A Legacy Of Lasting Love

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How We Met

We met at Northwestern Bible College in St. Paul, MN. Sarah was a freshman and O'Neal was a sophomore. I (O'Neal) was on the football team and Sarah played volleyball. The Sadies Hawken's dance (where the girl asks the guy) was coming up. My football friends and I were coming out of the locker room and she and her friends were close by there like they always were, she came up to me and she said, "Hey, would you like to go to the Sadies Hawken's dance with me?"

 O'Neal played football at Northwestern Bible College.

O'Neal played football at Northwestern Bible College.

 Sarah played volleyball at Northwestern Bible College.

Sarah played volleyball at Northwestern Bible College.

And I looked at her and said, "Who are you? Get out of here! I can go with any girl on campus," and she was devastated! I was waiting for someone else ask me out but that person didn't ask me out so I was up sitting by myself in my dorm room and Sarah came there and knocked on the door and she said, "I thought you can go with any girl on campus what you doing sitting here by yourself? You want to go out?" We went out for coffee and we've been together ever since. I'm so glad she had the resilience to come back and I mean you know, the Lord works things out. I think what's meant to be is what's meant to be and this{us} I believe was definitely meant to be and I'm so glad! She humbled me down, she took me down so many notches and seriously, instantaneously that really humbled me. For one, that she'd have the nerve to come back and for me to really see how rude I was at first but then I was with my friends too and I was waiting on someone else. But I'm glad the right one asked me out! That's how we met! And we've been together ever since.

What Attracted Us To Each Other

Sarah: I think his smile and his bubbly personality. He reminds me a lot of my father because he's really outgoing and my father was like that. Everybody knows him and loves him and that was the same way my dad was. He had a great smile and he still has that great smile!

 We've been together since October 19, 1978.

We've been together since October 19, 1978.


O'Neal: When she came the second time that's when I really saw her. I think it wasn't about the beauty or body or anything I mean I saw her and it went past all of those  superficial things that you see in the person when you first meet them. It went past that and it's almost like I saw her heart because for someone to come and do that I can honestly say I couldn't have done it and that's what attracted me to her instantaneously. As we were dating, that's when I got to know her, but instantaneously I saw her heart when she was standing there in that door, and that to me went past go and it was there. Yeah that's how I knew. And that's why I said you wanna go out for coffee? And she said, yeah and we've been together ever since.

 

The Dating Years

 In the late 70's when O'Neal was in the Army.

In the late 70's when O'Neal was in the Army.

The summer of '79 O'Neal went into the Army and he was in the service in Fort Bragg, North Carolina for three years. During those three years we dated, I wrote him a letter every single day for three years, and I sent him a box of homemade cookies every single week. I might have missed a week or two if I was out of town or on vacation or something. O'Neal was very good. I bet I got one a week. Yes, at least once a week I would send her a letter, sometimes twice, it depended on my schedule where I was at. We tried to see each other as much as we could. I had six and seven hundred dollar phone bills back then every month because we didn't have cell phones, we had long-distance charges we paid for. It was just meant to be I mean every single day I got a letter in the mail and that held me together. That really held me together. I mean every single day I was looking forward to the mail call, when they call you out in formation and say "Sergeant Hampton," when they got around to me, I was just so excited! Then I knew once a week I'd get a box of cookies from her. I kept every single letter. Whenever I was on the field or out in another country they would send mail to make us happy and it'd be rain or watered on and I didn't care! I kept every single letter she wrote me. Every one! I didn't get rid of a thing. We finally got rid of some after 30 years. It was really difficult to get rid of them. We thought the kids aren't gonna want these letters so O'Neal sat and went through every one and kept maybe a dozen out that he wanted to keep. I remembered every single letter and it instantly brought me back to phases where I was at in my life during that time. This was before the internet  and you physically had to write a letter, in the late 70's, that's how you communicated. 

Opposition We Faced

During this time, when I was in North Carolina and Sarah came and visited, people gave us a hard time about being together because of our race. She couldn't stand it! She was supposed to be there for a week or longer and she said I can't take this I gotta go back because she never experienced that before. You get it everywhere back then but up here (in MN) it wasn't as bad, it was well accepted, but the further you went south of that mason-dixon line it got pretty bad. I remember being down in North Carolina and we would have stones thrown at us back in the late 70's. They would literally throw rocks, those big rail road rocks. They would say, "Get away from our woman nigger". That's why I didn't want to be an Army wife. You would have been there forever, being Airborne you wouldn't have gotten assigned any other duty station. I liked Minnesota, I knew we were accepted here and I knew this would be a good place to raise a family. We probably would have gotten married with me in the military but with that going on I wouldn't subject Sarah to any of that. But, like everything else, time goes on, and we can't let other people and other things defy our love because that's impossible. I just wouldn't let that happen. I was more worried about her than me, because as a black man I'd been dealing with it all my life, I had learned to turn the other cheek. It bothered me but when it bothered her it really bothered me. When you bring somebody in the mix who hasn't been in that strange environment, it's straining. I covered her in love and respect and I was more worried about her than me.

O'Neal got out of the service in '82, and we got married in February of 1984.

Parenting 

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We have four children, O'Neal III, SunShine, Arece, and Jazz. I was more of a disciplinarian with the kids and Sarah wasn't. We tagged team it, we always said that we never, ever, ever want our kids not to talk to us so I would always say she'd be the good cop and I'd be the bad cop. We knew our roles and the kids knew that's how it was. I loved it when they went to her with situations and they knew that if it had to come to me that something's going to happen with the situation but it always kept them in check and it always kept the the line of communication open with all of us. We would tell them always be honest with us so we know how to help you and protect you, always be honest good, better, or indifferent, just be honest with us. We helped them a lot with school, with college and I'd much rather help them a lot with college than to have to pay for rehab or prison or lawyers to get them out. They all did well with that. Today, they are all happily married and extremely successful. We are so proud of all of them.

Special Parenting Bonds

I think this is how it kind of worked, I really babied our oldest son and our youngest son and I don't want to say they were my favorites but it just seemed that way to everybody. And O'Neal always took more care of SunShine and Arece. That's how it always worked. We took care of all of them and loved all our kids equally, but I think when you have more than three or four kids you have special bonds with them. But they all know that and they don't have a problem with it.

 O'Neal and SunShine on The Biggest Loser in 2009.

O'Neal and SunShine on The Biggest Loser in 2009.

SunShine and I were on The Biggest Loser. All my boys were really athletic, but SunShine was the only girl and she was the one that I didn't say no to or didn't say stop. In fact I always tried to set the bar high for SunShine, thinking if any man is going to take her he is going to have to climb this mountain. So I kind of over did it with her and I didn't ever tell her to stop eating and we both gained a lot of weight. When I got out of the military I had bad knees and hips and my physical activity went down and at the same time I didn't encourage SunShine not to and as a result we both were extremely overweight. Well in 2009 we went on the show The Biggest Loser and I lost 159 pounds and she lost 120 pounds and it totally gave our life back. So she and I have a special bond that's very close. I personally think that women are God's greatest creation and my mother always taught me to respect women and that's what I was doing with the SunShine. I love the role that women play in our lives and in the world. I think I feel this way because I was raised with a single mom. I'm the second youngest of 12 kids and I didn't have a dad in my life. I saw how much my mother struggled and taught us right and she was a strong person of faith.

Special Sibling Bond

Another thing that I think is really special is that our four children are very, very close and they can talk to each other anytime, anyplace. They have their message chain they talk on amongst themselves. I think they all talk to each other almost every day. Which is very unusual for children. Growing up, we stressed how important their brothers and sisters are, how you can always trust your family, you stick up for each other, and be there for each other. They have always been there. Our three sons they had this plan when they were in high school. O'Neal's the oldest and he would have Arece as his best man, Arece is the middle and he would have Jazz as his best man and Jazz was the youngest, when he gets married he has O'Neal so every brother was for somebody else and nobody was ever left out. They don't do back stabbing and bickering and the fighting. They do they have disagreements, absolutely, but it never lasts overnight.

Heart to Heart

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Another thing that we did, almost every week or at least twice a month when we grew up was we had what we called "Heart To Heart" where we sat down with the family every Sunday night and said does anybody have any problems, any beef with anybody? Is there any positive thing that you want to say someone helped you with, something that was extra special? It was a time to put everything on the table, no one gets punished, just be honest with us. Even if you did something wrong during the week this is your amnesty you won't get in trouble for it. They were sometimes embarrassingly honest but, that's what we asked for and that's what we wanted, and we never blinked. We never said, "Ha, what! Why did you do that!" There was never, that. Instead we asked, "Well, what did you learn? What about this? How did this make you feel? Why did you do this this?" and then they learned, ah that was stupid, so they knew for next time. We found out that they didn't do a lot of mysterious stuff during the week because they knew they had to confess it in the heart to heart. We'd ask them, "Well how come you all wouldn't do it?" And they said, "We knew we would have to confess it in the heart to heart so we didn't do it." It was also hard because they would tell us something about what other kids were doing and now we were in a situation of do we tell that kid's parents, if it's drugs or drinking. We found a way around it.

Biblical Foundation 

When O'Neal and I got married, it was difficult to find a church. We just weren't comfortable in any church that we went to. We owned the restaurant at the time so I worked every Sunday. We put the kids in the church right by where we lived. Everybody at that church watched out for our children. We weren't very involved in that church but they loved our children and our children fit into that church very well, it was very good for them growing up. When I was young my folks forced me to go to church every Sunday and Wednesday and I think I was a little burnt out with religion by the time we had kids but I still knew they needed that foundation and it was very good for them. I (O'Neal) had a strong upbringing in church, like Sarah, but I wasn't forced to go as much as she was. But my mom really, really read and taught us the Bible, and that's what we did for our kids. We didn't force-feed them anything, they wanted it and they were receptive to it. I like that outcome better than having to force them and them rejecting it or going the opposite direction of Christianity or the Bible. We showed Christian faith in our home, we prayed all the time, we read the Bible, we made sure they were at church. Every time one of our kids got sick I (O'Neal) would hold them, I'd sing with them, and I'd pray. I didn't care if it was one in the morning, two in the morning I would hold them, pray for them, sing hymns, or the same songs my mom sang with me. And to this day, they talk about that with their kids now, it's really nice. All we ever wanted from any of our kids, was to be believers and they are, they are firm believers, thank God, and they hold strong values.

Parenting Advice

1. Always leave the lines of communication open. Be positive with them. Be open and honest with each other as much as you can and as often as you can. Don't harbor bad feelings. Please don't do that, don't harm yourselves.

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2. Never regret anything. Don't live with regret. Don't carry that baggage from one hour to the next hour, from one minute to the next day, to a year because it wears on you.

3. Always be the first one to say I'm sorry. It's so humbling when you surrender, it's not weakness, that's strength because it takes more strength to surrender to something than it does to hold on to that bottled anger. Be sincerely sorry and back it up with with actual change. Don't say I'm sorry and then repeat it. A true heartfelt apology brings change.

4. Be involved in everything they do. Our house was always the hub for everybody to come to. I'd rather have my house be the hub than have them going somewhere where I don't know what they're doing so always stay involved. We had at one point 9 kids we were taking in and just helping them in life. They didn't have a father and I coached a lot of them.

What Makes Our Marriage Work

1. First our core is our faith. We we have a lot of faith. We believe in the Lord as our Saviour, we believe that he died on the cross for us and that is the core. Like when you go work out, they always say build a strong core, well our strong core is our faith and then everything else works out from there.

I knew if I get married I’m gonna stay married and I’m gonna work it out. I’m not saying that people who don’t is bad, I can’t speak for them I can only speak for myself. I can only say what I’m gonna
do and I don’t judge anyone. I leave all the judgment to the Man upstairs because He’s the only one qualified to judge any one of us. I just know what I can do with my situation. I knew once I get married that’s what it’s going to be—I will always be a husband and a father to my kids.
— O'Neal Hampton

2. We enjoy time together.  We like to go for a walk and we like to to do things that we weren't able to do when we had young children.  We love to take care of the grandchildren. We just do a lot together whereas when the kids were young we each went to different activities of the kids. Now we enjoy each other more. I love O'Neal more because I get to know him better every day as we spend a lot of time together.

3. We love and respect each other's families.  We both came from really different families and we've gotten to love both of our families very much. I appreciate how he accepts my family and I feel I do the same for his family.  This last year was a really rough year for us because I lost my sister-in-law who was my best friend and now we help take care of my brother and O'Neal never complains. We were going on a trip last winter and O'Neal said let's call Peter to see if he wants to go, so the three of us went on a cruise and shared a cabin together. It was O'Neal who said let's take your brother with us. It just means the world to me that he accepts them and that we do that for each other and it's only gotten more as we've gotten older in life.

4. We stick together and fight together like lions. The only thing we do on this earth by ourself is die. As long as you are on this earth you need somebody positive in your life. Somebody who will tell you the indelible truth about the indelible truth, somebody who will fight for you thick and thin who will be there be there 100%. We all need a lion in our life, lions stick together and fight together. Sarah is my lion. As long as I know I have her in my life, I will always fight for her and my family. 

5. Be authentic and real. We disagree and argue, absolutely, but the disagreement is the authenticity of each other. I don't look at her being wrong, I look at it as this is what she sees so now I have to see what is it about that that she sees. I try to get on that level when she's up here because obviously it's short somewhere. I am so quick to say, "Yeah, let me think about that, let me see what you see," and she'll do the same thing. If she says, "Well, no I know that's  dumb, that can't work" I say "Wait, wait," and then we think about it and we'll come together after, but being able to know that we can say that and then turn around and correct each other with that, that's really the strength. But when you look at the situation and say, "Oh, he's dumb he'll never see it." Well no, he'll never see it because you don't want him to see it because if you're telling yourself he'll never see it, neither will you. We don't have those kind of bars on our insides, we are open as all outdoors to each other's ideas, to change, to growth, to making sure that we manifest on the same level. I think the key is just being authentic.

 

To watch their interview, click on the video below. 

A question for you, the viewer: What is your why? I think that everyone has ten defining moments. I think we make seven critical choices, and I think we have five pivotal people. When you find out what each and every one of those things are then boom you are well on your way. Try to seek out those things and try to seek out your why and then turn that why into why not and then go from there.

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O'Neal and Sarah have been married for over 34 years, they have 4 wonderful children, O'Neal III, SunShine, Arece, and Jazz, who are all married. They have 7 beautiful grandchildren ranging in age from three weeks to 7 1/2. O’Neal was a Green Beret, worked at the U.S. Postal Service for 26 years. While the children were growing up, Sarah owned and managed a family business, a restaurant called King Oscars. In 2009 O'Neal and SunShine went on the show "The Biggest Loser." O'Neal is now retired and motivating people and speaking. He is the brand ambassador for NuStep. Sarah is currently working in property management. They both enjoy spending time together and especially love time with their grandchildren.