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Tales of Brunonian love: decades of on-campus courtship

Eleven couples recount love stories crafted on College Hill, carried beyond Van Wickle Gates

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Brad Middlekauff ’83 was asleep in his room on the second floor of his Waterman Street apartment when he was awoken by loud sirens and the smell of smoke. He and his roommates were able to make it out through the fire escape, but the house was badly burned. That very day, Middlekauff was given a key to a room in Hegeman Hall, where he would spend the rest of his senior year.

After moving what was left of his belongings into his new room, Middlekauff was looking to borrow a vacuum cleaner. He found one in a friend’s suite upstairs, where he met his future wife, Nancy Goldin ’84.

“I thought you were sort of cute and bedraggled, but I wasn’t really looking for a boyfriend,” Goldin said. “I was struck by the fact that you were borrowing a vacuum.”

Middlekauff and Goldin bonded over the next couple of months — specifically, over crossword puzzles — but were too shy to act, until Middlekauff took the plunge.

“My feeling was, ‘Well, it’s now or never, and if she spurns me, it’s not going to be that bad of a situation because I’m not going to be on College Hill for many more weeks,’” Middlekauff said.

Six years after this first encounter, including one year living together in Edinburgh after pooling their money, Middlekauff and Goldin immortalized their union at their home away from home — at Brown, in Manning Chapel in 1989. Plus, New York “is prohibitively expensive” while Middlekauff’s home state of Ohio “is prohibitively in Ohio” because all of their friends lived on the east coast, Goldin said.

Everyday places, like Hegeman, are landmarks on campus for couples like Middlekauff and Goldin. Brown alums have met their partners at the library, in dorms and during classes. Some were introduced by friends; others met by coincidence. The Herald talked to 19 Brunonians who are a part of 11 couples whose love stories started on some corner of College Hill and have lived on for years.

Thank ResLife

People usually celebrate special occasions like wedding anniversaries or birthdays. But in 2008, Helene Miller ’80 P’15 and James Kase ’82 P’15 threw an unconventional party at an unconventional place: a first kiss anniversary party at Andrews Hall.

Their first kiss took place in 1978, a couple months after they first met in Emery-Woolley Hall, where Miller lived her sophomore year. At a party on her floor, Miller saw Kase from across the room.

“It was like there was no one else in the room,” Miller said. They didn’t talk to anyone else for the rest of the night.

“All my friends told me that it was impossible to date an upperclassman, but I was smitten,” Kase said.

The pair ended up dating on and off for the next four years. Even with frequent marshmallow fights in the Verney-Woolley Dining Hall and study dates at the Gate, which is now Andrews Commons, Miller and Kase parted ways after graduation.

But in 1984, Kase gave Miller a call out of the blue, speaking for the first time since Kase’s graduation. They agreed to meet at a hotel in New York City — their “first date, the second time around,” Miller said.

“The very same way I felt when I saw him across the room in that freshman dorm happened all over again,” Miller said. They married two years later in 1986 and now have four boys.

Vannita Simma Chiang ’98 and David Chiang ’97 also owe their marital bliss in part to the Office of Residential Life. Simma Chiang was studying in her freshman room, Jameson 217, when she heard a knock on the door. It turned out to be Chiang, there to visit his old freshman room.

“I make fun of him — you could tell he was trying to make a connection and get to know me more,” Simma Chiang said. “And I was kind of like, ‘Okay! Thanks, bye!’ It was awkward in a cute way.”

That wasn’t the first time that Simma Chiang had met Chiang. They met the previous spring at an admitted students event (the equivalent of “A Day on College Hill” today) when Simma Chiang was a senior in high school and Chiang was a freshman. While the pair didn’t keep in touch after the event, Simma Chiang said she distinctly remembers meeting Chiang.

“We both laugh at that,” Simma Chiang said. “He tells everyone, ‘Yeah, you know, I hit on Vannita ever since she was a high school senior.’ And everyone is like, ‘What, that’s wrong!”

The pair grew closer during a Habitat for Humanity trip to Philadelphia during Simma Chiang’s sophomore year. When they got back to campus after the trip, Chiang asked Simma Chiang to go on a date. The pair dined at Tokyo, formerly on Wickenden Street. Now, they have been married for over 15 years and have three kids.

While some couples deliver a cohesive account of their first encounter, Laura Reynolds ’84 P’18 and Joe Schertler ’84 P’18 disagree on how they met. Reynolds claims that they met in Harkness, their sophomore hall. “I thought he was a nice, geeky guy from Minnesota who studied too much,” Reynolds said.

On the other hand, Schertler swears he met her at an event organized by the “Host Family Program,” which matched students from west of the Mississippi with a local family. According to him, she was crying because her Brown host family did not show up.

They also disagree on who asked who out on their first date to the Rosecliffe Dance their senior year. “We argue about that, too. I say I asked him, and he says he asked me,” Reynolds said. “But it is more probable that I asked him.”

After over three years of dating, Reynolds asked Schertler to marry her in 1987. “Like I asked him to Rosecliffe, I asked him to marry me,” Reynolds said.

“Well, now you know who the catch is!” Schertler fired back.

At the time of the proposal, they were sitting on the beach at her house in Newport Beach, California before Reynolds was going to enter law school.

“I said, ‘Joe, are we going to get married or not? Because if we don’t, then I want to meet someone in law school,’” Reynolds said. “And Joe said, ‘Uh, okay, but can we wait a year to tell our parents and friends?’”

“An outside observer might have thought there was an ultimatum to the proposal,” Schertler replied, adding that “it was sort of a series of negotiations.”

Studious encounters

Diane Hunter Tortolani ’64 caught Ed Tortolani’s ’64 eye in 1963 when she was in the John Hay Library studying with one of Tortolani’s high school friends. They were eventually introduced and started dating soon after.

A “townie” who had attended Classical High School, Tortolani had a car that allowed the pair to go off campus.

The two went on dates on Federal Hill, which Tortolani described as his “stomping ground” as an Italian-American from Providence.

Once, while returning to Providence from New York, the couple found themselves on the wrong side of Pembroke dorm’s curfew. But “it was the most innocent of all things,” Hunter Tortolani said. “He had gone to an interview at Rochester for medical school, I went home to Albany for my birthday.” Diane had called her house mother to let her know she was late, but she was still “met at the door with a frown.”

Early on in their relationship, the Tortolanis had conversations about the logistics of their religious backgrounds. Hunter Tortolani came from a Protestant family while Tortolani was Catholic.

“People in my family thought, ‘Nah, this isn’t the right person. She’s not Italian, she was outspoken,’” Tortolani said. But the pair was determined to make it work.

“Ed kept saying that we couldn’t get married because he was in medical school, or we couldn’t get married because of this,” Hunter Tortolani said. “Finally, I said, ‘This is the story: After you pass your second year of medical school, we’re getting married.’”

The couple was married in 1966 in Albany, New York. Their interfaith marriage was even reported on by the local newspaper.

Whenever the Tortolanis return to Providence with their family, they make sure to stop at Caserta Pizzeria — a favorite that has lived on to this day.

While some couples bond over pizza, others bond over donuts. Even with his busy schedule as a medical student, Marcos Aranda ’13 MD’17 found the time to deliver donuts to Uzo Okoro ’16 MD’20.

As Okoro walked into her neuroscience section in Smith-Buonanno Hall her freshman year, she saw that someone in the room was wearing the same Program in Liberal Medical Education shirt she had on. She sat down next to him and started a conversation on the coincidence that they were wearing the same shirt, were PLME students and were athletes.

But Aranda recognized Okoro — he had noticed her at the gym earlier.

The first time Aranda saw Okoro, he thought “She’s really good-looking. I’m going to talk to her at some point,” Aranda said, adding that he thought it was fate when she ended up in his neuroscience section. “But I didn’t know how big of a nerd she was, and she was going to all the … sections.”

After adding each other on Facebook, Okoro and Aranda soon became friends. At the beginning of Okoro’s sophomore year, when Aranda started medical school, the pair started dating.

After nearly four years of movie dates (one of the pair’s favorites so far is Disney’s “Moana”) and scoping out the Providence restaurant scene, Aranda proposed to Okoro during his  commissioning ceremony on the Quiet Green last May.

Okoro was late to the ceremony. Because of roadblocks around campus, her Uber dropped her off four blocks away from campus, and she started running toward the Quiet Green. She eventually got to the ceremony right as it was starting.

“I thought she wasn’t going to show up,” Aranda said. He designated Okoro as his First Salute — in which a commissioned or retired military officer is the first to salute a newly commissioned officer — giving him the chance to walk up to Okoro during the ceremony. When she sat down after the salute, Aranda knelt down on one knee.

“I thought I was going to be all cool, composed and not shaky. But then I was fumbling, and then I realized it was the wrong hand, and then I went to the other hand,” Aranda said. “Then I told her I wanted her to be my best friend for the rest of my life.”

A heralded affair

As night editor for The Herald in her second semester, Megan Tracy Benson ’00 had a huge crush on then Editor-in-Chief Tom Benson ’98. The two spent nights together laying out the paper on the second floor of 195 Angell St. as the rest of the staff worked downstairs.

“It was a total running joke between my friends. They would tease me and talk about how I was going to get married to this guy one day,” Tracy Benson said.

After dating other people for two years, Benson asked Tracy Benson out at the end of his senior year — though Tracy Benson was very skeptical of dating a graduating senior.

They kept their relationship a secret from their newspaper peers as he worked in Washington D.C. and Tracy Benson served as editor-in-chief of the paper. Occasionally, Tracy Benson would put house ads in the paper that would allude to her secret relationship with Benson through code names.

The pair got married in Manning Chapel on a hot August day in 2002. Guests fanned themselves with the programs, which were designed to look like copies of The Herald. The front page headline read “Former eds to wed where they led.”

Bruno love for generations

Pia Mukherji Owens ’99 and Steve Owens ’99 were also in the same freshman unit. They first met in high school at a conference in Washington D.C. and again at ADOCH. After spending a lot of time together in labs for their computer science classes, they began dating their sophomore year.

Eight years after they first met, Mukherji Owens and Owens married at Manning Chapel in an interfaith ceremony that took elements from Hinduism and Catholicism.

Brown “is an important place in our relationship. It’s where we started dating, it’s where we spent most of our time together,” Owens said.

The couple said they enjoy bringing their two boys to campus to wander around and tell tales of their time at Brown.

“My oldest son is so used to hearing stories about Brown that he thinks that college is synonymous with Brown,” Mukherji Owens said. “So he says things like, ‘When I go to Brown…’”

While Mukherji Owens and Owens developed their love in the computer science lab, Fran Bellatoni Condexis and William Condexis ’55 found romance in a dining hall. They met at the new dining hall — the Sharpe Refectory — where they worked in 1951. Condexis was in his freshman year while Bellatoni Condexis worked as a dietician.

“She was very efficient and good-looking,” Condexis said, describing his first impression of Fran. The two started dating after Condexis asked Bellatoni Condexis to a dance. The couple married in 1952 and have three kids.

One of their children, Paula Condexis Angell ’78, met her future husband 24 years later and two blocks down from where her parents first met.

Paula Condexis Angell bumped into her friend outside of the ladies room at the Rockefeller Library while studying for midterms. The friend introduced her to his roommate, Rob Angell ’78.

“After that, we kept running into each other,” Condexis Angell said. By that spring, they started dating, but the pair broke up after college when Angell moved to Cincinnati. They were reunited in New York a couple of years later, started getting breakfast and lunch that turned into dinners and began dating again.

In Ed Nicholson’s ’60 P’90 experience too, what appeared to be a false start led him to love.

At the end of his freshman year, Nicholson’s date cancelled on him. A mutual friend told Barb Jones Nicholson ’60 P’90 that she should go on the date with Nicholson instead. At the time, it was common for students to go on “terrible blind dates,” Jones Nicholson said.

The two ended up getting coffee together and talked for hours while sitting on the steps of Sharpe House. From above, their friends tore up papers and sprinkled them down on them, shouting “It’s snowing!”

Around the time of their graduation, Nicholson proposed to Jones Nicholson behind Andrews Hall.

They were married in Jones Nicholson’s hometown and eventually settled in different towns in New England; Nicholson held different jobs and Jones Nicholson was an elementary school teacher. They had two children, one of whom was Sarah Nicholson ’90. Sarah graduated from Brown but passed away after a ski incident in 1994. A tree is planted in her memory behind the John Carter Brown Library that Nicholson and Jones Nicholson visit when they come to campus.

“I can’t say enough that the most important thing about Brown, besides the education, is the friendship,” Jones Nicholson said. Sarah “had that, and boy, is that everything.”


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