Photo: Denis Moreen and Rob Tackes in Evanston in the 1960s and in Palm Springs, Calif., in 2009
A couple who met outside of Kresge's dimestore in Evanston celebrated their 50th anniversary together April 17. In April 1959, Rob Tackes saw Denis Moreen—at about 9:15 in the evening, he said, under a light rain ( "I don't remember that at all," said Moreen ) —and crossed the street to talk to him. After a first date that began outside of the music school at Northwestern University, where Moreen was an undergraduate, the couple was in a committed relationship within a month.
"Soon after our first date, we were talking in Rob's 1953 Studebaker and decided to make our relationship more permanent," said Moreen. They moved into an attic apartment in Evanston.
Though they've retired to Palm Springs, Calif.—after decades in San Francisco, where they moved in 1970—the couple has fond memories of the Chicago area, where both grew up. As gay men coming of age in the 1950s, Tackes and Moreen found a supportive, though quiet, community in Evanston. When Tackes approached Moreen, it was "just strictly a chance," he said. "I got the impression there were a lot of gay guys around." Much of Evanston's gay social life at the time revolved around meetings in public parks and in Northwestern's Deering Library.
The two also found community among the creative types who thrived in the urbane environment fomented by Northwestern. Moreen, a pianist, said, "Today's generation doesn't have any conception of the closeted climate" of the 1950s and 1960s.
Tackes, born and raised on the northwest side of Chicago, echoed Moreen: "Moving to Evanston was like nirvana for me." After working a number of unprofitable and unsatisfying jobs, Tackes raised enough money to purchase a house, which he turned around and re-sold. He obtained his agent's license and found employment in Evanston as a real estate agent.
In the meantime the couple bought a townhouse, where they would live until they left the area. Before they moved in, the landlord advised them, they should sort out the matter of who should keep the house in the event that one of the two got married—and was undoubtedly surprised when the supposed bachelors lived in the house for the ensuing nine years.
After nine years Moreen and Tackes moved to San Francisco. "We left Chicago because of the weather," said Tackes, although they were also drawn to the more open sexual attitudes found in California.
While Tackes pursued real estate in San Francisco, Moreen obtained his doctorate in music from Stanford University. From 1971 until his retirement in 2000, Moreen taught piano at the College of Notre Dame ( now known as Notre Dame de Namur University ) , where, he said, "it occurred to me that I had to be an open gay person." Particularly in the era of HIV, Moreen felt that he needed to open himself up to his students. "I'm a gay person," he remembered saying to them, "if you need a role model, I'm here."
It was important for Moreen and Tackes on a number of levels: Tackes was diagnosed with HIV in 1981. He became sick at the same time as the economic recession of the early 1980s, he said, and for him "the '80s were a lost decade. I thought I was going to die."
To mitigate the effects of the disease, Tackes cut back on his physical activity considerably, committing less to the ins-and-outs of his business and more to his own health. "Rob has taken his own directives," Moreen said. "That's what keeps him alive. It's not easy, but it's the difference between life and death."
The couple were, indeed, in the bulls'-eye of the era's AIDS crisis: Given his career in the arts, Moreen said, "I lost two-thirds of my colleagues."
The couple's support for one another, however, never wavered; among other things, both credit the open nature of their relationship—that is, their independent sexual relationships with others—as being vital for its longevity. It was established early on that they would be non-monogamous. "We've got two lives going," said Tackes, "our lives separately and our lives together. We basically allow each other to live our own lives."
They established ground rules, which included being honest with one another—and " [ i ] t was really important that we'd eat dinner together," Moreen said.
For their anniversary, the couple planned a drive together to Cherry Valley, Calif. Afterwards they were to meet a group of friends at the coffee shop.