite part of their cruise together was doing the hula. “I liked dancing with my honey and kissing him,” she said.
After traveling to Las Vegas, Barry and Monica, assisted by their families, vacationed in Nashville and Branson, Mo., as well as in each other’s homes where they met family members. In addition, Barry and Monica have been active participants in the National Down Syndrome Conference for many years, getting together in exciting places like Boston, Sacramento, Florida and Washington D.C.
In the summer of 2009, Barry and his sister, Wendy Headrick, flew from their home in Cape Coral, Fla., to Portland, Ore., prior to the Sacramento conference to spend a few days at Monica’s house in Cottage Grove before driving to California. Monica’s extended family had gathered for a birthday party, and Barry wanted to be sure everyone would be there.
‘Do you want to marry me?’
With the whole family looking on, he got down on one knee, a ring in one hand and Monica’s fingers in the other, and asked, “Do you want to marry me?”
Monica delayed answering, looking instead at her mother, who said, “Are you going to answer him?” Monica said yes and kissed him, and the dream that began with a trip to Hawaii was now sealed with a ring and a promise.
Though nearly 3,000 miles apart, Barry and Monica talk to each other daily and get together a couple times a year.
They share a common interest in Special Olympics, and both have been to the International Games — Barry to Los Angeles in 1972 (swimming) and Monica to Baton Rouge in 1984 (gymnastics). They currently compete in bowling and bocce.
Barry, 51, worked in the grocery industry for 21 years and now works part-time for his sister, Wendy, and her husband who own a consulting business. He enjoys boating and owns his own jet ski. Monica, 47, worked at McDonald’s for 21 years and at the Cottage Grove public swimming pool for 12 years. She describes her current job with Western States Insurance Company as “the best.” Monica is an accomplished artist and loves drama.
Doing new things
Thanks to Trips Inc. and the encouragement of their families, Barry and Monica have gone out and seen the world, boldly doing new things, which would never have happened without the support of this service.
And in the process, they found each other. Travel pushes people beyond their boundaries, forcing them out of their shells where they can grow, breaking routines, meeting new people and perhaps even falling in love.
Cheryl Wanner is a freelance writer and photographer in Oregon.