Feb. 13, 2017
VCU love stories
Alumni, students, faculty and staff can’t help waxing romantic this time of year.
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Many people who come to Virginia Commonwealth University to study or work discover something along the way that they did not necessarily expect — the love of their life. Below, eight happy couples share stories of how VCU helped shape their relationships.
The near misses and almost-meets between Marisa Guida and Bryant Pugh over the years could come straight from a Hollywood rom-com.
In 2001 they both appeared as extras in a Busch Gardens commercial. They were feet away from each other, but never met. And about eight years ago, while living in Los Angeles, Pugh acted in a play with one of Guida’s good friends. They also shared the same mentor from their time at Theatre VCU — Aaron Anderson.
“So close, yet so far from destiny,” Pugh said.
In 2015, after losing hope in the local dating scene and online dating sites, the two met on a dating app.
I was intrigued, very intrigued, and swiped right.
“Swipe right if you’re interested and left if you’re not,” Guida said. “The matches from the app turned out to be much more compatible than anything on the more tedious sites. And that’s where I found Bryant. I remember swiping away, probably more left than right, and there he was. Handsome. A little mysterious. Perhaps even a bit of arrogance? I was intrigued, very intrigued, and swiped right.”
Pugh swiped right as well. Guida’s pictures were stunning, and Pugh was impressed that she hadn’t posted the typical, ego-filled selfie. For instance, one photo featured Guida in a funny-looking, oversized bike helmet.
After a few texts, they realized their VCU Theatre Department connection — Pugh received his B.F.A. in 2009 while Guida received her M.F.A. in 2014 — and their mutual friend, Anderson. Guida sent Anderson a text asking about “this guy Bryant.” Anderson, who usually told Guida that she had horrible taste in men, was ecstatic.
“Aaron responded, ‘He’s great! I love Bryant! Really. He’s one of my favorite people. You two would really get along, you should go out.’ A few minutes later he sent another text: ‘Well, actually, I’ve never dated him, so I don’t know what he’s like to date. But I think you two would get along.’”
Anderson was right. The pair are expecting their first child, a girl, in May and plan to marry next year. Even if they hadn’t met through the app, chances are their paths would have crossed at some point. Guida is in charge of “Winning Presentations,” a VCU School of Business course taught by professional actors. Each semester she asks co-creators Anderson and David Leong for suggestions for adjuncts. This summer, both suggested Pugh, who turned out to be one of the most well-liked and respected instructors.
Guida didn’t originally plan to stay in Richmond after graduating from VCU’s School of the Arts or to teach public speaking. She had every intention of starting over somewhere else teaching musical theater. She stayed because she loves Richmond and wasn’t anxious to move.
“But I know the real reason I hung around was to be connected with Bryant,” she said. “It is all in the timing. We met at the right time. When we were ready. … We may not have met at VCU, but VCU brought us together.”
“You only meet someone like Marisa once in your lifetime and VCU made that happen for me,” Pugh said. “I do not regret any of the choices that I made previous to meeting Marisa, because those ‘choices’ led me to the love of my life.”
Tierney Jackson (then known as Tierney McAuley) sometimes saw Dwayne Jackson around the VCU campus when they were students in 2002. She was studying psychology in the College of Humanities and Sciences; he was majoring in communication arts in the School of the Arts. They never spoke, however, until they both enrolled in the same Intro to Outdoor Recreation Activities class in the Franklin Street Gym. Dwayne didn’t talk much and smiled rarely, so Tierney and a few classmates gave him the nickname “Angry Man.”
Early in the semester, the class took a trip to Massanutten Ski Resort in the Shenandoah Valley.
“When we arrived, we were given a basic skiing lesson, after which I (wrongly) thought I was a pro,” Tierney said. “I volunteered to be one of the first in the class to try the slopes. Very unfortunately, my skis sped me off toward trees and a cliff. Tips from my recent lesson didn’t kick in, and I couldn’t remember how to stop. I wiped out with a spectacular fall and hit my head.”
Tierney was rushed to the hospital. Her classmates, including Dwayne, waited anxiously in the ER waiting room.
“After finding out I would survive, almost everyone headed back to VCU,” Tierney said. “Dwayne stayed behind and offered to drive me (and my neck brace) back to school. After that day, I never called him ‘Angry Man’ again and I gained the nickname, ‘Red Cross,’ given to me by our professor.”
After that trip, Tierney and Dwayne became good friends and dated on and off for a few years. They graduated from VCU in 2004, and officially became a couple in 2006.
We all have our flaws but she seemed perfect to me.
“I knew Tierney was the one because our relationship was so smooth and felt so natural from the start,” Dwayne said. “She got along with my family and friends. There was nothing that I felt like needed changing about her. We all have our flaws but she seemed perfect to me. The thought of me marrying her did not scare me either. I knew she would be a perfect mother for our children and I knew that she would represent me well.”
“I knew Dwayne was the one when I felt comfortable being myself around him,” Tierney said. “I could talk to him about anything, he made me laugh, he was supportive and protective, and he was spontaneous and opened my eyes to new things. I just knew I wanted to experience those same feelings with him, every day, for the rest of my life.”
The couple got married April 16, 2016.
“We are now happily married and excited about starting our family,” Tierney said. “Needless to say, we will not be planning any family ski vacations.”
Ryan Kurdi was working out at the Cary Street Gym when he noticed Lauren Parrish looking at him.
“She was trying to be slick and play it off when I caught her, so I just smiled and finished the rest of my set,” he said.
It was Parrish’s first day at the gym — any gym. Ever. The equipment was intimidating, but she told herself she only had to work out for 30 minutes. But then she saw Kurdi and ended up staying two hours.
“He was so handsome, he just caught my eye,” she said. “He’s the only reason I kept going back. I would smile and walk past him to fill up my water bottle. I’m actually a very shy person so this was way out of my comfort zone. I was just really hoping that he’d talk to me.
"I think it was around my third day at the gym when he came up and started working out beside me.”
Kurdi usually runs the track to end his workouts, but that day he saw Parrish smile when he was walking up the stairs so he decided to jump on the elliptical beside her.
“After a minute of running, I just said hi to her,” he said. “We started talking about what we were going to school for, where we grew up, etc. … We had a nice conversation so once she stopped running I decided to hop off too and I talked with her for another 30 minutes or so.”
It was an easy conversation, Parrish said, and they traded numbers at the end. They were both sophomores at the time and business majors, so she half expected to see Kurdi in one of her lecture classes the next day, but their paths never crossed.
“We had to have had schedules that just missed each other,” Kurdi said. “I never once saw her in all of my time at Snead Hall, which is bizarre. I would have definitely remembered seeing her — she is absolutely gorgeous.”
It’s strange that they never had a class together, Parrish said. She doesn’t think they would have met if she hadn’t gone to the gym that day.
“It must have been meant to be,” she said.
The two have been together for almost three years and graduated this past December. Kurdi can’t imagine what he would do without Parrish, he said.
“I pretty much knew she was a keeper on day one because she is beautiful and also incredibly smart,” he said. “She was so easy to talk to and was very insightful about what’s going on in the world. ... I am so thankful that I was able to cross paths with her in the gym or I don’t know if I ever would have met the love of my life.”
I am so thankful that I was able to cross paths with her in the gym.
Lisa and Tina Webb swear to one astounding fact about their relationship, which spans more than 20 years. Never once have they argued.
“We’ve had disagreements, but I don’t think we’ve ever really been mad at each other,” Tina said.
Lisa said she used to feel somewhat insecure about how easily they got along, as though they were not a proper couple without a few flare-ups. One time, Lisa said, they even tried to incite a spat, but they couldn’t commit to it.
“I started laughing really hard and thought, ‘This is ridiculous,’” she said.
The Webbs have clicked as a couple from the outset. They met online in 1996. Four months later, Lisa quit her job in Louisville, Kentucky, and moved to Colonial Heights to be close to Tina. She had no new job lined up and had never even been to Virginia. She and Tina were convinced, though, that they had something special.
In 1997, they were married in their church. By then, Lisa had settled into a new job. However, after she revealed her marriage plans at work — where she had not yet come out — she was fired. Lisa said losing her job was devastating but she can recall the memory today with some sense of sanguinity. That’s because she would find her next job at VCU, where she has worked most of the time since. She has also earned two degrees at VCU — a doctorate in education and a master’s degree in vocational rehabilitation counseling — in addition to her master’s degree in theology from Virginia Union University.
Tina joined her at VCU in 1999 after a career of more than 20 years at Fort Lee. Today, Lisa is executive director for academic health sciences in the Office of the Vice President for Health Sciences, and Tina is business manager and human resources administrator in the Department of Physical Therapy in the School of Allied Health Professions.
“VCU is a place where we’ve both seen our careers grow,” Lisa said. “We’ve been very fortunate to work with some great people here.”
Tina said she and her wife click for many reasons. Among them, “her strengths are my weaknesses and my weaknesses are her strengths.” Lisa is creative and adventurous, while Tina is pragmatic and realistic. They have shared beliefs and interests, too.
There’s just nothing like getting to share these magical moments with someone you love.
“We both come from families that value commitment,” said Lisa, who is an ordained minister. “Both of us place a lot of value on trust and honesty and I think that’s helped us maneuver through everything that life throws at you.”
Tina said Lisa has been the ideal partner for difficult times, such as when Tina’s mother grew sick and needed to move in with them, as well as for life’s sweeter occasions. She remembers when she and Lisa went to Virginia Beach soon after they became a couple. Lisa had never seen the ocean before. “I will never forget the look on her face when she saw the ocean for the first time,” Tina said. “That was amazing for me.” More recently, Tina said, they took a cruise in Alaska and watched with astonishment as whales leapt from the water.
“There’s just nothing like getting to share these magical moments with someone you love.”
In 2012, then-anthropology, international studies and French major Kelsey O’Neill and forensic science major Scott Banning were among the VCU students who took part in the first paleoanthropology study abroad trip in South Africa led by Amy Rector Verrelli, Ph.D., assistant professor of anthropology in the School of World Studies in the College of Humanities and Sciences.
“We were both going and both were staying a week longer than the rest of the students,” O’Neill recalled. “Our whole group got close to one another during our time in South Africa. I was intrigued by Scott and wanted to get to know him better.”
Verrelli quickly noticed that O’Neill and Banning were both courageous and enthusiastic about jumping into every activity and seemed to really enjoy each other’s company.
“I noticed they got along together well and started snapping pics of them together once in a while, but it was when they went shark diving together when everyone else was gone that I realized — no one is giggling and giddy about jumping in freezing water when you’re seasick to stick your faces in a shark’s face unless the person doing it with you is something special,” Verrelli said. “I made them report back to me after their day shark diving, and from that moment I knew they were going to be together.”
During their month in South Africa, a group of the students were together almost 24/7, including O’Neill and Banning.
“We got to see a fair share of the good, the bad and the ugly of one another,” O’Neill said. “After the other students left and it was just me and Scott, we had some great adventures. We went diving with great white sharks, hiked Table Mountain, explored the museums of Cape Town, met some new friends, drank traditional Rooibos tea on rainy mornings and made great memories that deepened our friendship.”
He makes everyone feel like you’re automatically friends.
O’Neill said she was drawn to Banning because of his fun and kind personality, and his willingness to try new things.
“He is so friendly and always has a good story (our friends like to joke that he is the most interesting man, like the Dos Equis guy),” she said. “He makes everyone feel like you’re automatically friends and his adventurous spirit makes you ready to do things you never thought of — like shark diving!”
The couple started dating officially in November 2012. O’Neill went on to earn a master’s degree in biology from VCU in 2016 and now works as an adjunct professor in the School of World Studies, while Banning graduated with a forensic science degree in 2014, worked for a time at the pathology lab at VCU Health and now works in Virginia’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.
“Although, I am no longer a VCU student or employee, I maintain a close affiliation with the school and faculty,” Banning said. “Kelsey and I both conduct research in the paleopathology lab at VCU Health System with Dr. [Enrique] Gerszten, [M.D.]. One of our accomplishments as a couple is publishing a paper together, along with other researchers, from the research we conducted on mummified spleens from South American mummies.”
The experience of researching and writing a journal article together was great, he said, and the couple have another manuscript in the works. “Having similar interests in travel and science further strengthens our relationship,” he said. “The first trip in South Africa where we met led us to continuing our relationship back at VCU and going on many other adventures abroad together as a couple.”
O’Neill said their relationship works so well because they balance each other out. “He is always optimistic and ready for an adventure, whereas I tend to be more realistic about things and want to plan for our travels,” she said. “We also both love to travel. We try to do one trip together then we each travel independently with friends. That balance of together and apart is key.”
While some freshmen can feel like a small fish in a big pond when adapting to campus life, Leslie and Saunora Prom found themselves drawn together by a tiny VCU dorm.
As members of the Honors College in 1998, they lived in the Lilliputian Rhoads Hall West Wing, a much-shorter architectural partner to Rhoads Hall.
We were stuck in our little bubble of people in that dorm.
“We were lucky. There were only two floors on that side, so we were stuck in our little bubble of people in that dorm,” Leslie said. “Between living so closely … and studying together a lot we eventually grew to like each other.”
The couple wound up in plenty of the same classes as members of a freshmen interest group. A Saturday ornithology class was especially memorable.
“We still remember the birds and we look at birds today. We’ll say, ‘Look at that bird!’ ‘Is that a falcon?’ We still use that knowledge today,” said Saunora.
They worked out in the Cary Street Gym (before the major renovation undertaken in 2009) and ate at Hibbs Hall (Shafer Court Dining Center’s predecessor).
A first date at Kuba Kuba in the Fan would lead to marriage 10 years later.
Both were drawn to VCU to prepare for medical careers. Leslie, a Gold Rush dance team member, earned her undergraduate degree in pre-physical therapy and later a doctorate of physical therapy, while Saunora earned his degree in biology with a minor in business before earning his Doctor of Osteopathy at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Today the family of doctors resides in Virginia Beach with their two children. They visited campus last weekend to take part in the dance team’s alumni event.
“They invite us to perform and catch up with everybody,” Leslie said.
Their home in the West Wing was demolished and replaced by the 17-story Brandt Hall in 2005, part of the wave of change that came along with rising enrollment at VCU.
Leslie and Saunora planned to check out the latest additions to the Monroe Park and MCV campuses during their recent visit.
“We always joke you have the nice dorms now, the nice dining facility. That was our tuition!” Saunora said.
Will Bagby’s accidental proposal to his wife Lynn was in the most glamorous of locations — a Burger King near campus. But more importantly, it was the humble beginning of a loving marriage of 39 years.
The Bagbys met in 1976. Soon after, Will was in his freshman year at VCU, working toward a bachelor’s degree in English. Lynn, a junior, was completing a bachelor’s in special education.
Fast food makes a cheap date for students, which brought them to the Burger King — formerly located on the intersection of Grace and Laurel streets — for a very fateful lunch between classes.
Will, now 59, and Lynn, 60, had been dating for six months but Will knew Lynn was special. As he sat across from her at the plastic table, he thought about how amazing she was and the words just came out.
Are you asking me to marry you?
“Do you see an ‘us’ in the future?” Will asked. When she asked what he meant, he stammered, “Do you see us being married in the future?”
Lynn had an answer he wasn’t expecting.
“Are you asking me to marry you?” she asked.
“Yes!” he replied.
The couple married in 1977, a year after Lynn graduated and not too long after the spur-of-the-moment proposal.
They have been together through the birth of a daughter and two sons, career changes and two battles against cancer. Lynn was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2003, and braved mastectomy and reconstruction surgery before going into remission that same year. Will has been battling prostate cancer since 2012.
“She is doing very well, and knock on wood, is cancer free. She has amazing strength and worked even while going through chemo and recovery,” Will said. “I am a very lucky man. In our living room, I have a picture of her running the Monument Avenue 10k the day after her last chemo [treatment].”
Sometimes, making it work through the drama is about supporting each other’s decisions, Lynn said.
“We both changed a lot since we first met, but we’ve both given each other room to grow,” she said.
The real test of this sentiment was when Will decided to pursue a career in education.
He had dropped out of school in the early years of their relationship and had since not been completely satisfied with a career as a machinist, welder and engineering project estimator. He went back to VCU to finish his bachelor’s in English and then obtained a master’s degree in education at age 36.
But Lynn, herself a seasoned teacher, knew that it was the right choice for Will.
“I knew this was something he wanted to do and something he would really put his heart into,” she said. “I thought, He’s been around a teacher for a while, he kind of knows the ins and outs.”
Both Bagbys have had decades of K-12 teaching experience at schools throughout Central Virginia. Will retired two years ago after 18 years as an educator, while Lynn still substitute teaches after 35 years in the business of molding young minds.
A friend once asked Will if he would have changed anything about that momentous moment in Burger King.
“I totally would have done it in a Wendy’s,” he joked. “I’d like to think I’m a classy guy.”
It all started in Rhoads Hall. And then, it stopped.
Nancy Murphy Hendrickson and Doug Hendrickson met at VCU in 1977. Nancy lived on the residence hall’s 15th floor and Doug lived on the third floor.
“Doug was friends with some fellas who used to congregate in the lobby in between classes. They would all talk to people coming and going through the Rhoads Hall lobby. That’s how we met,” Nancy said, adding that they dated for a year.
But Nancy, a nursing major, and Doug, a business administration major, were both preoccupied with school and the silliness of college social life.
“Neither of us was serious back then,” Nancy Hendrickson said.
Doug graduated and Nancy moved to Cabaniss Hall on the MCV Campus to continue her studies at the School of Nursing. Their relationship rekindled in 1979, however, when Doug called Nancy out of the blue and invited her to a movie — Superman. Thirty-five years later the couple is still flying high with memories from their college days, their romance and their alma mater.
“My fondest memories on campus with my husband involved the friendships we formed through socializing in Rhoads Hall and on Shafer Street,” Nancy said. “There were concerts held on Shafer Street where students could listen and socialize in the evenings. We shared many hours of music from local bands back then and spent hours laughing and talking with friends.”
After relocating to Texas for a few years, the couple came back to Virginia in 1984 and have been active Rams alumni ever since.
“We follow the various [VCU] sports teams, having season tickets to Rams basketball since 1987, [we have] contributed to building the Siegel Center, attended various reunions over the years and raised three children, teaching them all the VCU Fight Song,” Nancy said.
The Hendricksons’ daughter, Sarah, may soon be “cheering proud Virginia’s name” as a Ram. She recently applied to the VCU School of Education for her master’s degree.
“We always wanted one of our kids to experience the strong educational foundation we received as well as the diversity that VCU provides. [Sarah] would be the first in our immediate family to acquire [an advanced] degree,” Nancy said.
Even if their daughter doesn’t end up at VCU, there’s no question where the Hendricksons allegiance lies. Two of their children attended North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina, so the Hendricksons purchased football season tickets. Still, at N.C. State football games the couple flies its flag alongside a VCU flag from their tailgate flagpole.
“That’s the way all our North Carolina friends know where we are,” Nancy said. “It’s the only VCU flag there. So many people stop and take pictures to send to friends and family to show them ‘Look what we found at NC State.’ Or, we get people coming up to us and saying, ‘I have family or friends there,’ or ‘I'm from Richmond.’”
Over the years, the Hendricksons have maintained an affinity for VCU and their humble beginnings.
“It just happened that [my friend’s girlfriend] was also going to VCU’s nursing school and was roommates with Nancy,” said Doug. “I remembered the fun times Nancy and I had on the Monroe Campus together and got her dorm phone number from [him] and decided to give her a call. I asked her if she wanted to go to a movie and the rest is history.”
I asked her if she wanted to go to a movie and the rest is history.
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