And the Greatest of These is Love

It was the fall of 1964. Linda Boykin Lyles ’67 was beginning her sophomore year as a member of the charter class at the new Mobile College, and Tom Lyles ’68 had just started his freshman year.

They had seen each other around campus – something that wasn’t hard to do at a school with one classroom building and two dormitories.

“Back in those years, everybody was around everybody,” Tom recalled. “We were all congregated on one floor for classes. Even though we had different disciplines, we were all taking classes together.”

Most of the students commuted, while Linda and Tom lived on campus and worked in the cafeteria to help with college expenses. The community around Mobile College wasn’t as developed as it is today around the University of Mobile.

“It was a wilderness out there,” Tom said. “There were no hamburger joints or fast food places to hang out in.”

So when the campus Circle K service club hosted a Halloween party on campus, everyone came. Tom and Linda decided to go together, and that first date eventually led to 46 years of marriage, three sons and four grandchildren.

“It’s a wonderful place to meet a spouse,” said Linda, adding that the Christian university attracted students who shared many values in common. Today they live in Daphne, AL, where he is retired after 36 years in the railroad claims business and she is a former teacher. The Lyles’ romance was among the first of many love stories that began at what used to be known as “the little college in the woods.” While each story of first dates and wedding proposals is unique, the common bond of the MC/UMobile experience is the thread that ties them together throughout the decades.

All In The Family

Alumni records indicate there are more than 600 couples in which both spouses have a degree from MC/ UMobile. Many more marriages occurred when spouses met one another through the school, and one spouse holds a UMobile degree. Then there are families like the Kelleys, where UMobile was a common factor in two generations of marriages.

Kerry Kelley ’79 and Barbara Fore Kelley met in 1973 through the music program, although both remember it slightly differently. Barbara recalls the music majors meeting in Dr. B’s (Kenneth Bergdolt’s) choir and history class. Kerry says it was in Robert Sawyer’s music theory, a course legendary for its difficulty.

“It was tough, but having that good-looking redhead sitting in front of me made it more endurable,” Kerry said with a laugh.

Like many couples, the dating period wasn’t always smooth sailing. “He was the fickle one and was always trying to make sure we were meant to be together,” Barbara said. “He may kill me for saying this, but we actually got engaged at one point” and broke it off.

Eventually, they resumed dating and married in December of 1975. They had been in and out of school, and Kerry was a student while Barbara was taking a break when Dr. B decided to take the MC touring choir to England for its first overseas choir tour. Barbara had been a choir member previously, and Dr. B invited her to learn the music so she could join Kerry on the trip.

Kerry said a unifying factor in their relationship was the desire to serve the Lord with their musical talents, and MC was the perfect place to hone those skills.

“The school was still pretty new at the time,” said Kerry, minister of music and senior adults at Friendship Baptist Church in Grand Bay, AL. “It was a growing experience. I thought it was some of the best years of my life. I had been to two other universities and been unhappy. When I came to Mobile College, it felt like home.”

UMobile played a role in the marriage of their son, Steven Kelley ’07, to Morgan Custred Kelley ’06. The two business majors had known each other since 9th grade, but didn’t start dating until Steven began hanging out at a Saraland coffee shop that remains a favorite for UMobile students, Moka’s Coffee House.

Morgan’s parents had just opened Moka’s, and she was managing the store. Because of UMobile they had the same friends, had taken the same classes, knew the same professors. Today, Steven works a few doors down from Moka’s as location manager at the AT&T store.

Providential Class Break

Debra Harmon Chancey ’80 & ’86 and Danny Chancey ’79 first met at MC in 1978 taking the same English class and working together in the Student Education Association. When they graduated, they went their separate ways.

Six years passed, and Debra was taking a class at the school to complete her master’s degree while Danny was taking a French course. When Debra’s class was dismissed for break, she on the second floor of Weaver Hall, and they began talking about old times.

They married a year and a half later. Now, Debra is a full-time assistant professor and Danny is an adjunct professor in the School of Education.

“We feel that God used our experiences at UMobile to reveal His will for our lives, both professionally and personally,” Danny said.

Commuting Couple

Darlene Wilkins Smith ’83 and Michael Smith ’82 were commuter students who met during Michael’s senior year when they had two classes together. On campus they often met at the snack shop located at the south end of Weaver Hall.

“They had amazing french fries!” Darlene said.

They married June 11, 1983 and live in Mobile. Today, Darlene is assistant to the registrar at UMobile and Michael is a programmer/ analyst. Their UMobile connection includes Darlene’s mother, retired UMobile administrator Doris Wilkins ’83, and four of their five children who either graduated, are attending or are soon to enroll at the school – plus a 7-year-old who fully expects to follow in the family tradition.

Love at First Sight

For Shannon Arnold ’94, it was love at first sight when he saw Rachel walking across campus. Rachel Meadows Arnold ’93, first noticed Shannon seated in front of her at orientation in Weaver Auditorium. She remembers turning to the girl sitting next to her and commenting, “That guy in front of us seems really cool and has great hair!”

But it took their roommates, Richard “Richie” Sego ’93 and Julie Crews Sego working behind the scenes to speed up the courtship.

“I remember the first time I saw Rachel walking across campus and, believe it or not, I am telling you that I felt impressed by God, Him telling me, ‘Shannon, that’s the girl you are going to marry!’” Shannon said.

He ran to the cottage where he lived with five other guys, including Richard.

“I remember telling them, ‘Hey guys, I just saw the girl I am going to marry, and I would like for us to pray together about this!’” Shannon recalled.

Richard asked him the girl’s name, and Shannon didn’t know.

His roommates started laughing, but then joined him to pray before going outside to look for the girl wearing red sweat pants. They saw Rachel near the girls’ dorm, and Richard realized she was roommate with his fiancée, Julie.

Richard, now senior pastor at Airline Baptist Church in Gainesville, GA, remembers, “There was definitely a mutual attraction going on, and Julie and I were trying to expedite it.”

Richard and Julie began arranging get-togethers, including one special meeting at the Caf. With both couples sitting at a table, Julie asked what Shannon thought was “a very weird and awkward question – ‘Hey Shannon, what type of girl do you want to marry?’”

Shannon said he felt like he was about to tell the girl he knew he was going to marry the most important thing in his life, and he was determined to tell her the truth, even if it scared her away.

“The woman that I will marry will have to know for certain through prayer that she is called to be a pastor’s wife,” Shannon responded.

He didn’t know it, but three months before coming to Mobile College, Rachel had walked down the aisle of her church to answer the call to be a minister’s wife.

After graduating from Mobile College (Rachel) and University of Mobile (Shannon), they married and have three children. Shannon is senior pastor at Lander Valley Baptist Church in Lander, WY.

Not only has the marriage been strengthened throughout the years – so have the college friendships.

“God used Richie and Julie Sego to help the hopelessly devoted. They are our lifetime friends to this day,” Shannon said.

Best Friends

Brian “Odie” Crisman ’97 and Sonya Gibson Crisman ‘97 know exactly when they turned the corner from “best friends” to dating, and they have the official photo to prove it.

Spring Banquet 1993 promised to be fun. The off-campus event featured a catered meal and dancing, and Brian and best friend Sonya had agreed to go as ”just friends.”

Then, three days before Spring Banquet, Brian’s girlfriend from Texas broke up with him.

“I was heartbroken and my best friend came to comfort me,” Brian wrote on the Lynwood Baptist Church website, where he currently serves as pastor of worship in Cape Girardeau, MO.

“We sat on the front steps of my campus house (girls were not allowed inside – it was a Baptist school!) and she consoled me with sweet words and side hugs,” he wrote. “Now I know that inside she was smiling and just a bit giddy. She confesses to also feeling a little guilty, thinking that all of her praying about our relationship had finally worked, and now I was upset!”

After the dance came The Kiss in front of Sonya’s sister’s apartment door. It happened on April 3, 1993, just a few hours after the Spring Banquet photo was taken.

The next January, he took Sonya back to the apartment door where her sister once lived, reenacted their first kiss, and proposed. They were married Dec. 30, 1994.

Today the music education graduates have five children. Brian, who concentrated in trumpet, leads worship and Sonya, who concentrated in voice, assists.

“There is no one like her, and there is no doubt that God created and molded us for each other,” Brian wrote. “She’s my soulmate.”

World-Changing Experiences

Katherine Inge Bradley ’99 expected a University Missions trip to be world-changing – but she didn’t expect that to mean she would meet her future husband, Clayton, while teaching Vacation Bible School to missionary kids (MKs) in Argentina.

The son of missionaries, Clayton was home from college and volunteered to help the UMobile mission team.

“We worked together the whole week and spent just about all our waking hours together getting to know each other. When I came home from the trip, we kept up by email and phone calls,” Katherine said.

“From the day I met him until the day we married, we only spent a total of six weeks in each other’s presence. So here we are almost 14 years and two children later,” in Wellford, SC, she said, where Katherine works from home doing medical transcription and Clayton is a data/voice tech.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Trey Cates ’98 and Robyn Blakeney Cates ’97 met briefly in the fall semester of 1995. But it wasn’t until a few months later, as a work-study student in the education trailer, that Robyn said she was “whining to a few faculty members about there not being any guys on campus I wanted to date.”

Since UMobile professors are nothing if not resourceful, Drs. Mashburn, Schaefer and Buaas pulled out their gradebooks and started going down their lists of all the males in their class.

“We whittled down their efforts to five guys, and Trey’s name was on the list,” Robyn said. “All the professors had chimed in by this point, and the list was typed up and posted on the wall of the trailer.”

A month later, with only a few chance encounters between them, Robyn saw Trey in the parking lot in front of the education offices. Spring break was coming up and she had a carload of girls who were riding with her to Huntsville, AL. She knew Trey lived in Birmingham, so she asked if he would be willing to follow them at least that far.

“On the day of the trip, I put my roommate in Trey’s car to find out one thing – who was he taking to Spring Banquet? He told her he wanted to ask me! So at our first stop, I traded places with my roommate and had her take over driving my car,” Robyn said.

The expected invitation didn’t happen. They had a great conversation, talking about their testimonies and what they felt God was calling them to. At the last possible break before Trey had to make his turn toward home, she climbed back into her car feeling a little let down.

“We got a few miles down the interstate, just minutes before his exit, Trey pulled up beside me – and yes, we were going about 70 mph during this part. Through the window I could see him mouth something that looked like, ‘Will you go to the Spring Banquet with me?’ I mouthed back ‘Yes!’ and then he was gone,” she said.

Since Trey played drums for the ensemble Vision and had a concert the next weekend, their first date prior to the banquet was to the Miss University of Mobile Pageant.

“We still laugh about it to this day – who takes a girl to a beauty pageant for a first date? I’m glad I said yes, because that date led to many more, an engagement where a few members of Vision serenaded me in a restaurant, and a lifetime of ministry together. We’ve been married for over 15 years and are serving God in Vermont,” Robyn said.

A Dreamy Proposal

Jay Jerrell ’98 and Jill Nahrgang Jerrell ’01 met in 1997 during his senior year and her freshman year. Every afternoon at 4:45 p.m., Jill would go to the mailroom in Weaver Hall to pick up mail for the Oakdale Children’s Center, where she was a work-study student. Jay’s job in the mailroom ended at 4:30 p.m., but he would stick around an extra 15 minutes each day so he could see and talk to Jill.

Fast-forward to 2001. Jay was working in Birmingham and driving down on weekends to see Jill. One weekend, she told him about a dream she’d had. They were in a clubhouse with white lights all around. He got down on one knee, popped the question, but the ring he pulled out was made of paper. In the dream, Jay started laughing and saying it was just a joke.

“She didn’t know it at the time, but she had just told me how to propose,” said Jay, worship pastor at Faith Family Fellowship in Spanish Fort, AL, and president of the University of Mobile Alumni Association.

The last weekend of March 2001, after the Spring Formal, Jay drove Jill back to campus, past Lyon Chapel and down to the Harrigan Center.

“As we approached, I turned into the gravel parking lot where, out on the edge of the woods, we saw something unusual,” Jay said. “There was a soft glow emanating from the trees.”

Blankets hanging over clotheslines were arranged to form four walls. Inside, hundreds of white lights zigzagged overhead.

“It’s your clubhouse,” Jay told Jill. The ring he presented her was real. They married Dec. 1, 2001, exactly one year after their first date.

What God Has in Store

When Allison Trotter Nelson ’04 started dating Kris Nelson ’01 during her freshman year, it didn’t take her long to realize he was going to be the man she would spend forever with.

“Of course, I never let him know that. He had to work hard to prove that he was in this for the long haul!” she said.

She loved hearing Kris play guitar and sing at 24/7, the weekly campus worship service.

“I looked forward to that service each week not only to see a ‘Cutie’ play, but to freely worship with other believers on campus,” she said.

Allison and Kris married Dec. 28, 2002, the fall of her junior year. Today, she is director of alumni relations for UMobile and Kris is director of Residential Life.

Power Outage Sparks Interest

Matt “RoRo” Spradlin ’04 and Taylor Hall Spradlin ’05 had been in a cell group together during their first year at UMobile, but that experience didn’t spark an interest in dating. What did, however, was a power outage on campus one night.

“We, along with some mutual friends, were playing cards and hanging out in the lobby of Arendall Hall,” Matt said. “I’m not sure exactly what clicked that night, but I remember thinking, ‘I sure do like hanging out with this girl – why haven’t we hung out before?’”

After consulting mutual friends to find out if there was a mutual interest, “I remember walking around the loop together and asking her out on our first date next to the fountain between Weaver and Martin halls,” Matt said.

Their first date was in Gulf Shores following the Campus Ministries/ Campus Life Leadership Retreat.

“Thankfully, there was a second date – the Spring Formal – and many more dates to follow. Two years later I proposed to Taylor at the very same spot that I asked her on our first date, and we have been married for six wonderful years,” said Matt, pastor of students at Woodlawn Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, LA. Taylor is an orthodontic assistant and mother to their 14-month-old son, Bodie.

Road Trip Romance

It was a spontaneous road trip to New Orleans with a group of classmates that brought Megan Dean Desko ’08 and Andrew Desko ’08 together.

“We talked about our lives, laughed together, and found out quickly that we greatly enjoyed each other’s company,” said Megan. “We were practically inseparable on the trip, and were officially a couple by the time we got back home.”

For the next three and a half years of college, their relationship grew as they worked together as resident assistants, worshiped together at church, learned together in their theology classes, and had fun together hanging out on campus.

“I remember the hardest part of college was having to say goodnight to her when I dropped her off at her dorm and had to walk back to mine,” Andrew said.

They married two weeks after graduating and now live in Wake Forest, NC, with their 2-year-old daughter, Sarah Grace. Andrew is studying at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is a shift supervisor at Starbucks, and Megan is a special education teacher’s assistant working with autistic children.

Off to a Slow Start

“I wish I could tell people a fun story about how I met my husband the first time, but we really have no idea,” said Rebecca Capone Johnson ’08. She and husband Tim Johnson ’08 probably met in 2005 during one of the school’s many events, in the Caf, or through mutual friends.

Later, Rebecca would learn that Tim had a bit of a crush on her during school. But it wasn’t until a few years after college that they were at the Mobile Greek Festival enjoying gyros and Greek music when their mutual friends decided to sit together.

“Over the loud music, Tim and I exchanged, ‘Hey, aren’t you…?’ and then had an awkward conversation about weddings, where he assumed I had asked him on a date. He assumed wrong, and we laughed. He later contacted me and asked for a ‘real date.’ The rest is history, as they say,” Rebecca said.

They married on March 24, 2012 and started a new adventure by moving to Georgia and accepting positions at Sherwood Baptist Church where Tim is youth worship leader and Rebecca handles marketing, social media and web.

Precious Memories

Sitting on the covered swing by Martin Hall, asking questions about favorite colors and what they wanted to be when they grew up – these memories are especially precious to Brittney Mims Flowers ’09 and Clark Flowers.

Precious memories – because a fall from a ladder at the restaurant where he worked left Clark with a head injury and debilitating short-term memory loss. He remembers his life up through the day of the accident on Feb. 13, 2012. After that, nothing. So each day, he wakes up to what he believes is Valentine’s Day in 2012.

“I don’t know what I would have done if he did not remember me. I’m so thankful he has memories of me. He remembers how we met, how we fell in love, our wedding,” Brittney said.

Some of their UMobile memories include Clark’s experience as a Rams cheerleader, and theatre major Brittney performing in the Upper Room Theatre as Ouiser Boudreaux in “Steel Magnolias,” Miss Peg Flannery in “Thoroughly Modern Millie,” and Abbie Brewster in “Arsenic and Old Lace.”

“One of my fondest memories was being able to come see Brittney doing what she loved and was so good at. Her acting was amazing,” said Clark.

“Having those memories is part of what keeps me moving forward. Since I am unable to make new memories of our life together, all I have are the past memories. Being able to remember how great things were helps me to know how great things are and are going to be.”

They married Dec. 5, 2009, and moved to Birmingham near family. Then came the accident. The days following were terrifying.

“It was a process where I could see his memory fading pretty quickly,” Brittney said. “It was scary for him because he knew what was happening. It was completely out of your hands – you don’t know how to fix it, and no one else knows how to fix it.”

Now their normal day begins at 5 a.m. for Brittney, who wakes Clark up and gives him the opportunity to tell her what day it is. He responds that it is Valentine’s Day. He is expecting to wake up in their apartment with a neck brace from his accident. Instead, he wakes up in their house without a neck brace. Brittney asks if he remembers that he fell, had a concussion, and now has amnesia. She tells him the day and date. He is shocked and confused, in disbelief. She makes sure he understands what she has told him, then gets ready for work and school.

Clark writes emails to himself at the end of each day with notes and the high points of what his “yesterday’s” self wanted his “today’s” self to know. The injury has left him unable to work, but he is now able to drive a car, run errands, and cook and bake.

Their unusual story brought the couple to the attention of celebrity chef Rachael Ray. The Flowers told their story to a national audience on the Feb. 14, 2013 Rachael Ray show. ( show/segments/view/big-surprisesweethearts- who-face-incrediblechallenge/)

Brittney, 26, and Clark, 29, know they have a big challenge in their marriage – but they have faith and strength to walk this path day by day.

“A lot of things I learned there (at UMobile) reinforced my faith and taught me how to be stronger in my faith. When this happened, through my upbringing and things I learned, my faith didn’t waiver,” said Brittney, who minored in theology.

Clark, also, draws strength from his faith.

“For Clark to face what he does every day, to not be afraid to go to bed every night, he has the strongest faith. He may not remember yesterday, but he knows who holds tomorrow,” she said.

Practice Makes Perfect

Pharr Gym is home to Rams winning basketball and volleyball programs – and the place where many a winning romance began. For Amanda Howard Jordan ’09 and Randy Jordan ’06 and ’09, one particular practice session stands out – although both remember it a little differently.

“We actually saw each other at the gym during basketball practice,” Randy said. “She saw me and (later that afternoon in the Caf) said she liked the way I looked.”

Amanda laughed, and said it was actually during her volleyball practice and Randy was playing basketball with some friends.

“I didn’t like him in the beginning, to tell you the truth. We had personality conflicts. We were both captains of our teams, and I thought he was arrogant. I didn’t talk to him, and he didn’t talk to me,” she said.

But proximity helps friendships grow, and student athletes spend a lot of time in close proximity at the gym.

Randy said at the time they started noticing one another, he wasn’t looking for a relationship. He was in his senior year, taking 21 hours and playing basketball. In August they became friends. By December they started spending more time together.

“For her birthday on Jan. 3, we were out celebrating and we accidently kissed,” Randy said. Accidently?

“I walked up to give her a hug, and I have no idea how it happened, but our lips accidently touched each other. I said, ‘Did you try to kiss me?’ She said, ‘No, you tried to kiss me!’ I looked around and there were a lot of people around, so we walked outside and kissed. From that point on, we were inseparable,” Randy said.

Randy remembers when he realized he truly loved Amanda. They were going to Bayou Sara Baptist Church, and it was in the middle of the praise and worship service when he looked at Amanda.

“She was so deep into the song and praising, and I thought, ‘Man, I love this girl,’” he said.

They married April 3, 2009 and live in New Orleans with their family where Randy is a special agent with the FBI

Ram Fam Family

Adrienne Sanders McCulloch ’10 and Chandler McCulloch ’10 are expecting their first child in September, making the couple a true Ram Fam Family.

They met during Ram Rush, when new students are placed in “Ram Fam” groups for orientation.

“We were in the same Ram Fam group and the romance started from there,” Adrienne said.

During Ram Rush of their senior year, Chandler bounded on stage at the Jon McLaughlin concert in Ram Hall. Right there, at the same event where he and Adrienne first met, he proposed.

Now, Adrienne and Chandler are the married couple living in The Timbers, UMobile’s new apartmentstyle residence hall, where she is a Residential Life coordinator.

MC/UMobile: A Home Built With Love

Not all friendships bloom into love, and not all romances become marriages. Not everyone meets their spouse on their college campus, and not all stories end happily ever after. But some do.

The 1984 Rampage yearbook staff wrote of a campus home filled with love, where:

A house is just a house without at least one person to claim it, bring love into it, and make it a home. As more people enter the house, more love fills it. The same applies to Mobile College. Chandler & Adrienne McCulloch, 2013 Without students, these buildings would be just that – buildings. But Mobile College is certainly more than that. It is a home with a family of more than 1,000 members who claim it as “theirs” and overfill it with the love that makes it Mobile College.

Great life stories begin at the University of Mobile. Great loves do, too.

About the Author

Heath Vester

Heath Vester is an experienced graphic designer and serves as the Assistant Vice President for Creative Services for the University of Mobile’s Office of Marketing & Public Relations. He is an alumnus of the University of Mobile, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art and a Master of Science in Leadership and Communication. Beyond his role at the university, Heath is the owner of Heath Vester Creative, his freelance company where he provides a wide variety of creative services to individuals and organizations.