Campus as Cupid

Campus as Cupid

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Many married alumni began courtship at Iowa
Two hands form a heart with Old Capitol in the backgroundLove is in the air at the University of Iowa. Some 45,000 UI graduates have a spouse who also has a UI degree. Photo illustration by Tim Schoon.

Every Valentine’s Day, Jason and Alison (Warner) Tibbetts exchange frogs.

Not live, croaking amphibians, but decorative or ornamental reproductions. Because nothing says romance more than frogs, right? Well, that’s debatable, but for the Tibbettses, frogs are the perfect symbol of their union as husband and wife.

The two UI graduates, now married and living in Falls Church, Va., met during their first year at Iowa, in a lecture in the Chemistry Building. They were both classics majors, and for their first date—on Valentine’s Day 1991—Jason took Alison to a production on campus of Aristophanes’ The Frogs.

“Valentine’s Day is our ‘other’ anniversary, and it became a tradition to give each other frogs. We’ve got a whole collection, from knick-knacks featuring frogs to stuffed animals to cards cut out in the shape of a frog,” says Jason, noting that he does supplement the unconventional gift each year with a carnation—the first kind of flower he gave to his wife.

wedding photo of Jason and Alison Tibbetts standing with Old Capitol in the background
Jason and Alison Tibbetts

The two dated throughout college, but it was after graduation that their courtship on campus culminated. It was 1998, and they were living together in Chicago. Jason arranged a surprise Valentine’s Day getaway to Iowa City and booked a bed-and-breakfast on the north end of town. They walked through the pedestrian mall, reminisced about old times, and then settled in for a romantic meal at the Sanctuary Restaurant. Afterward, Alison wanted to call a cab to escape the chilly, winter air, but Jason convinced her to return to their accommodations by foot. He wanted to cap the evening with an even bigger surprise, one that included an important stroll through the heart of the Pentacrest.

“I thought he was insane for wanting to walk back,” recalls Alison. “But when we got to the steps of Old Capitol and were enjoying the view, he got down on one knee and proposed. It was very romantic—and very cold!”

Jason and Alison were married that fall at Danforth Chapel. Not only was Iowa City a good central location for their families living in Minnesota and Illinois, but the UI campus seemed an appropriate place to make their relationship official (“We walked by Danforth almost every day for four years,” says Jason).

The Tibbettses are not the only ones who met their mates at Iowa. According to Alumni Records, more than 45,000 UI graduates (out of some 252,000 living alumni) have a spouse who also has a UI degree.

Dale Buhl, of Surprise, Ariz., says he made an impression on Roberta Popinger in Professor Sam Becker’s communications class in 1955.

photo of Dale and Roberta Buhl
Roberta and Dale Buhl

“She likes to tell of how she fell in love with the voice in the back row without knowing which face it belonged to,” says Dale, who worked for WSUI at the time. “At some point early on in the semester, I spotted her and knew she was going to East Hall for the next class—as was I—so I asked if she would mind if I walked along. She recognized the voice, and fortunately the face was an acceptable match. Bingo. We married in August of 1957 and are still together as we near 80 years old.”

The Buhls’ campus courtship included Dale playing a song for Roberta on the radio as he signed off at the station one evening and Roberta inviting Dale to sorority events such as Watermelon Fest. The two often met in the student union.

Just upriver from the Iowa Memorial Union, on a bench near Hancher Auditorium, is where Megan (Christie) and Christian Harms, of West Des Moines, shared their first kiss. The two mellophone players met in 2007 during “Hell Week,” the Hawkeye Marching Band’s notoriously grueling practice sessions held each year before the start of fall semester. The hours are long and the temperatures are high—conditions that apparently are ripe for matchmaking.

photo of clay wedding cake topper made by Megan Harms
Cake topper from the wedding of Megan and Christian Harms

“You spend 15 hours a day with your section, and every night there is a social gathering, so you really bond with the group,” says Megan, who had come to college with a longtime boyfriend and wasn’t looking for love. “Christian had an offbeat sense of humor and everyone liked him, but the galvanizing event for us as a couple was the weekend the band traveled to Ames for the Iowa State game. We were up all night chatting, probably annoying others who were trying to sleep, and we were inseparable the whole weekend.”

They married in the fall of 2012, and to honor the UI’s role in their union, Megan made a special wedding cake topper: a clay version of the couple wearing shakos (the dress hats adorned with feathers that are worn by members of the marching band).

Not all Iowa grads who married were sweethearts in college, however.

Lynn and Rob Hoff with their son Tom
Lynn and Rob Hoff with their son Tom

Lynn (Tefft) Hoff, of Aurora, Ill., met her husband, Rob, in a beginning Russian class more than 20 years ago (“That same week he turned up among the hundreds of other students in my Modern Astronomy class, so it seemed our friendship was meant to be,” she says). They dated briefly but went separate ways after graduating.

“Fast forward to 2005, when I looked him up via a phone number I had for his mom—this was before Facebook was the way to find long-lost friends and loves,” she says. “I was in Albuquerque and he was in Chicago, both of us were at the end of our first marriages.”

Lawyers in love

Officials at the UI College of Law plan to showcase each February how cupid’s arrow has hit its alumni by publishing online stories from Iowa law graduates who married. To read this year’s selection, click here.

The pair corresponded long distance at first, but Lynn moved to Chicago the following year, and she and Rob married in 2007. “I gained not only a husband but a wonderful stepson named Max,” she says. “Then came our son Tommy in 2009. So here we are, 22-plus years later, a testament to modern families and ‘taking the long way home.’ And neither of us speak a word of Russian now.”

The Tibbettses likely will be exchanging frogs again this Valentine’s Day, but the day that is associated with romantic love now has new meaning for them: “Our twin daughters were born on Feb. 19, so Valentine’s Day for us has morphed into a birthday celebration for them.”


Sara Epstein Moninger, University Communication and Marketing, 319-384-0045


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