In the last three years, Hillsdale’s alumni population in Louisville grew from two to 17.
After a belated commencement this July, Lauren Blunt, Nate Messiter, Annie Ingham, Nick Uram, Lukas Swenson, and Patrick Votel were the most recent group of Hillsdale graduates to join the Kentucky community. Shelby and Andrew Lohman ’19, Chloe Rijke ’19, Bobbie Briggs ’19, Mark Compton ’19, and Elizabeth Blake ’19, all already called Kentucky their home, following in the footsteps of Reuben Blake ’18, Faith Liebing ’18, and Rebecca Willis ’18.
Why Kentucky? For all but Briggs, Votel, and Andrew Lohman, the answer was Highlands Latin, a classical Christian school in Louisville that was founded in the early 2000s for the purpose of teaching Latin to homeschooled students. The school eventually grew to be what it is today, with elementary, middle, and high schools all staffed with at least one teacher who graduated from Hillsdale.
The school, which Blunt, Ingham, and Messiter said they first encountered at the classical school job fair on campus, hired five Hillsdale graduates this spring, including Uram and Swenson.
“I just fell in love with Highlands,” Blunt said. “It wasn’t so much that I wanted to be in Kentucky in particular, but I really felt a connection with the school. When I found out three of my closest friends were looking at having jobs here too, it seemed like a dream that was too good to be true.”
Now sharing a downtown Louisville apartment with one of her best friends, Ingham, and with Messiter, Swenson, and Votel bunking together close by, the dream did come true for Blunt, she said.
“It’s hard to get to know new people right now because of coronavirus, so it’s especially nice to have that group of people to come back to,” Blunt said. “Sometimes Annie and I will go and hang out with the boys on weekends. Whether it’s just the five of us hanging out or whether we try to get the whole group of friends together, it’s cool to take these friends and people who I kind of knew in college and get to know them in a new way down here.”
Some Hillsdale traditions — like volleyball and Sunday brunch — never change, even in a new locale. Ingham said the 2020 grads have gotten together for a handful of post-church feasts at her and Blunt’s apartment, continuing the custom.
“Those were nice because it felt a lot like a Sunday brunch at Hillsdale,” Ingham said. “They’re long, we talk about similar things that we talk about there — in part because we just have that shared background and experience.”
Ingham added that she did not normally brunch with this group prior to moving to Kentucky.
More recently, a large group of Hillsdale alumni joined together for a game of volleyball.
“That was like we were all out at Hayden Park again,” Shelby Lohman said.
Before 2018, only two Hillsdale students taught at Highlands Latin School: Kyle and Vanessa Janke, 2008 graduates. Kyle Janke still teaches at Highlands, while Vanessa Janke is taking the year off while they have their fourth child, Shelby Lohman said.
Even in 2019, when Shelby decided to join the growing cluster of alumni at Highlands, it was because her husband Andrew was going to graduate school for aquaculture and aquatic sciences at Kentucky State University — though she added having Liebing around, already one of her close friends, was a plus.
Though the Lohmans live in Frankfurt, nearly 40 minutes from the rest of the alumni in Louisville, Shelby said this is not always a bad thing.
“In a way, it’s nice that we’re a bit distanced from the rest of the Hillsdale kids — well, it’s a double-edged sword,” Shelby said. “But it forces us to do things outside of spending time with Hillsdale people. It’s not like we were at Hillsdale for four years and now we’re basically still at Hillsdale. We’ve made friends with other students at KSU where Andrew goes to school, and in the community. I think if we were in such close proximity, there would be less incentive to do that. You tend to cling to what you know.”
This year, the Hillsdale community truly began to burgeon. Formerly, all the other Hillsdale teachers were in the middle and elementary schools save Shelby. Now, Uram, Swenson, and Messiter are also teaching at the high school, and Willis has also moved from the lower to the upper school, which Lohman said she has really enjoyed.
“I think I’ve talked to Nick more in the last month or so than I did in all four years of Hillsdale,” Lohman said.
Many of the alumni now in Louisville were also originally from the Midwest, Ingham pointed out — the Lohmans, Uram, Blunt, and Messiter from Michigan, Swenson from Minnesota, Votel from Minnesota, and Ingham from Ohio. This has led to a few not-in-Kansas-anymore moments for Ingham, she said, such as when a local woman shared about driving to Toledo, Ohio, Ingham’s hometown.
“She said she felt claustrophobic with all the cornfields,” Ingham said, laughing. “I feel just the opposite. I miss having more fields. In Louisville, there’s a lot of concrete. I miss that aspect of the Midwest.”
For Messiter, the moment was when a group of Hillsdale graduates decided to watch the Kentucky Derby together, which was postponed to September due to COVID-19. Having never participated in the 145-year-old horse racing tradition, Messiter said they had no idea the race itself would be so short.
“None of us are from Kentucky, so there was a little confusion about there being seven hours of buildup for the 90-second-long race,” Messiter said. “We’re still trying to figure out Kentucky.”
The Lohmans said they didn’t attend the derby watch-party, but have definitely “come to appreciate bourbon a lot more” since moving to the bluegrass state.
Andrew Lohman said his wife also occasionally picks up the southern accent or mannerisms.
“Andrew still sounds like a Michigander, on the other hand,” Shelby replied.