Clyde Brown couldn’t help but get misty-eyed while renewing wedding vows with his wife, Toby, on Sunday.
It brought back so many memories — some happy, some moving, some comical.
The couple met playing pinochle at McKendree College in the mid-1970s. Clyde was a biology major, and Toby was studying art.
“Our real first date was probably for my 21st birthday,” said Clyde, 61, of Belleville. “We went to the movies. We saw ‘Blazing Saddles.’ It was a comedy. It was fun.”
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The couple got married in 1977, a year after Clyde graduated and a year before Toby.
The Browns were among 25 couples who renewed wedding vows at McKendree’s Bothwell Chapel in Lebanon. They varied by age, occupation and hometown, but all met at the college, which now is a university.
The Alumni Relations office organized the mass ceremony as part of homecoming festivities.
“It went better than we expected,” said Director P.J. Thompson. “We weren’t sure how many couples were going to show up. We thought if we had five or 10, that would be great, but we ended up with 25.”
The longest-married couple, the Rev. Ralph and Jennie Lynn Totten, of Woodlawn, recently celebrated their 64th anniversary. The shortest-married couple, Adam and Tricia Schwind, of Lebanon, are going on three years.
Dan and Ann Bosslet were celebrating their 35th anniversary on Sunday.
“When we got the information (about the vow renewal), we thought, ‘We met at McKendree and it was going to be held on our actual 35th anniversary. How could we not do it?’” said Dan, 57, of St. Louis.
Couples gathered in the university’s 1828 Cafe, where they got boutonnieres and bouquets of yellow and purple flowers. They walked in a procession to the chapel, where about 50 friends and family members sat in pews.
Jason Ayran held 2-year-old son Nicholas in his arms while wife Sarah carried 6-month-old Thomas in a pumpkin seat.
“We definitely wanted to bring them here and show them where Mom and Dad went to school,” said Jason, 30, of O’Fallon. “McKendree holds a special place in our hearts.”
The Ayrans met through mutual friends in 2004. Sarah was a religious studies major active with campus ministry and yearbook. Jason studied marketing, worked as a dorm residence assistant and played golf.
“He proposed on Thanksgiving, which is the day my dad proposed to my mom,” said Sarah, 29. “And my grandparents were actually married on Thanksgiving, so he knew that was an important day in my family.”
The Ayrans got married in 2009 at St. Teresa’s Catholic Church in Belleville.
Thompson and McKendree President James Dennis welcomed guests to the vow renewal. Dennis noted that more than 1,000 living couples have met at the university and married.
“(The ceremony is) a way of remembering, ‘Once a bearcat, always a bearcat,’” Thompson quipped.
Sunday’s officiant was the Rev. Don Wagner, pastor of St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Lebanon and McKendree alum, Class of ‘84.
After the ceremony, couples blew bubbles outside then headed back to the cafe for wedding cake and punch. Carl “Skip” Schwerdtfeder thanked Thompson for the experience.
“I’ve always wanted to get married in the chapel,” said Skip, 74, of Elizabeth, near Galena. “It was condemned when we were in school.”
Skip, a history major, met his future wife, Carol, a sociology major, at freshman orientation in 1959. He asked her out on the spot. They got married a year later.
Most couples dressed up for the vow renewal, but Lori and John Cummins, of Lebanon, went all out. Lori, 52, bought a raspberry colored strapless gown, and John, 55, wore a tux.
Mary Philip carried a gold-framed photo that showed her and her husband, Dave, cutting a four-tier wedding cake in 1964.
“Believe it or not, that was an angel food cake,” said Mary, 73, a retired English teacher at Belleville East. “Everyone loved it. The bottom layer was made out of four heart-shaped cakes.”
Mary was one of several graduates proud that McKendree runs in the family. She’s the second of three generations who attended the university and became teachers.
One of Clyde and Toby’s two daughters also earned an education degree at McKendree.
“I was involved in the alumni board for about 20 years,” Clyde said. “(As a student) I introduced my sister to one of my fraternity brothers, and they got married. They live in Seattle, but they came here for the ceremony as well.”