Members of Legatus are many things: leaders, business owners, directors, philanthropists, and at least in two cases, matchmakers.
Henry and Mary Gundling of the Napa Valley Chapter and Jim and Julie Lenahan of the Milwaukee Chapter played matchmakers to their sons who met their future wives at Legatus events. In both cases, it took a bit of gentle persistence, but once the couples met, there was an immediate spark.
Gabe and Catherine Gundling
“My wife, Mary, and I came to know and respect Chuck and Ellen Haas through Legatus,” Henry explained. “We had also met their daughter, Catherine, on several occasions.”
Over the years, he and Mary, and other family and friends had tried to introduce their son Gabe to nice young women. “Apparently, he was too engrossed in building his business and content with his dog’s companionship to care,” Henry said.
One day, Henry and Mary visited the hospital where Catherine worked as a dietician to see a newborn grandchild. “The first person we met as we came into the hospital was Catherine,” Henry said. “She was so kind, friendly, and beautiful! I thought to myself, ‘Okay, one last try.’”
Henry checked with Ellen and Chuck to see if it was okay with them. They had met Gabe a year earlier during a weekend visit at the Gundling’s oceanside house. “We were impressed with his work ethic, sense of morality, and love and loyalty to his dog, Lucy,” Chuck said. “Ellen grilled Gabe about his love life and we had a nice weekend together, not knowing that he would be the future husband to our only daughter.” (They also have two sons.)
It was April of 2017. Catherine was twenty-eight and had recently ended a long-term relationship. Gabe was thirty-six. “I had been busy working on my business,” he admitted. He owns Lake Tahoe Balloons, hot-air balloon rides with five locations in California. By the time he was thirty-three, getting married was on Gabe’s radar, but nothing had worked out.
Catherine knew that Gabe had been given her contact information, but he never called. The reason was that when he learned that Catherine was traveling to South Korea in May for a friend’s wedding and an extended vacation, he decided that the timing was bad.
In June, Catherine’s father was giving a talk at the Legatus meeting about a solar cooking project he started in Uganda. Henry invited Gabe knowing that Catherine would be there. Their parents introduced Gabe and Catherine during the social hour, and they were seated together for dinner. “It was surprisingly easy, and just clicked,” Gabe said. “Catherine was interesting, and she was cute, so I saw potential from the beginning.” “At the end of the evening, we felt encouraged by two things,” Henry said. “Gabe and Catherine were deep in conversation and the last guests to leave the room, and as we were walking to the car Gabe said to me, ‘Chuck is the real deal.’”
The next day, Gabe called to ask Catherine on a date— a five-mile hike with their dogs. Despite the 105-degree heat that day, it went well and ended up at a casual restaurant where their dogs were welcome in the outside seating.
Catherine was immediately interested but unsure if Gabe felt the same until he bought an expresso machine for his house. She had ordered expresso on their first few dates. “That’s when I knew he was serious,” she said. They were married on May 5, 2019 and are expecting their first baby this April.
Gabe believes that his father was not the only matchmaker, but that his late grandmother was also on the job. “She was the matriarch of the family,” Gabe explained. “On the day of her funeral, I was in high school. I asked her to keep track of our family and to someday help me to find a bride.” The day that Gabe and Catherine met at the Legatus event was his grandmother’s birthday.
Jessica and Matt Lenahan
Jim Lenahan was the chapter president in 2014 when Jessica Zignego became the Milwaukee Legatus chapter administrator. She worked with him planning her first event, the annual July picnic. “Jim and Julie were the first Legatus couple I got to know, and we became friends,” Jessica said.
Likewise, they saw Jessica as a friend, but also as a potential daughter-in-law. “She is extremely organized and strong in her faith,” Jim said. “Both my wife and I thought what a great match she would make as our son is very faith filled. I have always felt that a strong faith is the key to any relationship.” Matt, however, had a girlfriend at the time.
The following summer, Matt attended the annual picnic with his parents. He still had a girlfriend, however. Congressman Paul Ryan was speaking at the event and Jessica mistook Matt for one of his staffers when she was passing out name tags.
“He came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I’m Matt Lenahan,’” she recalls. “It surprised me that he was as attractive as he was.” They chatted only briefly since Jessica was busy working. She learned that in addition to working for the family business, Matt was an assistant football coach at a school her brother attended, and he was on the board of the Women’s Care Center pregnancy center.
“I was not expecting any interest on his end,” she said. “I thought he was out of my league.”
Matt had also been taken by surprise when he met Jessica. “My dad tried to play matchmaker before with me and my brother,” Matt said. “I just brushed it off. From the very start he was always talking about Jessica. I didn’t even know much about her other than she was a runner. The first time I met her, I thought she was very beautiful, and I was impressed. I had another picture in my mind. It made me a little nervous.”
Matt attended another Legatus event in October. Unbeknownst to Jessica, he was single now and had gone specifically to see her. They again talked briefly during the social. Matt called a few weeks later using the reason that he was putting together a “Professionals in Action” group to increase awareness at the Women’s Care Center. Jessica would make a good fit.
“At dinner, we talked about everything but the Women’s Care Center,” Jessica said. The relationship took off from there.
“From a very young age, I had prayed to God for the right mate,” Jessica said. “I used to complain to my sister about the type of man I wanted compared to the kind that were out there. She told me that I was unrealistic. Having a strong faith was huge to me. Matt checked off on every single box.”
Matt said of Jessica, “I never met anyone who shared so much in common with me.”
There soon arose potential hurdles, however. Jessica loved the Latin extraordinary form of the Mass and Matt had not been exposed to it. But after eight months of prayer, asking God for guidance, Matt also fell in love with the Latin Mass.
Another issue was that Jessica had leukemia when she was three. It was possible that she would never be able to have children. Matt decided what mattered most was that they loved each other.
“They became engaged in September 2017, and were married a year later on September 1, 2018. On October 4, 2019, they welcomed their precious son Connor James into the world.
PATTI ARMSTRONG is a Legatus magazine contributing writer.