They met at the downtown McDonald's in 1974.
A manager at the time, he was told to “hire the next 16-year-old who walked through the door.”
He did — and wound up marrying her three years later.
After the ceremony, still in their wedding finery, they stopped by the McDonald's on South Anthony for a chocolate shake.
Now married 35 years, this couple met me last week at yet another Fort Wayne McDonald's to tell how they lost a combined 165 pounds — a feat they say might never have happened if they hadn't started eating one and sometimes two meals a day at the Golden Arches.
“Fast food gets a bad rap,” says Lee, who contacted me after a June 11 column on a local man who dropped a pants size eating twice a day at McDonald's.
Neither he nor Annette — she asked to use their middle names only to avoid extra scrutiny as she enters the end game of her weight loss — has seen “Super Size Me,” in which filmmaker Morgan Spurlock wrecks his health dining at McDonald's for a month.
But Lee, the more outspoken of the two — who'd rather use their full names but backs down in deference to his shy wife — says it's not so much about fast food as it is common sense.
“Sure, if you order a large fries and a large chocolate shake, you're going to gain weight,” he said. “But you can eat anyplace and eat too much.”
Annette's the biggest loser of the two, dropping 120 pounds since they started eating breakfast together at the Goshen Road McDonald's two years ago.
Lee's lost 45 pounds in his role as supportive husband; though he'd rather eat a whole hash brown patty with his breakfast sandwich, he gives in to Annette's preference to share one. He also thinks that working from home now, as a compliance officer for an employment agency, has made a difference, because he's no longer tempted by office treats.
Neither of them set out to lose weight. Not at first, anyway. After Lee got downsized in April 2010, they started going out to breakfast as a way to spend more time together. It didn't take Annette long to settle on her standard order: a sausage-egg-and-cheese McMuffin.
“I just really like that sandwich,” she says. “It fills you up.”
Sometimes, after socializing with the regulars and reading novels they bring with them, they wind up staying for lunch, typically a crispy chicken club sandwich and a shared small order of no-salt fries.
Annette thinks more protein and less stress — she spent decades running their three kids around while Lee commuted to jobs in Warsaw and then Kendallville — led her to snack less. Other people noticed her clothes getting looser before she did.
But it wasn't until six months later, when an orthopedic surgeon told her she was too heavy for knee surgery, that she resolved to really focus on her diet.
“He said it in a way that was hurtful,” she says, still resentful. “What he said was, 'I wouldn't touch you at this weight for anything.'”
That day Annette ordered salad and water for lunch. But she knew from a past Weight Watchers stint that it was important not to feel deprived. Instead, she began asking three questions before eating:
1. Do I really want it?
2. Do I really need it?
3. Will I regret it?
She doesn't count calories, carbs or Weight Watchers points. She just sticks to her routine, which includes modest servings with no seconds at dinner, now usually cooked by one of their adult kids still living at home.
If she really wants something — whether it's a Three Musketeers bar, a McDonald's chocolate chip cookie, or a fried bologna sandwich — she has it. But now those are rare indulgences.
They say their family doctor applauds Annette's morning protein intake, as well as her portion control.
“Restricting calories, regardless of source, will effect a weight loss, and that's good,” says dietitian Marcia Crawford, who uses a video called “Portion Size Me” in her IPFW nutrition courses.
In the documentary by nutrition professor James Painter of Eastern Illinois University, two graduate students on a 30-day fast-food diet learn to order wisely and actually wind up getting healthier, Crawford says.
But she cautions that a lower weight, while desirable, “doesn't ensure good health.” She can't help wondering if Lee and Annette are getting enough variety, especially fruits and vegetables.
“I would find a fast-food diet (or that fried bologna sandwich) pretty dull,” Crawford says. “Personally, their story makes me sad because there's so much interesting food out there.”
Annette, however, isn't making any changes as she tries to lose more weight — including nearly 20 pounds gained after a sister's comments about whether she might have cancer got her off track.
“I wish I'd just gone to the doctor earlier and had it checked out, and then I wouldn't have worried about it,” Annette said. “I basically sabotaged myself.”
In the meantime, she's much more confident and active, wearing jeans for the first time since she was a teenager.
“It all builds on itself,” she says.