Jerry McGackin and Joan Ayers: A HAC Love Story

Gateway Garden Center

By Lisa Maguire

When Jerry McGackin’s wife passed in 2013, he found himself sinking into a void of depression. Not leaving the house, eating well, or taking care of himself – at six weeks, he decided it was enough. Jerry joined Hockessin Athletic Club that fall and quickly found some relief from his sadness.

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Through classes at the club, Jerry met great friends who eventually became part of his life outside of the gym with activities like lunches or golfing. “I’ve made a lot of wonderful friends at HAC. Good friends that I can enjoy being social with,” Jerry shares.

Almost two years later, in August 2015, Jerry stopped for a conversation outside of class with Joan Ayers, another longtime HAC member. “I learned all about Jerry and his family inside of this ten-minute conversation,” Joan laughs, “I could tell right away that he was a very special person.”

Jerry quickly chimes in, “It was love at first sight!” Joan, flashing a bright smile, agrees with a nod and a giggle.

After meeting, they engaged in a few conversations in the following days and weeks, and Jerry says he couldn’t stop thinking about her. “I was telling my sister-in-law about [Joan],” Jerry recalls, “and she asked me if [Joan] was married. I told her I didn’t know and asked if I should ask her. My sister-in-law thought that might be rude, but I decided to do it anyway.”

“So he comes into the BodyPump class I’m in not long before it starts, and he taps me on the shoulder,” Joan adds, laughing. “And I can see Judy Katz over his shoulder, mouthing ‘OH MY GOD!’ and pointing and laughing. I almost couldn’t focus on what Jerry was saying!”

Jerry says, “I asked her if she was married, and she said ‘no’, and so I invited her to lunch, and she said ‘yes’!” The two enjoyed a lunch at Harry Savoy about a week later and hit it off – or so Jerry thought. “So I call her a couple times throughout the week after to see about a second date, but she didn’t return them. The next time we ran into each other at the gym, she seemed excited to see me, and I asked her why she hadn’t returned my calls,” Jerry remembers.

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Joan interjects with a laugh, “I hadn’t been checking my cellphone! At the time, I didn’t use it often, and it didn’t occur to me to keep it handy or check.”

The pair went hiking for their second date, and physical activity became a common theme in the months to come. They had their first overnight date for New Year’s Eve in Rehoboth Beach, where they went to an evening party that included dancing, drinks, a meal, and breakfast the next morning.

In addition to physical activity, Joan and Jerry found a common interest in travel, scheduling trips to the likes of Iceland, France, and the Taj Mahal.

“I couldn’t believe I found love again,” Jerry shares in a moment of seriousness. “It’s not often you find something so special at our ages.” And at 70 years old, Jerry proposed to Joan on Valentine’s Day in 2020.
“Do you remember what you said, Jerry?” Joan asks, blushing.

With a large grin and a happy laugh, “I asked if you wanted to grow old together,” Jerry says. They both look at each other and laugh giddily.

Joan has three sons, and Jerry has two daughters and a large extended family in New Jersey, where he’s originally from. The newly engaged couple began planning a large wedding for September 2021 in Lewes Beach, Delaware. “We had the venue, we had everything ready to go, but covid had other plans,” Joan remembers.

As their wedding date drew nearer, the trials of covid continued to cast a shadow of uncertainty on their celebration plans. Joan and Jerry opted to improvise. “We decided to just go do it together, just the two of us,” Jerry says.

And so, the two traveled to Las Vegas and were married in an Elvis chapel by the King on September 18, 2021 – coincidentally, the exact same date they’d originally planned to be wed. They spent two days in Vegas, had their wedding and wedding night, and saw Chicago live before hiking for two days in Zion National Park for a mini-moon.


Now, six months into their marriage, they seem to be as giddy as the day they met – a heart-warming love and romance, and it all started at the HAC.

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