When Bearcat Met Bearcat: Alumni Love Stories
Written by Erin Michel, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate School.
Valentine's Day is fast approaching, and love is in the air. There are a lot of reasons that UC is a special place, but some alumni have a very unique reason to love this school: it gave them their lifelong partner in addition to a great education. In honor of Valentine's Day, we present the love stories of three alumni couples who met right here on our Clifton campus through the years.
Paulette and Ken Keener, Class of 1968 and 1969
“It was pretty much happenstance that we wound up in that class together,” says Ken Keener.
“Or fate,” adds his wife Paulette, laughing.
The pair first connected through a Shakespeare class in 1968. Paulette, a French major, only took the class because the course she was originally trying to register for filled up before she could nab a spot. Ken, who studied Education with a focus in English and biology, needed the course to finish up his degree that spring. Back in those days, class registration involved standing in lines in one big room to physically sign up with a pen and paper. “You probably don’t do it that way anymore,” says Ken, laughing.
“There was a Shakespeare class right next to the table I was in line for, and they had an opening, so I just signed up,” says Paulette. “Ken and I, we weren’t really acquaintances before UC, but I knew of him.” Ken had dated Paulette’s friend in high school, but the two had never exchanged more than a few words before that fateful day in Shakespeare class. “The first day I walked into class, Ken was sitting by the door,” recounts Paulette. “So I just walked up and said ‘Hi Ken! Do you remember me?’ and he said ‘Yeah!’ And that was the start of it.”
The two slowly grew closer as the class progressed. “After class we would talk and walk to the next class together and that kind of thing,” Paulette tells me. “And eventually he said, you know, ‘there’s a Shakespeare play at Edgecliff, would you like to go?’ And I wasn’t sure if we were just friends or if this was a date. So I actually asked, I said, ‘You mean on a date?’ And he said ‘Yeah.’ And he showed up in a three-piece suit to take me [to ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’] and that was it... I was bowled over.”
When did Ken know that Paulette was the one? “I probably knew it from right from the start, too. But it was difficult because I was finishing up at UC. Every day, the end of that came closer, and I knew I would be going to Germany, so I didn’t know what to do,” says Ken. He had already enlisted in the Army and would be stationed in Europe immediately after graduation. For the young lovebirds, the next step was a big gamble—to continue their relationship, they would have to progress things quickly, or they would have to say goodbye. And at first, it appeared that they would part ways; they had even agreed that this was for the best. “I pretty much realized that this wasn’t going to happen,” said Paulette. “I had already decided that I’d probably never see him again.”
But gradually, Ken’s mind changed, and he knew they were meant to be together. “I just couldn’t let her go, so I had to make a decision,” he says. “And looking back, it was a pretty easy decision.” Ken proposed to Paulette while they were sitting on her mother’s front porch after a date. “Just like that song, the Summer of ‘69,” says Ken. “That’s the story—’standing on her momma’s porch / we thought that it would last forever.’” And fifty-two years of marriage? Pretty close to forever, if you ask me.
Things progressed quickly after the proposal. Ken graduated, went to basic training, drove back to Cincinnati, married to Paulette, and left for Germany within a week. The newlyweds didn’t see each other for over four months, since Paulette needed to finish up her final year at UC before joining Ken in Europe. “Our wedding was on a Friday evening,” recalls Paulette. “And I remember telling my professor, ‘I won’t be here on Monday, I’m getting married.’ The look on his face,” she laughs. “Ken was gone, and I was back at school. And it was so bizarre, because I was still at home, and the only difference was this big wedding ring [on my finger] all of a sudden.”
After Paulette graduated, they could finally be together. The two lived in Germany for a while before moving back to the Cincinnati area and welcoming two daughters (and eventually four granddaughters) into their growing family. Sustaining a fifty-two-year relationship is no small feat, and it is obvious that the two are still very much in love. They credit their success to compatible personalities and working as a team. “Paulette is my emotional guardian,” says Ken. “I get cues [from her] about how I should feel about things sometimes.”
“I love his calmness,” adds Paulette. “I tend to get overexcited about things, and he’s just always calm. He helps calm me down.”
“[Relationships are] a real give and take,” she continues. “It’s something you’re conscious of, I wouldn’t say you have to work at it, but you have to be conscious. You have to be in tune with the other person, and if something seems off, you have to talk about it and try to resolve it.”
The two look back on their time at UC fondly, not just because it was through UC that they found each other. “I loved it there,” says Paulette. “It is a great school. The best move I ever made.”
Eric and Sarah Penrod, Class of 2008
I’ve heard it said that the friends you make during your first few weeks of freshman year are temporary friends, borne of circumstance, holdovers until you find your real group. For Eric and Sarah Penrod, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. Their friendship of circumstance became a happy, loving marriage of fifteen years.
“Eric was one of my high school friends’ roommates,” Sarah tells me. She was a business administration students, whereas Eric studied mechanical engineering. “First week freshman year, he came to lunch at the dining hall, and we met.” Right off the bat, the two began spending time together in a friend group, often going to hang out at Sarah’s dorm after dinner. But they had never spent any time alone together, until one particular night a couple weeks into the semester. “That night, we finally had homework […] so people didn’t come, but then Eric finished up his homework and he came over.” They were sitting together, chatting, when Sarah’s AIM instant messenger began to ping. “Maybe you don’t remember AIM, you’re younger than me,” she laughs. Sarah’s friend began to message her about Eric, asking what she thought of him and inquiring whether she thought that Eric liked Sarah back. “It wasn’t a laptop so I couldn’t close the screen or anything,” says Sarah. “I was like, abort, abort, abort, get out of the room […] I was beet red.” Eric saw the message but gave Sarah a couple of hours to recover from her embarrassment before bringing it up. Later that evening, he asked her out, and she said yes. Like many college freshmen, the pair’s first date was to the dining hall. The first time they left campus together, they went to Uno’s Pizza. “We were exclusive pretty much immediately, and it never got less serious as we went through time,” says Sarah, smiling at the memory. Eric agrees—it was love at first sight, meant to be.
The couple were engaged while attending UC. Unbeknownst to Sarah, after sharing dinner at a restaurant (a luxury for college kids) Eric was planning to walk her to the spot where he first told her he loved her to pop the question. But on the way over, Sarah suddenly began to feel extremely ill, and they had to run to get Pepto Bismol, foiling his romantic plans. Fortunately, later the same night, Sarah was feeling better and Eric proposed while they were walking along the river in Newport, overlooking the city. They were married the summer before their final year of college. “We had a week-long honeymoon in Cozumel, and then back [to class].”
Eric and Sarah have now been together for fifteen years and share three children, ages 7, 9, and six months old. Eric rocks his youngest, who has just woken up from a nap, as we speak. It is easy to see how much the two dote on their children from the way they smile at their young daughter. And when you have three young kids, it’s important to work as a team. “We’re always going,” says Sarah. “We have the same goals and we’re trying to reach them together […] we keep each other honest.” “We’re on the same page,” agrees Eric.
Sarah and Eric look back on their UC days quite fondly. They were both involved with a host of extracurricular activities and clubs which, according to Sarah, made UC feel like a small community as opposed to a huge campus of thousands of students. UC’s co-op program really benefited the two; they both were placed at General Electric (Eric in engineering, Sarah in finance), where they both still work 15 years later. “I don’t know what else you’d want out of a college experience,” says Sarah. “You got a job, you found the love of your life, you made lifelong friends. You had a good time.”
Christin and Pete Bohrofren, Class of 2000
Christin Bohrofren knew the moment she laid eyes on Pete Bohrofren that she was going to marry him someday. “Of course, I’d said that a couple times before,” she says, laughing. “But this time I think I was really sure about it.” Her husband rolls his eyes good naturedly. “We don’t know what happened to the other four or five guys she said that about, but it’s okay.”
The pair met at Christie’s, a now-defunct beer garden on McMillan Street. Christin studied communications and Pete was working towards a degree in philosophy. Christin knew Pete’s fraternity brother who introduced them, and the couple hit it off right away. “I said something like, ‘Guys never ask girls out on dates anymore,” recounts Christin.
“That was her chess move to force me into a corner to say, ‘well, why don’t we go on a date?’” says Pete. “So we did. We went to lunch at Subway.”
“I can still remember what he was wearing,” says Christin. “He had these really wacky blue sunglasses on, and he had highlighted hair and a blue vest that matched his blue sunglasses […] totally 90s era Gen X-ers, through and through.”
During the date at Subway, Christin opened up about a lot of things. “I spilled my guts,” she says, laughing. And neither one called the other afterwards. It seemed like the budding relationship might have stopped in its tracks, until one night at Kroger. Christin’s friend was grabbing some groceries while Christin waited in the car. The friend came running outside to tell Christin that Pete was in the store. Christin, playing it cool, went inside and pretended to be casually shopping in order to engineer a “chance encounter” with Pete. She invited him to meet her and her friends at Uncle Woody’s that night, and he showed up. “The rest is kind of history because we started dating after that,” she says.
The two were engaged after Christin graduated, and the proposal was, quite literally, straight out of a fairy tale. With his mom’s help, Pete arranged a very special trip to Disney World. Somehow, under the guise of a behind-the-scenes tour, he led Christin into the park after hours, just the two of them. “The lights were on, the music was playing, and I got down on one knee at the base of the Princess Castle,” he recalls. Christin pulls out the ring box to show me—it is a small, ornate porcelain case with a glass slipper atop it which reads, “Dreams Can Come True.” She smiles, lost in memory. “It was really sweet,” she says. “Really thoughtful.”
Their relationship hasn’t always been straight out of a fairy tale; in real life, difficult things happen. Together, the couple has endured some tough losses and hard situations, and they both agree that supporting each other through these difficult times has made them truly appreciate what they have. “Life is just all about the ups and downs, and I know it sounds cliché, but [it’s about] how you weather the storm,” says Christin. Shortly after moving in together, Christin’s brother tragically passed away. This hardship was a pivotal point for both, the time they can look back on and agree was the moment when they both knew that the relationship was built to last. “He didn’t go anywhere,” said Christin. “I always say that he was this little angel. I know it sounds really goofy, but he kind of saved me […] he’s my best friend.”
“She keeps me not only realistic but appreciative of each other and what we have,” says Pete, smiling at his wife.
Christin and Pete recently celebrated 23 years together, and now have two children aged 13 and 15. Last year, Christin returned to UC as a student where she is working towards her master's degree in school counseling. “It’s been really cool being back on campus,” she tells me. “It makes me recollect a lot of fond memories from when I was an undergraduate.”
Pete agrees that his time at UC was a wonderful experience. “It provided a lot for me in terms of education, friendships, meeting my wife, and even my first job in the Grants and Contracts Department of CECH,” he says. “It’s a great place, and it’s cool to see how far UC has come.”