A photo of a man and woman standing in front of a cathedral.
Jacob Helt and Kimberley Neal-Helt caught each other’s eye at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart on VCU’s Monroe Park Campus. (Tom Kojcsich, Enterprise Marketing and Communications)

Ram romances: Their first (and second) impressions were way off, but Kimberley Neal-Helt and Jacob Helt found their way to happy ‘havoc’

VCU alums from 2015 and 2016 overcame mixed messages – and a rocky first date – and eventually tied the knot where they met.

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Kimberley Neal was immediately smitten with Jacob Helt when they first met at Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011. But she was certain he had a girlfriend: no doubt a Barbie-esque blonde, with a sweater tied around her neck.

He “looked like a Ken doll,” Kimberley said. “He initially appeared very buttoned-up, blond, perfectly styled hair. Presented himself with an air of quiet confidence — maybe a frat guy? We were meeting for the first time at church, so I crafted the most wholesome backstory in my mind.”

Jacob held a leadership role at Catholic Campus Ministry, and he was greeting new VCU students at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart’s Sunday Supper. Kimberley had just transferred from Thomas Nelson Community College and was looking to meet new friends.

She continued to see him around campus and at church for the next year, but somehow he didn’t see her. Until, that is, Jacob stopped by a Bible study group she facilitated at the church, so that he could invite friends in the group to a drag show at Godfrey’s for his birthday.

“He introduced himself to me — again,” Kimberley said with a roll of her eyes, “and invited me, too. I was astonished that he didn’t remember meeting me the year prior. I put my somewhat deflated ego aside and accepted the invitation.”

According to Jacob, her church clothes were very different from the shorts she wore at that Bible study. Now he was the smitten one.

A selfie of a man in sunglasses and a woman wearing a graduation cap and gown.
Jacob and Kimberley at Kimberley’s graduation from VCU in 2015. (Courtesy photo)

“As soon as I knew I had her attention and she agreed to come to Godfrey’s, I thought ‘yes, this is great,’” he said, not realizing that inviting Kimberley to the LGBTQIA+ dance club on East Grace Street gave her the wrong impression. But at least she no longer thought he had a girlfriend.

The evening was full of laughter and fun. Kimberley felt them becoming fast pals but did not once think Jacob was interested in her, given the setting he chose for his birthday festivities — “and the fact that he didn’t remember me and didn’t seem to notice me on campus when I could easily spot him longboarding through a crowd,” she said.

A week later, he invited her out again — solo this time.

“By all typical social cues, it seemed like he was asking me on a date,” Kimberley said. “I wondered why this really nice gay guy seemed like he was asking me [out]. He was so cute and charming, surely he was otherwise involved. Maybe he was looking for relationship advice.”

Jacob conceded he was really insecure and awkward and probably didn’t make it clear that they were supposed to be on a date. “I was very bad at communicating that I was interested, and I think I got lucky that she eventually picked up on it,” he said.

Their first official date included a very garlic-y pizza at Strawberry Street Café, where they found out she is allergic to garlic, and watching “Moonrise Kingdom” at the Byrd Theatre, where Kimberley immediately fell asleep on Jacob’s shoulder.

Jacob realized he was serious about her about a month or two later — “when she told me she didn’t want anything serious.”

Kimberley and Jacob graduated in 2015 and 2016, respectively. She earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology, while he earned bachelor degrees in African American studies and religious studies and, later, a master’s in teaching in 2020 through the Richmond Teacher Residency at VCU.

They got married in 2018 where they had met — twice: the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, a landmark near VCU’s Monroe Park Campus.

“VCU has been the backdrop to our lives since there was an ‘us,’” Kimberley said. “All-night library visits reaching or missing deadlines, pushing each other to get up for those early morning classes, encouraging each other to stay awake for the late classes. We love to reminisce about the things we’ve encountered on the Compass, like ‘free hugs’ or a lone unicyclist or the sweet silence of campus on late summer nights and the only thing that could be heard was the echo of our longboard wheels on the brick pathways.

“Beyond Monroe Park Campus, we chose VCU [Medical Center] to be part of our lives as we welcomed the birth of our newest family member in 2022,” Kimberley added. “We are now a rowdy household of six, including our two adopted teens and our first-born, who is now 4. So without a doubt, ‘havoc lives here.’”

A photo of a man in a suit and a woman in a wedding dress standing.
Kimberly and Jacob married in 2018. (Courtesy photo)