Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019
Countless relationships are formed at Virginia Commonwealth University — friendships, mentorships, professional partnerships, academic collaborations and, of course, romantic connections, some of which last a lifetime. Below we share the love stories of couples whose relationships were formed or strengthened with help from VCU.
Ben Fauber and Patricia Trotta
Ben was not a basketball fan until he attended his first VCU game to see Patricia play mellophone in the pep band.
“I really enjoyed being able to see her have fun and be crazy. Those games were the embodiment of Havoc. Now, we still watch every game we can,” Ben said.
Seven years later, they reflect back on the dates that built their relationship while they earned their bachelor’s degrees — Ben in psychology and Patricia in history. Ben said those simple moments are his fondest memories with Patricia. Joined together by laughter and kindness, they have persevered through life’s toughest challenges, including Patricia’s lymphoma diagnosis just six months before their wedding.
“With a crisis like that you either come together or you don’t. We made the active choice that we were ready to do this,” Patricia said.
Ben was present at every treatment and when Patricia shaved her head, he did too.
VCU allowed Patricia, who was working on her master’s, to take a semester off to get well, while VCU Massey Cancer Center guided her to recovery.
“I had really good comprehensive care at Massey,” Patricia said. “They took care of me and made sure I had everything I needed. When I had issues, they were there.”
“The nursing staff and the doctors were fantastic,” Ben said. “They were communicative and helpful. We liked working with them a lot.”
Approaching their one-year anniversary, Patricia homed in on the importance of mental health in relationships.
“I struggled with depression and anxiety, but once I got help we were able to grow individually and progress as a couple. You have to help yourself first.”
She will graduate in May from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs with a master’s in public administration.
“I don’t look at my phone as much,” Patricia said. “I enjoy the trees and the grass, because you never know when you can’t enjoy the simple things anymore.”
Patricia now works in student-athlete support services at VCU and Ben is just 2 miles away at the Wells Fargo Bank on the MCV Campus. He said there is just something about VCU that keeps them close.
“Thanks to her, I’ve never questioned if I chose the right school. We still walk through the campus and reminisce because there is a magic here and you don’t notice it until it’s gone.”
Courtnie Wolfgang and Erin White
For a pair of complete strangers, the number of times that Erin and Courtnie were in the same states, the same towns, and possibly even the same rooms before they finally met is nothing short of remarkable.
They both hail from Alabama and attended the University of Georgia, where they overlapped for four years and later found they knew many of the same people, worked in nearby offices and attended some of the same events. It’s as if a magnet hovered over them, keeping them within close range until the timing was just right.
Their worlds finally collided one spring day when a mutual friend, a VCU professor, invited them to attend a film series and hang out afterward. Erin, head of digital engagement at VCU Libraries, and Courtnie, an assistant professor in the School of the Arts, exchanged numbers that night and became Facebook friends but went their separate ways for the summer. Then on a sunny September day, Courtnie walked past Cabell Library and had the urge to message Erin. The magnet’s strength was still in full effect over Erin, who happened at that very moment to be sitting on a train scrolling deep into Courtnie’s Facebook feed.
“I was years in, and I was pretty convinced I had liked a post from 2011 or something and she was messaging me to call me out,” Erin said. “My face was flushed. I was like, ‘Oh my god, what have I done?’”
They set up their first date, and eight months later, on the anniversary of the day they met, they were married. The two have rarely spent a day apart since that first date, and working at VCU has strengthened their bond.
“We both deeply love being part of the VCU community, for better and for worse,” Erin said. “We both do work around diversity, equity and inclusion on campus, and find ourselves [at the same meetings].”
They tag along to each other’s academic conferences and even presented together at the Digital Library Federation Forum last fall.
“It’s nice to share the physical space but also this head space, this intellectual and cultural and social space with each other,” Erin said.
When asked about their favorite qualities in each other, Courtnie cited Erin’s “wonderful capacity for friend-making and friend-keeping.
“[Erin is] the best parts of all my favorite people put together.”
Erin loves the way Courtnie communicates honestly and from the heart, the way she knows who she is and what she wants. Another favorite quality?
“Her love for her students and the people in her community. Every day she’s worrying over them in the best possible way, doing what she can to make sure they can succeed.”
Aaron and Lauren Leulu
Aaron and Lauren started dating in September 2010, only a month into their first year at VCU.
“We were freshmen in statistics class and he came in late and decided to sit with me,” Lauren said.
Their professor made a football joke that Lauren didn’t understand. When Aaron saw her confusion, he explained the joke to her. Lauren doesn’t remember the joke, but she remembers feeling special because Aaron paid attention to her. They went on their first date the next day at Shafer Dining Center.
Aaron and Lauren continued dating and graduated from VCU in 2014 with bachelor’s degrees in information technology and mass communications respectively. Two years later, they got married in Las Vegas.
Along the way, the couple has bonded over their shared interest in graphic design as well as a fascination with science fiction and comic books. Their relationship has also gotten stronger as they’ve faced various challenges together, including health issues and moving away from Richmond.
“We support each other by caring for each other while sick,” Aaron said. “For me, I cook special meals or try and take her places to … cheer her up if she’s up to it. She will also try to take me places or hang out with friends.”
The couple looks back fondly on their dating days when they met up between classes, watched movies at the Student Commons, went for bike rides and explored Richmond. They now live in Northern Virginia, where Lauren works in marketing and Aaron is a data modeler professional at Freddie Mac.
Now that they’ve moved away from Richmond, Lauren offered the following advice to other VCU student couples:
“Be open to meeting people! Go find clubs to join and find people with similar interests to strengthen your relationship. … Also, get out and do all the awesome things Richmond has to offer. One day you might have to move away like we did!”
Alexandra Gucwa and Ryan Caldwell
During the spring semester of her freshman year at VCU in 2008, Alexandra’s friend convinced her to go to a party at a house on Cherry Street where a number of VCU baseball players lived.
“I walked in and the first [person] to greet me was Ryan,” Alexandra said. “He was such a gentleman. I was blown away by his kindness and fun personality.”
Ryan, who played outfield for VCU from 2007 to 2011, remembers rushing over to introduce himself.
“Love at first sight,” said Ryan, who graduated in 2011 with a degree in criminal justice. “There was an immediate spark and connection.”
They soon became a couple. Alexandra lived in Brandt Hall and Ryan lived in the old Gladding Residence Center. They would visit each other often, crossing Monroe Park and passing the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
Ten years later, in July 2018, the couple got married at the cathedral.
“VCU had everything to do with finding the love of my life,” said Alexandra, who graduated in 2011 with a degree in international studies. “VCU is our love story.”
At their wedding, Alexandra’s bridesmaids included several of her Alpha Omicron Pi sorority sisters and Ryan’s groomsmen included former VCU baseball players.
Attendees to the wedding posted about it on social media using the hashtag #fromVCUtoIDO.
And during the reception, Rodney the Ram dropped by and joined them on the dance floor.
They wanted to incorporate VCU and Richmond throughout their wedding because of the important role the university and city played in their lives.
“We love Richmond because of the history, the beautiful architecture, the stunning murals, the delicious food, the culture, we could go on and on,” Alexandra said. “There’s always something fun to do in this vibrant, dynamic, charming city.
“Going to VCU was the best decision we ever made,” she said. “The sense of community made it feel like home. Everyone was so open and welcoming, from fellow students to the professors. We always had a great support system. We met the most amazing people who we still call our best friends. We feel incredibly lucky and proud to be Rams.”
When asked the secret to their relationship, Alexandra said it was that she and Ryan are best friends.
“Friendship and a good sense of humor is key,” she said. “With your best friend by your side who makes you smile and laugh, you can make it through anything.”
Tell Carlson and Chris Reina
Tell was checking Facebook when Chris popped up under “People You May Know.”
“I didn’t know him,” Tell said. “But I sent him a friend request anyway.”
Tell, who was running the Short Pump J. Crew store at the time, and Chris, an assistant professor in the School of Business, were soon hitting it off over text messaging, but their first date had to be a bit delayed.
“It was right during Christmastime and the holidays are like game time for retail,” Tell said. “That made meeting up really difficult. So I said, ‘Can you give me about a month and then we meet up?’ He was like, ‘Really?’”
After the holiday rush wound down, Tell and Chris started going on dates around Richmond. They got married in December 2017. “We fell in love in Richmond around VCU,” Tell said. “We got married at Second Presbyterian Church in downtown Richmond. We had our reception at the old Graffiato [restaurant]. We were at the Graduate Hotel for our wedding suite.”
“We were actually featured in Richmond Weddings magazine because it was such a Richmond wedding,” Chris said.
Chris, who is an expert in mindfulness and leadership, said he found a great home at VCU when he joined the faculty in 2015. His love for VCU inspired Tell to apply to join the university’s staff.
Tell is now the membership services coordinator for VCU Recreational Sports, part of the Division of Student Affairs.
Though in different roles at VCU, both are passionate about student development.
“In my role as a professor, the job is generally about helping students,” Chris said. “Rec Sports is largely a student-run facility, so Tell and his staff train students, helping them develop the capacity and ability and confidence to run a business.
“We both develop people to expand beyond facts and knowledge. We are really teaching all aspects of well-being,” Chris said. “His realm is physical well-being, whereas mine tends to be in the realm of emotional, cognitive and social well-being. So it’s kind of nice — together we help students develop all aspects of self.”
One of the couple’s favorite pastimes is entertaining at their Jackson Ward home. They hosted Rec Sports’ holiday party, and last week were preparing to host Chris’ colleagues in the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship.
“We really enjoy facilitating connections with our colleagues and connecting outside of work,” Chris said.
Ingrid Medrano and Juan Pablo Arze
When Juan Pablo and Ingrid transferred to VCU from Northern Virginia Community College, they already had been dating for several years. They had no idea a new love was about to blossom.
Ingrid, who is originally from El Salvador, and Juan Pablo, originally from Bolivia, both went to high school in Northern Virginia and met at Ingrid’s church.
They moved to Richmond in 2011 and worked full time while earning their degrees — a B.S. in mass communications for Ingrid and a B.S. in psychology for Juan Pablo.
While they liked the location and the diversity, it was in the Siegel Center that they fell hard for VCU.
“The first VCU basketball game we attended, it was just amazing and we were in awe,” Ingrid said. “We fell in love with the team and the student section.”
The pair knew nothing about basketball but found themselves hooked. They attended nearly all the games, even following the team to New York for the Atlantic 10 Conference championship.
After graduating, they continued to follow the Rams, and their most memorable game was VCU’s win over the University of Richmond at the 2015 A-10 tournament. The couple was in Times Square when the VCU alumni bus spotted them decked out in Rams gear and pulled over to offer them a ride to the game.
“All you could see was gold all over the audience and we were just loud,” Ingrid said. “There were still a lot of U of R folks, but we just took over this huge stadium. And the chants and the team spirit was amazing. It just added to us winning.”
The couple became engaged this past fall in Bordeaux, France, and plans to marry in spring 2020 at the Valentine in Richmond. Their VCU days were busy and taxing, but they met between classes and spent time together at the Cary Street Gym and Cabell Library.
“We tried to take advantage of all the activities that VCU had,” Juan Pablo said. “We got bikes from the [Outing Rental Center] and tents. We went camping and paddleboarding. We tried to stay involved in school activities.”
Ingrid now works in digital communications at AARP’s Virginia office, and Juan Pablo is a Richmond police officer. But they make time to watch the Rams on TV, and Ingrid’s car sports an “IMHAVOC” license plate. When they attend games, they are as smitten as ever.
“Even now as a nonstudent, I like to sneak into the student section,” Ingrid said. “I don’t believe in sitting down.”
John and Susie Poole
You can credit paper records — and a winning smile — for the enduring marriage of two Rams.
In the summer of 1973, Susie was enrolled at VCU and busy at her work-study job in the Evening College office at 901 W. Franklin St.
“Paper everything!” she said. “One of the main things we had to do was putting together registration packets, so I did a lot of stuff like that.”
John, an Army veteran who worked in the Veterans Affairs office upstairs, came to dig through paperwork one day.
“It was like a long counter that held all the boxes of the registration cards, done alphabetically. I was sitting there working and, you know, that was it. We just connected,” Susie said. “Our eyes locked, he gave a big smile, and I was hooked! It was love at first sight. I know that’s cliché, but it’s true in our case.”
A few hours of work later and after Susie observed his odd way of eating an cream sundae at his desk — stirring it until it became “ice cream soup” — he came over to ask her out.
The couple “hung out everywhere at VCU, because I didn’t drive and he didn’t have a car. We hung out in the Fan, at VCU, all over the place,” Susie recalled. She lived at home, while John lived in an apartment on Franklin Street.
John graduated in 1975 with a degree in urban planning, and the couple married in September of that year. He spent his career at the Virginia Community College System, starting in the central office in Richmond and retiring from Central Virginia Community College as a vice president. He also earned a Master of Public Administration from VCU. Susie, who studied psychology and business at VCU, worked in banking, insurance and then a Lynchburg-area health system before she retired in 2011. They enjoy traveling, especially to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.
Forty-six years in, with two grown sons, Susie said marriage is a commitment.
“Marriage is not all fun and games and love all the time, but you’re in it for the long haul. If you truly love somebody, you’re willing to make it last,” she said. “He’s just the sweetest, kindest person. He’s my soul mate, my best friend.”
VCU Student Commons staff member Tre Straughter spends the day out and about on VCU's campuses ramping up some Valentine's Day spirit and spreading the love.