HOMOSASSA, Fla. - A great grandmother and a 31-year-old bachelor who communicated only over the Internet for three years as they built a $23 million coupon business met for the first time Saturday.
And they were speechless.
Jason Wolfe of Pittsburgh and Barbara Sherman, 57, of Homosassa, embraced in a long, teary-eyed hug at a resort on the banks of the Homosassa River, 75 miles northwest of Tampa.
''Finding her on the Internet took a minute, getting together took almost three years,'' Wolfe said.
The online entrepreneurs and their 14 employees were celebrating the sale of two Web sites - MyCoupons.com and DirectCoupons.com - to Save.com for a two-year cash and marketing deal valued at $23 million.
Save.com of Culver City, Calif., and MyCoupons.com both feature Internet coupons, which people may print and use like the ones found in Sunday newspapers. DirectCoupons.com features a newsletter about coupons, freebies and other Internet savings.
Wolfe, president and CEO of an online direct marketing company called DirectStuff.com, wouldn't disclose specifics of the deal.
DirectStuff.com's employees will continue to operate the two sites, plus Save.com's grocery coupon site.
When Wolfe and Sherman met on the Internet in 1997, they were no strangers to hard times.
Sherman has crippling arthritis that limits her mobility, keeping her close to home and in special chairs that relieve the pain in her spine.
She had been a claims adjuster, a real estate broker, a feature writer, even owned an auction house in Phoenix, Ariz., before moving back to Homosassa in the 1990s.
''I got on the Internet and looked for what interested me - coupons, freebies. I was retired - never to work again in my life,'' she said. ''The Internet put the world at my fingertips.''
Wolfe had endured two operations and a long recuperation after a 1994 car accident. He spent the time learning to build Web sites.
He soon noticed Sherman, who was a frequent contributor to the chats on his Internet coupon site.
Wolfe was so impressed with the freebies that Sherman found online, in November of 1997, he offered her $50 a month to keeping looking and post what she found on his site.
''She was always in a good mood, always so positive. She signs her e-mails 'happy day Barbara,''' Wolfe said. ''As I learned more about Barbara and that she had disabilities, it impressed me. I was feeling down, but she was motivation for me.''
Sherman's passion as a coupon clipper and Wolfe's savvy for advertising and marketing clicked.
As their business took off, they made a pact - not to meet or even speak on the telephone for fear of jinxing their good business fortune. Instead, they agreed to one day celebrate their success.
That day came Saturday.
Wolfe flew his staff down for a weekend with Sherman to celebrate with a backyard barbecue at her house.
''We went from zero to success,'' Wolfe said, adding that his next goal is to go public.
''I had thought of him in a suit and tie, staunch,'' Sherman said. ''But he's a normal person in a baseball hat. And he's cute.''
As for Wolfe: ''Now I have a vacation place in Florida.''