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Thirty years after meeting in City Pages, gay couple plans to wed

The personal ad that brought Sawatzke and Johnson together.
The personal ad that brought Sawatzke and Johnson together.
courtesy Randy Sawatzke

In early December of 1983, Randy Sawatzke was lonely. He decided to take out a personal ad, his first one ever, in City Pages. "I'm looking for a gay white male... [who] wants to go places and do things together," he wrote. "Someone who normally doesn't answer ads."

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He got "more than one hundred replies," he remembers today, but at first, answered only two of them. Then he got a note hand-written, in cursive, on a sheet of loose-leaf paper. The letter-writer confessed that he had never responded to an ad before, and that "no one else besides you and I know that I am gay."

A close-up of the ad that started it all. Click to enlarge.
A close-up of the ad that started it all. Click to enlarge.


"Thank you for writing your ad the way you did," the letter-writer continued. "It gave me the courage to write. Maybe this could start a life for me I never thought possible."

It did. Thirty years after Sawatzke ran his ad in City Pages, he and the letter-writer, Jeff Johnson, are still together. In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's DOMA ruling last week, which struck down the 1996 law that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, the couple is now planning to wed.

When Sawatzke saw Johnson's reply to his ad, he wrote him back immediately: at 1:50 a.m. on December 11, 1983, the time stamp on his letter reveals. It had been just four days since his personal had appeared in City Pages.

"Dear Jeff," Sawatzke's response started. "BINGO!! I'm so excited I don't even know where to begin!"

The next night, the two men met at the hotel where Sawatzke worked at the time, the since-closed Fair Oaks Motor-Hotel and Restaurant, kitty-corner from the MIA. They talked about their mutual affection for country music, and they've been together ever since.

The couple now lives in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where Johnson works for the local television station. Sawatzke has always referred to Johnson as his life partner, but on Wednesday, when the Supreme Court decision broke, he started letting himself think about marriage.

"We had talked about it, but I said, 'You know, I don't want to even think about it until the Supreme Court comes back with its decision, because you get your hopes all up," Sawatzke says. Now, though, the two are planning a Minneapolis wedding in December, on the 30th anniversary of when they met.

Twenty years into their relationship, Sawatzke needed a kidney transplant. He has 10 brothers and sisters, but none of his siblings had an organ that would work for him. Instead, Johnson offered Sawatzke his own kidney. He was a perfect match.

When they met in 1983, Sawatzke was 29 and Johnson was 21.
When they met in 1983, Sawatzke was 29 and Johnson was 21.
The full page of the City Pages issue where Sawatzke's ad ran. Click to enlarge.
The full page of the City Pages issue where Sawatzke's ad ran. Click to enlarge.

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