Willamette University

If Those Trees Could Talk: Online Extras

We received many more responses to last issue’s call for Willamette sweetheart stories than expected. Here are some additional stories.

Bennett Klling ’07 and Sarah Colling ’07

Sara and I both began studying at Willamette in 2003. We didn’t meet until four years later. It would take our mutual friend Tyler Helbach’s ’07 “twenty-one run” to provide the special opportunity to introduce ourselves — an opportunity that had eluded us during all our time in Salem.

Toward the end of the night I found myself right behind Sara in line to get drinks, and we struck up conversation. At first, it took a lot of work convincing ourselves that we never had met at Willamette. “What floor did you live on freshmen year?” “Did you go to the jazz band concerts?” “Did you ever go to a house party at ‘The Belmont?’” We bonded over studying Spanish at the same school in Ecuador, and Sara ended up driving me home. We made plans to meet at Greenlake just a few days later.

It was the summertime and Sara had recently relocated to Seattle, so we spent a lot of time exploring the city and enjoying the sunshine. By the July 4th fireworks show, it was clear that I had met someone special. However, I was leaving in September to return to South America for six months, so we thought we would keep things casual. Little did we know by the time I left we would have taken a road trip to California, gone on Sara’s first backpacking trip, and would eventually meet in Ecuador and travel together.

On June 9, 2012 we got married in the company of many fellow Willamette alumni and lifelong friends.

Victoria (Swigart) Smith ’08 and Ryan Smith ’08

It all started in late August of 2004 when I arrived at Willamette for Opening Days. I got assigned to Belknap. I attended all the typical Opening Days events, along with every other freshman. I think it was the second night (Ryan thinks it was the third night), that we had the “Eastside” orientation.

Ryan was assigned to one of the open rooms in Beta, because they were not full that year with fraternity members. I can remember everyone gathering on the lawn between Belknap and K-Sig. One of the OD leaders announced that we needed to make two giant concentric circles, one inside the other. Once the circles were formed, the people in the inner circle were asked to turn around and face those in the outer circle. The OD Leader then explained the game. He was going to shout out one question that we had to ask the person standing directly across from us. So he did, and the game began.

I forget what the first question was, but after a minute, the leader shouted out for the inner circle to rotate to their right three spots. Another question came, and again the inner circle was asked to rotate three spots to its right.

There he was. Standing across from me. Dark hair with a buzz, the cutest dimple I’d ever seen, wearing a black t-shirt and black basketball shorts with what I assumed to be his high school logo. The logo was all worn out, so I could tell they must have been team shorts and that he was an athlete. Being an athlete myself, I was very interested.

The leader shouted, “Favorite book!” I asked this mystery boy the question. His response: “Harry Potter.” Sounds cliché as hell, but I knew at that moment that he was the one. What kind of super awesome, athletic, 19-year-old guy answers with Harry Potter to a girl he hasn’t even met? My dream man, that’s who. Harry Potter, of course, also happens to be my favorite book series.

After this initial interaction, we exchanged names. I introduced myself as Victoria, as I always do, and then told him that I go by “Vic.” He responded, “Like Michael Vick?” Trying to be cool and play it off, I said, “Yeah,” all the while trying to rack my brain as to who Michael Vick was. He introduced himself as Ryan, and thus began our love story. We found each other later during other festivities and got to know one another better with every word.

For the several nights in a row, we would get together around 10:30 or 11 p.m. and go on walks. We walked all over campus, several laps, and around the capitol building, never straying too far from campus. We walked and talked every night like this until 2 or 3 in the morning. On maybe the fourth night, we ended up under the star trees. We were holding each other and looking up, and then, as Ryan explains it, “I attacked him.” I do not recall our first kiss in this same manner, but, nonetheless, I kissed him. I couldn’t resist any longer. It was the best kiss in my entire life.

We held hands and continued on our walk. Now, as Ryan tells me, one of his friends, Zach, was walking by Ryan’s building later that night and saw that his window was open, so naturally, as any person would do at 2 in the morning, he yelled to get Ryan’s attention. When Ryan put his head out the window, Zach asked, “How’d it go?!” Ryan yelled back, “She kissed me!”

Obviously, he didn’t mind being “attacked” all that much.

Ryan and I got married July 17, 2011. We have been together for eight years, and we have the Star Trees to thank.

Ben Boswell ’69 and Claudia (Wilson) Boswell ’69

Willamette Bound

They had known each other forever
because their families were friends;
Old pictures show the two of them,
Playing together when they were small.
Vacations were spent becoming acquainted.
She said when she was ten,
“I will probably marry him.”
They lost touch through high school
But developed similar interests,
And when they reconnected they had each chosen Willamette.
They hung out together working and singing and dating;
And lots of talking and listening under the star trees and in the Doney lounge.
Once more they lost touch
Until they discovered they were both going to the U of O.
They parted once again, until he chased her and she caught him,
And they have lived happily ever after, so far.

Terri (Talbot) Speicher ’80 and Rick Speicher ’78

Rick and I met at freshman orientation in 1976 and have been together ever since. We have been married for 33 years, have three married daughters and three grandchildren. Life is good!

Thank you, Willamette!

Eugene Walters ’52 and Carolann (Snarr) Walters ’52

Carolann and I came to WU in the fall of 1948. We each went our own ways until the fall of 1951, when we started dating. A lot of our dates took place walking around the campus, including the Star Trees, and some took us to cheap coffee shops near the campus.

Carolann was busy in the Pi Phi House (and doing some other dating), but our interest in each other became serious the next spring.

After Carolann was selected a May Princess, our relationship became secured by the exchange of fraternity pins. I was intending to go to Drew Theological Seminary to become a United Methodist Minister, so I asked if she would ever consider marrying a minister. Without hesitation, she said no!

Fortunately, she changed her mind and we were married In Jersey City, N.J. the following June. (She became a United Airline stewardess to get there.)

There were many romantic places to walk (and kiss) on campus, but one attractive place was under the Star Trees.

Vance McFarland ’67


Running through Bush Park one night on a late run I saw a certain individual and his lady on an infamous Blanket Party — heads popped up as I ran by?

Also, an RA once decided to propose to a girl at the Delta Gamma house. Well, the creative people jumped in and voila — a white horse appeared with a saddle and pillow that had the ring pinned to it. They got engaged and married later. I hope they lived happily ever after.

May Ohara ’09, MAT’10 and Brian Best ’06, JD’11

In August 2008, Brian and I were both signed up to be University Reps (residential assistants) for the fraternities at Willamette. Brian was starting his first year as a law student, and I was starting my senior year. We met at a ropes course retreat for all Residence Life staff members, and were forced to get to know each other.

As the school year began, we bonded over 5 p.m. dinners at Goudy Commons, "stuck" on campus on the days and nights when we were on duty. In the winter of 2008, we knew that we had strong feelings for each other, and started to spend more time together. In the spring of 2009, we decided to make our relationship official.

After graduating in early May 2009, I decided to attend Willamette's Master of Arts and Teaching (MAT) program in the fall. We each had our fair share of stress from graduate school, but we continued to support each other and always found time to spend quality time together. In the summer of 2011, Brian graduated from the College of Law and was hired as an attorney at the Hart Wagner firm. I also put my MAT degree to use and got a job as an elementary school teacher in Portland.

Over the past four years, we have grown as individuals and as a couple. In the summer of 2012, we got engaged in Hawaii, and we are excited to celebrate our marriage with many of their Willamette friends at the Forestry Center in Sept. 2013!

Perhaps a kiss under the star trees did the trick.


My story under the Star Trees is definitely a 21st-century take on the traditional tales!

In the first year of my adjunct faculty job here, I started following a hilarious humor writer's blog online. We hit it off, and over time we decided a relationship was worth pursuing, so he flew out here to meet me.

I wanted a place to meet that was beautiful, memorable, public, and not a restaurant — so I sent him coordinates for the Star Trees on Google Maps. I got off work on a blustery autumn afternoon, walked (maybe ran a little!) from my office on campus, and there he was under the trees.

He asked me to marry him a few months ago, so it's safe to say that everything worked out well!

Amy Holthusen ’08 and Jai Salzwedel ’08

Jai and I met freshman year in our Opening Days group. Nope, that’s not even true; we met in Goudy, standing in line to register for our Opening Days group. It was Group Four, I remember.

It was clear right off the bat that we were attracted to each other. I sat next to him at matriculation and we shared our first kiss a few weeks later in the middle of the night sitting on a bench in the rose garden outside of Eaton.

We dated all through Willamette; Jai came to visit me when I studied abroad in Vienna, and during our senior year we conned Residence Life into letting us share an apartment in the University Apartments. We both graduated in 2008, and in June 2012, after eight years together, we were married.

Willamette alumni who were present included Jai’s dad, Kim Salzwedel ’78, the officiant; two other members of the wedding party; and several of the guests (including one much-loved adopted uncle, a 1978 grad who shall remain nameless because he got drunk and bit another guest on the arm).

As a wedding present, my sister Abbey dedicated a rosebush in the Willamette rose garden to us.

Shelley Biss ’98 and Al Biss ’98

As freshmen, Al and I were assigned to reside at Baxter Hall. Being from Alaska, he’d brought with him only what he could carry on the plane: two heavily backed duffle bags. I, being from Medford, Ore. brought an extended van packed with stuff. Mini fridge. Complete stereo system. Enough clothes to fit three large closets. Oh yes, and shoes. Lots of shoes.

Needless to stay, it took an entourage to move me in. Thank goodness for the move-in volunteers, ready in their red and gold t-shirts. But amidst the chaos of tearful parents and wide-eyed freshmen, one person quietly helping me move in was not a volunteer, friend, sibling, or parent. He was the cute redhead who just moved in two floors down.

When I asked about why he was so helpful, he shrugged and said sheepishly, “Well, it doesn’t take long to move two duffle bags into a room. Taking a look at that van, you look like you could use the extra help.”

And there you have it. Destiny in the making.

You would think that with a start like that, the relationship would automatically progress and fate would take its course. But, well... it didn’t. While we had a great attraction to each other, our goals in college, personalities, and extra-curricular activities produced a deep irritation with one another.

As a fundamental Christian at the time, I thought it was my job to help people “get on the right course and find Jesus!” As an 18-year-old boy who had just left home for the first time, Al considered it his job to party at all hours while making friends and noise two floors below. During many of these parties, I would flop downstairs and try to help Al come to the realization that God was watching and that He (the almighty one) was not happy. Al’s reply was always a smirk, a shrug, and an invitation to his next party.

Fall gave in to winter and winter to spring. Not being very popular in high school, I had never gone to a formal dance before. So when the Black Tie Ball came around, I knew that I didn’t want to miss the chance to go. Thinking of my date options, it occurred to me that, although we weren’t on the best of terms, Al would be at least a fun date. So I asked him. Leaving me speechlessly surprised, he agreed to go.

I didn’t know what to do, what to wear, or what to expect once the night came. I borrowed a two-sizes-too-big, heavy, off-the-shoulder black velvet dress and wobbly pumps. While trying to do something to my stringy blond hair, I burned my forehead in two places with the curling iron.

Al had borrowed his parents beat-up Jeep Wagoner that actually had mushrooms growing out the carpet. He apologized for not having a corsage and stopped along the way to get one last-minute from a florist.

Things were not going well.

The dance was held in Portland one hour a way. We didn’t know what to say so we sat in awkward silence. He had made reservations at a really nice restaurant on the water — it was beautiful — yet, due to our awkward attraction and little dating experience, we didn’t know what to say. At the dance I mingled mostly with the girls I knew while he chatted it up with other Sigma Chi pledges. When the night was over, he took me home. I think that both of us were sad that things did not spark as much as we would have liked.

After this, we tended to avoid each other and I don’t remember having another conversation that year. Thus ends freshmen year.

Sophomore year led to a parting of ways, since both of us had different social goals in mind. I became a very active member in Campus Ambassadors, a Christian organization on campus. I continued to reside at Baxter Hall along with many other Christian friends. Al decided that the fraternity lifestyle suited him and he joined Sigma Chi and moved into their chapter house. We had no classes or friends in common that year and saw none of each other. Again, although the chemistry was there, we both felt happy to be involved in more suitable niches and away from the angst that we inevitably gave each other.

Junior year was the changing point. While Al still resided in Sigma Chi and loved the party scene, he had matured considerably in the two years since the beginning of freshmen year. By then my religious fervor and know-it-all personality had mellowed considerably, too. I was making friends with all kinds of people, some of whom were Greek members and friends who occasionally attended their parties. One night, when discussing common friends with a new buddy of mine, Al’s name came up.

“Oh, you know The Biss?” my friend said. “The Biss?!? Well, if you mean Al, then yes, yes I do,” I replied.

My friend decided that it would be a good idea to attend the party that they were having. I didn’t think it was such a good idea, but hey, by then I was more accepting of new experiences. So we went.

Five minutes later we were visiting with Al and his roommate Garrett in his room. My friend seemed to think that Al was very attractive and I somehow thought that this was funny, given what I knew (and how often I fought with) him a few years ago. But as case may have it, he took more of an interest in me than my friend. And, well, I always did think he was handsome — if you got through that whole frolicking bit.

That night Al and I really talked for the first time. He told me a little bit about Alaska and he listened as I talked about my move off campus and life outside of the Greek system. He walked me home and we agreed that it would be nice to see each other again. Sadly, finals then Christmas Break got in the way. I thought about him quite a bit after that and was disappointed that I never heard from him. It wasn’t until I attended another Sigma Chi party with the same friend that I saw Al again. Our eyes locked and I felt surprisingly tingly. Since he had not called after our night together a month ago, I figured that he was not interested and that I was just another party guest. It wasn’t until he shooed everyone else out of his room and showed me stacks and stacks photos of Alaska that I knew he wanted to spend time with me (although, come on, how many pictures of moose can one girl really get excited about?).

At the end of the night he asked me if I would go to the Black Tie Ball with him and I agreed. This time it was better. More than better. It was wonderful. We had matured to the point of being able to talk to someone we were attracted to: in this case, each other. We had a great time in Portland and a great time on the way back to Salem. We talked until 4 a.m., when he formally asked me if we could start dating.

I liked him, sure, but I still had deep Christian beliefs. I knew that if we were not on the same page there, our relationship would not work. I asked him if he was Christian and he said he was. Not only that, but he was raised Presbyterian, the same denomination as how I was raised. Wow! So, even though we stayed up most of the night, I asked him to go to church with me in the morning. I thought that if he did that, then he was serious enough about me to give it a shot.

At 9 a.m., we walked to First Presbyterian church a few blocked from campus. Groggy, un-showered, mascara smeared and with bad breath, I walked with him into the chapel. I was ecstatic that this man, the boy who only two years ago fought tooth and nail with me, now sat beside me with a desire to know me and worship God. Even though he slept through most of the service, I was smitten.

We were rarely apart after that. I would visit him in his room at Sigma Chi and became a regular there. He would study in my off-campus apartment, where I would make us homemade, un-Goudy-fide meals. That summer I went to Alaska to meet his parents and tour the state.

Senior year started and Al was able to graduate a semester early. At Christmas break he left and went back to Alaska to work, leaving me to finish my last term at Willamette. Although strained, we made our long-distance relationship work by having him fly down a couple of times and racking up the phone bills. In the summer I went on a post-session to Italy to study Renaissance art — after the session in Italy was over, he came to visit me in Europe for a week and we traveled down the Rhine River in Germany together. It was then that I knew I would move to Alaska to be with him.

In 1998 I packed up all my things in my 1979 purple Chevy truck and headed north. My father helped build a makeshift canopy for the truck to fit all my belongings. In a week, I was in the Big Great Last Frontier. I got a roommate, moved into an apartment and began working as a direct care attendant while I applied for social-work master’s programs. In 1999, while traveling with my family in Hawaii, we got engaged. In 2000 we were married with four other Willamette grads in our wedding party, not to mention dozens of other WU alumni in attendance.

This summer, Al and I celebrated our 13th wedding anniversary. We now have two precious children: a boy of age 3 and a girl of age 5 who will be entering kindergarten in little over two weeks. We still live in Al’s home state of Alaska, in the bustling, frost-nipped city of Anchorage. He has worked for 15 years as a financial advisor with Edward Jones, and although I am licensed to practice social work and counsel, I have chosen to stay at home for the last six years to raise our young family. I am in the last stages of finishing my Ph.D in clinical psychology with a Christian focus and plan to start back again in the workforce. We are currently happy, healthy, and thriving. Thank the Lord. And thank Willamette University for bringing us together.