Love Connection: Happily Ever After Begins at McKendree
by Stephanie (Coartney) Dulaney '10
It’s been said that we often don’t recognize the most significant moments in our lives while they’re happening to us. If you’re a McKendree alum, it may have been a class that determined the future course of your career, a coach who showed you what you could achieve, or a service learning opportunity that changed your views of the world. For more than 2,000 Bearcat alumni, one of those moments was meeting the love of their life as students on campus.
Each year at Homecoming, alums are invited to return to their alma mater, a place which, for many, represents a brief but uniquely memorable time in their lives. Last fall, McKendree’s Alumni Relations staff recognized those alums whose special connection to the campus is also tied to their bond with each other.
“It’s important to celebrate all connections alumni have to McKendree and love just happens to be one of them,” said PJ Thompson, director of alumni relations. “Reliving fond memories of McKendree is what we want our alumni to enjoy every year, especially at Homecoming.”
On October 4, alumni couples returned to campus for a vow renewal ceremony in Bothwell Chapel followed by a cake and punch reception in 1828 Café, formerly Pearson’s Hall. Ranging from two to 64 years of marriage, the 25 participating couples lined the front of the sanctuary, facing one another with hands held as they repeated their vows of commitment. Parents, children and grandchildren gathered to show support and visit the place where their loved ones met.
The date for the event was even more special for attendees Dan Bosslet ’80 and Annette (Adams) Bosslet ’80, who also happened to be celebrating their 35th wedding anniversary on that date.
“The ceremony was a great success,” said PJ. “Some alumni were so grateful because they actually got the chance to be married in Bothwell Chapel years ago and could now return to same spot to renew their vows. Others were married before the chapel was renovated, so they never had the opportunity to exchange vows inside it.”
PJ plans to continue hosting a vow renewal ceremony for alumni couples every five years. “We had an excellent turnout and will continue to host similar events on campus for years to come,” he said.
As each of the couples who attended this year’s vow renewal will tell you, their time as McKendree students was truly life changing. Many have continued to remain active with the University years after they graduated, from planning class reunions and mentoring current students to serving on key decision-making boards that have shaped the campus into what it is today. Inspired by the love they found and the education they received at McKendree, these alumni have given much of themselves to a place they know they has given them much more.
The Reverend Ralph Totten ’53 and Jennie Lynn (Stein) Totten ’52
The Reverend Ralph Totten and Jennie Lynn (Stein) Totten are one such couple whose
romance first blossomed at McKendree and whose service to the campus has spanned decades.
Celebrating 64 years of marriage, Ralph and Jennie Lynn met by chance during their
freshman and sophomore years, respectively.
“All the students were walking down Centennial Walk to go to church one evening and there were two girls in front of my friend and me,” recalled Ralph. “The girls turned around because they forgot something in their dorm room, which was in Clark Hall, so we escorted them back to their dorm and then took them to church.”
One of those girls was Jennie Lynn Stein. Ralph, a native of Olney, Ill., and Jennie from Carmi, Ill., were strangers before coming to McKendree. Both were members of the McKendree Choir and some of their favorite early memories together involve traveling across Illinois and Missouri to sing with their fellow students. Years after graduation, when Ralph was a United Methodist minister, he continued to enjoy McKendree’s student choir and invited them to sing at his church in northern Illinois and later at three more local churches he served.
On August 5, 1951, Ralph and Jennie were married in Carmi over their summer break from classes. Ralph was going into his junior year and Jennie was soon to be a senior. “It was an almost all-McKendree wedding,” said Ralph. “Our organist was the music professor and everyone in the wedding party was a McKendree student except one. Most of our guests were also from McKendree.”
The couple spent their first year of marriage living in a small unit on campus where Piper Academic Center is now. With Ralph’s major in philosophy and Jennie’s major in music, the two began serving area churches while living on campus. After graduation, Ralph continued that service as a United Methodist minister for more than 40 years.
In spite of their busy lifestyle working in the church and raising a family of four children, Ralph and Jennie always found time to offer their services to their alma mater. In 1982, Ralph became a member of McKendree’s Board of Trustees, a role he would maintain for the next 33 years. Through his service on the executive committee and countless others, Ralph played a pivotal part in shaping McKendree’s future.
“I was always interested in the direction McKendree was going,” he said. “President Dennis and the influence he has had on the campus was also a big reason why I wanted to continue serving on the Board of Trustees. I decided it was my job to stay out of his way and the great plans he had for the University,” he laughed.
In 1988, McKendree presented the Tottens with the Loyal Service Award. Ralph went on to receive the Peter Akers Award in 1993, an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters in 2009 and the rank of Trustee Emeritus in 2015. The couple’s years of commitment to the University are a reflection of the gratitude they feel for a place that has been central to so many of their treasured memories.
“A lot of things in our life have been tied to McKendree,” said Ralph. “The campus has changed in student numbers for sure—there were only 150 students when we were there—but the personal way the students are treated has remained the same. If it hadn’t been for McKendree, Jennie and I probably wouldn’t have ended up together, so it seemed like the thing to do to come back for the vow renewal this year.”
Ralph and Jennie’s advice to other alumni couples is simple: hold hands and have faith in God and each other as you go through life together.
Clyde Brown ’76 and Toby (Johnston) Brown ’78
For Clyde Brown and Toby (Johnston) Brown, when it comes to academic interests and degree of choice, opposites definitely attract.
An art major from Belleville, Ill., Toby first came to McKendree for many of the same reasons as Clyde, a biology major from Cahokia, Ill. The small class sizes, proximity to home, and overall feeling of welcome when stepping onto campus convinced Clyde and Toby that McKendree was the best place to help them accomplish their different academic pursuits. What they did not expect to find was each other.
“I was a freshman when I first met Clyde while playing pinochle at McKendree,” said Toby. “One of his fraternity brothers introduced us, and we found we had a lot of the same interests and family values.”
As active members of the Philo men’s fraternity and Clio women’s sorority on campus, Clyde and Toby soon found their relationship growing beyond the time they spent together among their fellow society brothers and sisters. “We all hung out together,” said Clyde. “I remember taking Toby to a Philo formal in Belleville with a live band. There also used to be a coffeehouse where the Hett is now, where they would have poetry readings and music. One year we went to a Christmas party there.”
Toby was still a student at McKendree when the couple decided to tie the knot in 1977. After graduation, she continued her love of art by painting murals, helping to run a church children’s program, and raising the couple’s two daughters.
Clyde went on to obtain an advanced degree in medical technology and worked in a hospital setting for the next 13 years. Later, he was hired by the diagnostic division of Sigma Aldrich, installing medical instruments in hospitals across the country and working in research and development in molecular biology for 22 years. He currently manages the lab for Orion Genomics in St. Louis, Mo.
In the early 1990s, Clyde again found himself back at his alma mater when he was asked to help plan a class reunion and contact other alums. The event was a great success and after that, he was hooked. For the next 20 years, Clyde served on McKendree’s Alumni Board, assisting with Homecoming plans each year, interviewing Presidential Scholarship candidates, and voting on award recipients.
“My favorite memory on the Alumni Board was getting to present my old biology teacher, Dr. Ted Anderson, with the Peter Akers Award,” he said.
Through years of service on the Alumni Board, Clyde and Toby have been able to watch McKendree grow and change from what it was like when they were students. When they heard about the vow renewal ceremony this year, they immediately knew it would be a family affair.
“Clyde’s brother-in-law Mark also graduated from McKendree and was a member of Philo,” said Toby. “He and Clyde’s sister Kathy came all the way from Seattle to watch the vow renewal and attend Homecoming. Their daughter is also a McKendree grad and came with them, so it was a special Homecoming for all of us.”
After 38 years of marriage, Clyde and Toby have learned that communicating with each other is one thing that should not be taken for granted. “I remember sitting on the steps of Holman Library saying, ‘We need to talk more!’” laughed Toby. “Classes were hard and it was sometimes challenging to make time for each other, but you just have to put your problems in God’s hands.”
“Doing things together and developing common interests are always important too,” added Clyde. Especially if that common interest happens to be a game of pinochle.
Jason Ayran ’07 and Sarah (Haas) Ayran ’08
It has been nine years since Jason Ayran ’07 and Sarah (Haas) Ayran ’08 were introduced by a mutual friend in one of the residence halls on campus. A proposal, a wedding, and two children later, they could not imagine what life would be like today if not for their shared McKendree experience.
As a marketing major, resident assistant, and Bearcat golfer, Jason grew up in Granite City, Ill., and came to McKendree for the University’s business program and professor-to-student ratio. “When I met with the admissions staff and professors on Preview Day, it just felt right,” said Jason. “It felt like home.”
A native of Swansea, Ill., Sarah immediately fell in love with McKendree’s close knit community and the beauty of the campus during her first tour as a prospective student. She eagerly took advantage of many of the academic and extracurricular opportunities on campus, earning her degree in religious studies with minors in psychology and history, as well as taking an active role in campus ministry and yearbook.
“I first noticed Jason at Catholic Mass on campus,” said Sarah. “A few days later, we were introduced and found we had many of the same interests.”
“The way our parents raised us was very similar—honest, hard work, living the Golden Rule, and adhering to our faith,” said Jason. “We started hanging out more, and the rest is history.”
The couple’s most cherished memories together at McKendree span a wide range, from important events in sports history to the simple things that make up college life. “Getting up early for biscuits and gravy breakfasts together in Ames, watching and celebrating the 2006 Cardinals World Series together, sitting out in the quad enjoying the weather and the people around us, and going to McKendree hockey games were some of our favorite times together as students,” said Sarah.
On Thanksgiving Day 2007, Jason proposed to Sarah, choosing the date to honor the importance it held for her and her family. Sarah’s grandparents were married on Thanksgiving Day, and it was the same date that her parents became engaged. In 2009, Jason and Sarah exchanged their vows as husband and wife, and just a few short years later, they welcomed sons Nicholas, now two years old, and Thomas, eight months old.
Since graduation, Jason found a career in human relations and Sarah is the director of religious education and youth ministry at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Shiloh, Ill. They both make it a point to return to McKendree for Homecoming and stay involved with incoming students by volunteering on the Presidential Scholarship interview panel and providing student mentoring through the Career Services Office.
When they heard about the alumni vow renewal this year, they knew it would be the perfect way to celebrate their first six years of marriage. “We both wanted to come back to the place where we met, and it was important that our sons see where their parents went to school,” said Sarah. “The vow renewal was a unique way to celebrate how McKendree still touches our lives.”