With only one month of winter remaining, some Hillsdale students have taken the challenge to get a “ring by spring” literally. We sat down with Hillsdale couples who recently got engaged or married.
Jonathan Coote and Taylor Hannel
How did you meet?
“We first met in physics,” Coote said. “She was on her eighth cup of coffee for the day and she was bouncing off the wall — I was really annoyed with her. Nothing happened for a year and a half after that. We started talking over the summer of 2016 just as friends with really no intentions of dating. It was just fun to go through the process of getting to know a new friend.”
What changed your decision to be just friends?
“We were studying for a biochemistry exam,” Coote said. “We went on a walk to the Field of Dreams, and on the way, I held her hand for the first time. She said, ‘This is kind of nice.’ We were really glad it was dark out, cause we were grinning ear to ear, looking stupid. She was looking up at the stars and I said, ‘What are you thinking?’ And she said, ‘Nothing.’ Then I leaned in and kissed her and said, ‘Was that what you were thinking about?’ And she said, ‘Yeah pretty much.’ ”
Two weeks later, on Oct. 22, 2016, they started dating.
How did you know you wanted to marry each other?
“We had had conversations before we started dating, saying we weren’t dating just to date,” Hannel said. “I knew from pretty early on that I wanted to marry him because he’s sweet, because he loves me even though I’m stupid sometimes, because he’s forgiving, patient, kind.”
“I wanted to marry her because she’s the most giving and caring person I’ve ever met and the most genuine person I’ve ever met,” Coote said. “When she loves someone, she truly puts the time in to be there for them, day or night, good times and bad. I didn’t know you could love like that. It was very spiritually attractive. She inspires me to be the best Christian I can be because she loves people with love of Christ, and I didn’t know that we as humans could do that.”
How did he propose?
“We went to Grand Rapids. The ploy was that we were going to pick up her cousin, junior Reagan Cool,” Coote said. “While we’re doing some errands, Reagan and some other friends were setting up on a bridge in a local community park a chalk timeline of the most important things we’d done together. The last date on the timeline was a chalk ring, labeled Jan. 11.”
“We got to the bridge, and he was being a weirdo when we were walking down to the bridge,” Hannel said. “He pointed to the timeline that said ‘Hey Tay,’ and then I knew, I started crying and he asked me to marry him.”
Mark Harrison and Tara Ung
How did you meet?
“In Latin class, freshman year,” Ung said. “We were both in over our head a little bit, and so four of us got together before every class and read through the assignment to check and correct each other’s translations. After doing that for a full semester, we got to know each other pretty well. He asked me out in February, during our second semester, and I agreed. Dr. Weaire always tells his classes that the most romantic institution of the western world is the ‘study date’ and it turned out to be accurate. I mean they say that Latin is a romance language so…”
“I felt like we clicked really, really well,” Harrison said. “We were on the same strange wavelength. I knew she liked me because she stabbed me with a pencil.”
Senior Reuben Blake, Harrison’s best man, added that he knew because “she’s not subtle.”
How did he propose?
“The Sunday before Thanksgiving break, I get a text from Mark that asked if I wanted to go for a walk,” Ung said. “It was VERY cold and windy and altogether unpleasant outside so I said ‘umm no.’ But then realized that maybe I should go for this walk… so we went out to the cemetery and walked for almost twenty minutes, chatting about papers and plans for the upcoming break, and absolutely nothing of interest. I finally asked him if there was anything specific he wanted to talk to me about. He said no. We were almost all the way back to the entrance of the cemetery before he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.”
“Ring by spring was too mainstream,” Harrison said. “So I went ring by December. I proposed in a cemetery because I didn’t want it to be on campus. I wanted it to be in a place that we went to often, and I wanted it to be outside. Unfortunately, it was blisteringly cold, so if it hadn’t been so cold, she probably wouldn’t have been tipped off. But she knew something was up since I insisted on going for a walk even though it was freezing and windy. Oh well. #Results.”
What are your wedding plans?
“We’re getting married in late May — yes we are one of those couples getting married right after graduation,” Ung said. “Thankfully, we both have light semesters, so it’s not been too bad. Probably gonna be an afternoon ceremony with dim sum” — a type of Chinese cuisine — “to follow. I’m Chinese, and Mark has been given a Chinese name, so he’s got honorary Chinese status.”
“My plans are to get married, and then be married,” Harrison said. “I’m looking forward to getting the ol’ ball n chain! And seeing her in her dress.”
“He’s gonna do the wedding thing!” Blake added.
Austin and Brooke Benson
How did you meet?
“It was my freshman year and her sophomore year,” Austin said. “We were in ‘Dancing at Lughnasa.”
“Actually I was the only character in the play that didn’t talk to him,” Brooke said. “One day, I went to the dining hall, and I sat with him at breakfast and he couldn’t remember my name. He ended up being my friend because I asked him to go see ‘Star Wars.’ ”
What was your first date?
“Our first date he showed up at my door with a bouquet of flowers,” Brooke said. “We went to Olivia’s and Baw Beese. Four days later, he told me he was going to marry me. I said good, and he pinky promised me.”
How did you know you wanted to marry each other?
“I don’t know how to describe it. All I can say is when you know you know, and I knew,” Brooke said. “When Austin asked me on a date, I knew he wasn’t just asking me on a date. We met in October, so about 7 months later we were dating. When you’re friends for that long, a date just doesn’t out of the blue.”
How did you propose, Austin?
“Brooke is very trusting and naive, so she had no idea I was proposing,” Austin said. “I took her out to Holland in the freezing weather. We had brunch and went down to the sand dunes on Lake Michigan. We climbed to the top of the stairs in 16 degree weather.”
“He opened the box upside down, so while he was talking I flipped it for him,” Brooke said.
What was the wedding like?
“We used the concert venue Seven Steps Up in Grand Haven, Michigan,” Brooke said.
“It was a very small wedding, 60 people including us. Bryan Simmons, head of the costume department, made my gown for me. [Senior] Nikolai Dignoti was the best man and Madeline Martinez ’16 was the maid of honor. We had Erick Baker, a singer-songwriter from Tennessee, perform at the wedding. We spoke to every single person who came. We kept it small so that it could be exactly what we wanted.”
What are your plans for married life?
“We’re going to graduate school together,” Austin said. “Brooke wants to study history and theater, and I want to study English and theater. We’ve applied to Oxford, Cambridge, Chicago, Michigan, Virginia, and the University of London. We both want to be professors, wherever we can get a job together.”
Aaron Houtari and Hannah Kwapisz
How did you meet?
“We met at a party,” Kwapisz said. “He seemed kinda cool, kinda dorky. He was quiet and different from a lot of the guys I met. He had opinions and he was very intelligent.”
When did you first realize you were interested in each other?
“Since he was a freshman and I was a sophomore, I told him I’d show him Hillsdale at night,” Kwapisz said. “We ended up at the end of the night at the 50-yard line of the football field stargazing. I pulled the whole, ‘I’m cold, can you warm me up?’ ”
“For me, When I knew that I wanted to be with him for the rest of my life was probably the summer after,” Kwapisz said. “I was having a really hard time and he was there for me. He knew exactly what to say even though we didn’t know each other very well.”
“A lot of our goals lined up for life, and I met her family and they were super nice. Learning more about her, everything lined up perfectly,” Houtari said.
What was dating at Hillsdale like?
“We’d do a whole lot of evading visiting hours,” Houtari said. “Niedfeldt in the basement they’d never check to make sure she was gone past visiting hours. We’d take walks around campus, go to Baw Beese, and study.”
How did you get engaged?
“We made sure that we had all the tough conversations about children, religion, and politics,” Kwapisz said. “No surprises later, I wanted to know what I’m getting into. We had talked about it. We communicated a lot, and we both knew it was going to happen because we wanted it to happen.”
“I made her dinner and then I had written her a letter, and then I turned on my monitor screen the digital fireplace and I gave her the letter and while she was reading I got down on one knee and presented her with the ring,” Houtari said.
“I felt pure happiness, and it’s been pure happiness ever since,” Kwapisz said. “We’re getting married in Virginia on December 29, 2018.
What are your plans after graduation?
“We’re gonna be moving to New York after I graduate,” Houtari said. “Instead of spending a lot of money on a honeymoon, we’re going to live our lives together in New York, which is like a honeymoon, but we are thinking of spending a year in Europe, too.”
Alexis Pierce and Joel Pietila
How did you two meet?
“Alexis was friends with one of my RAs, Eric, and I was doing homework with him,” Pietila said.
“I came over to see Eric,” Pierce said. “I didn’t know they were doing homework together and I didn’t want to interrupt.”
“She basically ignored me,” Pietila said. “But we started to run into each other more during my first semester here, when she was a sophomore. On Dec. 9, 2015 Alexis Facebook messaged me because we had become friends on Facebook — a wonderful thing. She said she had a booth available in A.J.’s. I was with my friend and we had already left the union, but I was in the library so I said I’ll go sit with this cute sophomore who is way out of my league. We ended up having about a five hour conversation,” Pietila said. “I knew I was gonna date her then.”
“I didn’t,” Pierce said.
How did you ask her out?
“We had gone to an Intervarsity party together. We hung out together, had a lot of fun,” Pietila said. “Afterward, Alexis and I went with friends to Dutch Uncle, and then I dropped her and her friend off, and went back to the dorm. Alexis’ friend left donuts in the car, so I decided to drop them off.”
“He comes in, drops off the donuts, pulls out his I.D., and I’m like, “I guess he’s gonna stay for a while, and then he asked me to chat for a little bit,” Pierce said. “He said, ‘So, I think you’re pretty cool and I was just wondering if you want to go out on a date with me.’ It was very forward and clear. It was so Joel, obviously I didn’t know that at the time — being cool as a cucumber that is.’
“On the inside, I was freaking out,” Pietila said. “Me as little freshman talking to a sophomore, I was thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, this girl still wants to talk to me?’ ”
When did you decide you wanted to get married?
“Probably four months into our relationship, we started talking about getting married. We did not tell people that because people would freak out,” Pierce said. “In that first conversation at A.J.’s, we talked a lot about our faiths. We were able to connect and have a respect for one another’s stories right off the bat. I knew he was a leader. He was mature as a freshman, genuine, and he had a real faith I could see tangibly.”
“I was not about to do the Hillsdating thing,” Pietila said. “That looks like the most miserable non-commitment. I thought, ‘We don’t need to mess around.’ The biggest thing for me that grabbed my attention is her confidence, in who she was as a person, which comes straight from her faith. The other thing I’ve learned from her is how to be challenged and how to want to challenge people. Her faith is her own, she really cares, and she has a wonderful heart she loves people so much.”
“And we just vibe,” he said. “We enjoy laughing a lot together, the things that we are passionate about are very similar, we just saw the Lord taking us in similar directions. We want to be the person to love the other in a way that they deserve, regardless of how they’re acting. I just felt so confident in the fact that God has given me Alexis as the person to take care of for the rest of my life.”
How did he propose?
“Alexis worked at a baseball field in Fort Wayne called Parkview Field,” Pietila said. “Alexis loves baseball, she loved working there, she loves the scenery there. I set up a private tour of the stadium, for us to go see the locker rooms and the behind the scenes stuff. There was no one else there. We went out onto the field and once they took our picture, I had them change the big screen to “Alexis, will you marry me?”
“It was overwhelming, in the best way,” Alexis said. “As a girl, it’s something you’ve thought about since you were a child. All of that has been flooding through my mind. It was a significant step that brought a lot of peace and joy.”
But there’s a funny story that happened before the proposal.
“I put the ring in my pocket before we left for dinner, but my shirt didn’t match pants, so I changed the pants and forgot the ring. We drive all the way to Fort Wayne. We step out of the car. I said, ‘Alexis we have to go back. I forgot the credit card.’ She said she’d pay for the meal, and I said, ‘No, I really want to pay for it. I didn’t want her to be suspicious, so in the car I said, ‘Alexis, I think I need to humble myself a little bit. I’m having some trouble picking out a ring.’ ”