41 years ago today I was dating a freshman girl at a small Christian college in Manhattan, Kansas, named Jennifer Earles. She was from Phoenix, Arizona and had come from the desert to Kansas for a year to study the Bible and sort out what she believed. She already had received a scholarship to attend the University of Arizona in Tuscon, and she thought she would likely return to Arizona after her Freshman year and continue pursuing her love of journalism at the University of Arizona..
In 1978, Manhattan, Kansas, received 10 inches of snow on Valentine’s Day.
I had just graduated from the college and was working in public relations for the college, as I pondered what I would do with my life. But that Valentine’s day, instead of working in my campus office, I joined lots of students, and my Freshman girlfriend, and we played in the snow.
We had been dating since October — FOUR WHOLE MONTHS — and at that point we were pretty serious about our relationship. Well, I was, and she knew it. And yet, little could I have known that Valentine’s day in 1978 that in just a few short weeks I would hear of an opportunity to be part of a campus ministry at the University of Illinois in Urbana, IL, a place I had never heard of in a state I had never visited.
I applied for the campus ministry position and in April the campus ministry board of directors flew to Champaign-Urbana for a visit, flying me into Willard Airport in Savoy, IL. After 2 days of interviewing and walking around campus, I was offered the campus ministry job. The board wanted me to let them know in a week or so. But when I returned to Manhattan, Kansas, I had pretty-much decided I wanted to accept the position, which would start in July, even though I really had no idea was the position entailed. Jennifer thought I should take the position.
Even though we had talked previously about getting married, after I returned from my trip to Illinois, a flurry of serious discussions followed over the next several days. And well, Jennifer and I decided to get married in Phoenix, AZ, that July 8, 1978, and come to Illinois together. Whew!
And we did! We married on a typical summer desert day with the Phoenix temperature soaring to 110 degrees. After the reception Central Christian Church in Mesa (East Phoenix), we hopped into a baby-blue 1974 used Ford LTD, drove north out of Phoenix, threw caution to the wind and started out on an adventure that continues to this day. Along the way to Illinois, we stopped in Manhattan, Kansas, picked up a U-Haul, my meager belongings (a hide-a-bed, a small table and chairs and a few boxes) and towed our used Ford into Champaign-Urbana, a few days later.
I was a young red-headed campus minister and Jennifer, my wife of 10 days and the most beautiful woman I had ever laid eyes on, was, as she likes to say, “Almost 19.”
We thought we would stay in east-central Illinois 5 years at the most, and well, here we are almost 41 years later. This became our home.
Tonight I will give my Valentine her 41st Valentine when we go to our favorite Thai restaurant, where we will will enjoy dinner, relax and talk. I look at that picture I took in 1978 of the 18-year-old girl from Phoenix standing in the snow in Manhattan, Kansas, and know without question that marrying Jennifer almost 41 years ago was the best decision this boy from the the High Plains of northwestern Kansas ever made!