I Love WU

by Marketing & Communications,

Students know their lives will change when they come to Willamette. But sometimes the unexpected happens — they fall in love.

  • Alex Lavery '14 and Kelly Rose (Oster) '15
    Alex Lavery ’14 and Kelly Rose (Oster) Lavery ’15 met while studying at Willamette University.

From orientation to class to first dances, Bearcats have no shortage of stories that start with a flirtatious glance and end with “I do.” In 1884, two students — among Willamette’s earliest graduates — were so impatient to wed, they exchanged vows at the commencement ceremony. For another couple, sparks didn’t fly until a semester studying abroad in Japan. And yes, some people fulfill the campus legend that says couples who kiss beneath the Star Trees will get married.

Here, some alumni share how love blossomed on Willamette’s campus.

Kelly Rose (Oster) Lavery ’15

“I met my husband, Alex Lavery ’14, in German class four years ago. We’ve been inseparable ever since! (Who knew German was a Romance language?) We were married this fall, and Karen Wood, Willamette’s chaplain, officiated.”

Daniel Meyers ’07

Daniel Meyers '07 and Janna Chaney Meyers '07

“Janna Chaney Meyers ’07 and I met during freshman year on the fourth floor of Baxter Hall. We first said we loved each other in the Baxter basement. Baxter love from top to bottom!”

Carolyn Harcourt

Sam Speerstra JD'39 and Pauline Mestrezat

“As the winds of World War II gathered velocity around the world, Sam Speerstra JD’39, son of a Dutch immigrant, was graduating from the College of Law. In late 1939, he was introduced by a fellow law student to Willamette freshman Pauline Mestrezat, a dazzling, dark-haired beauty from Alaska. Within months, they married in April 1940. They eloped to Vancouver, Washington, where no waiting time for a license was required to tie the knot! Their love story endured until my mother passed away only a few days before their 50th wedding anniversary.”

Mike Bennett ’70

Mike Bennett '70 and Darilyn Raschio '71

“For a couple of years at WU, Darilyn Raschio ’71 and I were always in the same house dance photos, but with other dates. I was a Beta and Darilyn was a Delta Gamma. In 1969-70, we attended a house dance as singles. We started dating and have been ‘going steady’ since. We’re now in our 46th year of marriage, and both of us very much appreciate where it all started.”

Beth Freese ’11

Beth Freese '11 and Nina Freelander '14

“Nina Freelander ’14 and I met on the women’s rugby team during my final semester at Willamette. We couldn’t seem to shake each other, even after I graduated and moved home to Washington. So, about a year after first meeting on the Quad for rugby, we started dating. We got married this past October and still play rugby together in Salem.”

Mary Louise VanNatta ’86

Irene Breithaupt and George G. VanNatta LLB'29

“My grandparents, Irene Breithaupt and George G. VanNatta LLB’29, met at Willamette University in the ’20s. My parents, Fred ’60 and Mariel VanNatta ’60, met as freshmen, got engaged at Willson Park by the Oregon Capitol and have been married since 1959. Harvey Gail MBA’88 and I met at the Bistro in 1986 after I graduated and he was doing his MBA. We’ve been married since 1990.”

Richard Litchfield ’63

Jacquie Graber '64 and Richard Litchfield '63

“On the first day of music class in September 1962, I saw Jacquie Graber ’64 sitting in the front row. I knew she was a 4.0 student and thought I’d probably get some good grades by being near her, so I sat down and said hi. Immediately, I accidentally kicked her in the shin. She said, ‘If you’re going to sit here, we’re going to have to coordinate our leg crossings.’ I took that as an invitation I could sit with her next time. It took four months before I finally asked her on a date, and we’ve been married 52 years now.”

Jeremy Mitchell ’04

Jeremy Mitchell '04 and Jennifer Bunch '05

“Although Willamette is a smaller school, Jennifer Bunch ’05 and I didn’t meet until I was a senior and she was a junior — studying abroad in Japan, of all places. We were instant friends. I recall thinking of her as one of those rare people you occasionally meet — the one who gets all of your jokes and cracks you up with theirs; someone who immediately makes you feel comfortable just being you. Looking back, I should have known that those rare people are usually soulmates. Things got in the way after graduation, so we didn’t get back in touch again until after we each taught English abroad and returned to Portland. We started dating within days, and the rest is history.”

Kitty Glantz Tinsley

Marcus Marcellus Waltz 1884 and Mary Caroline Starr 1882

“My great-grandparents, Marcus Marcellus Waltz, class of 1884, and Mary Caroline Starr, class of 1882, met at Willamette and got married during the graduation ceremony. According to Salem’s newspaper, a train waited for them after their nuptials. They traveled to Washington state, where my great-grandfather became a Methodist minister. Eventually, they relocated back to Salem and lived across the street from campus, where the hospital is now.”

Elliott P. Dale MBA ’05

Elliott Dale MBA'05 and Jennifer Hamilton MBA'06

“Jennifer Hamilton MBA’06 and I had lockers next to each other in the AGSM lobby. The Thursday Night Out date was inevitable. Thanks, WU!”

Nicole Kent ’00

Nicole Kent '00 and Jim Davidson '03

“Jim Davidson ’03 and I met in Chamber Choir in 1999, but didn’t exactly hit it off. We found ourselves singing together again in 2005, but it took three more years to go on a real date! We were finally married in 2010. Much of our wedding music was performed by an entire choir of Willamette friends conducted by Professor Wallace Long. There are many reasons I love Willamette, but this one is the best!”

Mitzi (Chalmers) Barker ’75

Mitzi (Chalmers) Barker '75 and Randy Barker '75

“Randy Barker ’75 and I met in a political theory class at Gatke Hall, and we married about a month after graduation. Randy had just pinned on his bars as an Air Force second lieutenant as part of the last AFROTC detachment at Willamette. From Salem, the Air Force took us to Mississippi and Alaska, fulfilling lifelong dreams for both of us. Life with two political science majors in the house always means spirited discussions of current affairs.”

Connie (Finley) Gregor ’97, MAT’98

Joel Gregor '98 and Connie (Finley) Gregor '97,MAT'98

“Joel Gregor ’98 and I met in York House and became close friends. We began dating in 1997, married in 2000 and have two children, Ben and Rebecca. We plan on coming back to campus next year with Rebecca for the college tour!”

This article was first published in the Fall 2017 issue of Willamette magazine.

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