"I didn't want to tie him down for three years," Skillingstad told KARE. "I thought I was doing the right thing at the time."
The couple moved on, marrying other people and raising families. Both of them lost spouses -- Ertel became a widower twice -- but the teenage boy never forgot his girl.
“I never stopped thinking about her,” Ertel told the television station.
When Ertel was diagnosed with prostate cancer in December, he decided to find Skillingstad. He hired a private investigator, who produced a telephone number, KARE reported.
“When I called her, I said, ‘Don't hang up, this is not a prank call,’” Ertel told the television station.
The couple talked for 90 minutes. That blossomed into a visit from Ertel, and then a date.
Two months after the ice-breaking phone call, Ertel gave Skillingstad a ring. This time, she kept it, KARE reported.
Skillingstad’s daughter, Ruth Beniek, said her mother would not reject Ertel this time.
“‘(She said) ‘I couldn't turn him down a second time, that would be devastating,’” Beniek told the television station.