Alumni Director’s Welcome

I enjoy hearing a good love story. I especially enjoy watching one unfold right before my very eyes. I’ve seen couples fall in love at The Lake — and I’ve seen couples return to campus and reminisce about the sparks that flew on that first date.

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, this month’s edition of the Alumni Newsletter features stories of graduates who found “Love at the Lake” and got married. In one of the narratives, you’ll read how I and several of my colleagues at Our Lady of the Lake University played cupid for a special pair of students.

There is no possible way to count the number of alumni couples who graduated and married. But after soliciting stories through social media, we are happy to share select tales that will warm your heart, and perhaps, cause you to take a romantic stroll down memory lane.

Our featured Alumni Donors, Hector and Martha Gonzalez, have an especially moving story about love and heartbreak and triumph. Their legacy is inspirational.

I trust you will enjoy reading these and other stories in this issue of the Alumni Newsletter.

Happy Valentine’s!

Debora Guzman

Finding Love at the Lake

When Richard Garcia made his first move on the cute girl in class, it was so subtle, she didn’t notice. When he made the second move, outside of class, she did not recognize the overture. The third move? Ana Linda Rodriguez remained clueless.

Cupid’s arrow had been striking since her professor, a Sister teaching Business Communications, had divided students into study groups. It was then, in the spring of 1993, that Ana Linda found herself in a group with Richard. He suggested group members exchange phone numbers (clue No. 1), you know, in case somebody missed an assignment.

When Richard called Ana Linda (clue No. 2), he asked for a copy of her notes. What Richard didn’t say was that he never took notes. When Richard called again (clue No. 3) and again (No. 4), and again (No.5), Ana Linda chatted on, wondering how Richard managed to make As on every assignment without taking notes.

A friend clued her in: “Duh, Ana! This guy likes you.”

Shortly after they began dating, Ana Linda, by accident, overheard a phone conversation. Richard told a member of his rock band, Firefox, that he was quitting. He intended to marry a girl he’d met and the band was intruding on his time with her on weekends. Firefox needed to find a new bass player.

“That’s when I realized how serious our relationship had become after only a few weeks,” she says. “We became inseparable and spent a lot of time, sitting outside the campus courtyard, studying in the library or hanging out in Providence Hall.”

Ana Linda graduated in May 1993 with a bachelor’s in business administration. Richard graduated in December 1993 with the same degree.

“He proposed on Christmas Eve 1994 at his mother’s home with roses and a gift-wrapped box with the ring,” she says. “That evening, we attended Mass at the Lake and waited until the next day to share the news.”

Twenty years after they married in Sacred Heart Chapel, Richard and Ana Linda Garcia live in Burbank, Calif. with their four sons. Richard is a structural engineer with the city of Los Angeles; Ana Linda a Walt Disney Imagineer in Human Resources.

“Our Lady of the Lake University is truly special for us because it’s the place where our love began,” Ana Linda says. “Richard was and remains the sweetest guy I know and we love spending time together. We are best friends and cannot imagine life without the other. I guess we are pretty lucky.” …

Many alumni couples — too numerous to count — have found Love at the Lake. We feature some of their stories below:

 

They met in the office of a math professor, Sister Marilyn Molloy, CDP, PhD. After one class of pre-calculus, Zeke Aguilera wanted to move up to calculus. Yvonne Villegas came for the same reason. Sr. Molloy did not know it, but by granting both requests, she was setting up a couple for love.

“We were a couple of nerds,” recalls Zeke, Assistant Registrar at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. . “After that, we quickly became friends as a result of the Lake’s confirmation class. We both came to the Lake to challenge ourselves and it didn’t hurt that the male to female ratio was about 1 to 14 back in 1998.”

Yvonne, a propulsion systems engineer for NASA: “We were best friends for four years before we started dating. There was never a good time where we were both ‘available’ until my last semester at the Lake. Also, there was that fear of taking that next step and the potential of losing a best friend if it didn’t work out.”

Zeke (BA Math and English 2002): “I was a little slow to realize that my best friend was soon gonna get away. So while on Christmas break in 2001, I finally made my move. I traveled 12 hours from the Rio Grande Valley for a friend’s wedding to El Paso to let her know how I felt. It turns out she felt the same way. The only thing that sucked was that she was graduating in May 2002 and I was not going to be done until December 2002. If that wasn’t enough she had a summer internship in Huntsville, Alabama.

”As it turns out, we survived the long distance and I moved to Huntsville in January 2003 to be with my ‘boo.’ On her 23rd birthday, I asked her to marry me. On Dec. 18, 2004, we got married in Sacred Heart Chapel. We recently celebrated our 10th anniversary and have been blessed with a healthy son, now 3-months old.”

Yvonne (BA Chemistry 2002): “I can honestly say I married my best friend.”

 

Aracely Perez remembers the office whispers: “He’s totally checking you out!” Ashlon Filsinger remembers the office nudges: “You two would look so adorable together.”

A band of friends in the OLLU Development Office played matchmaker until the two work study students got together. On Aracely’s 21st birthday in 2007, Ashlon took her to see “We Own The Night” at the Alamo Drafthouse. They thought they could keep the developing relationship a secret.

“We didn’t want the office to know we were dating,” Aracely says, “but nothing got past them. Amy saw the way I would blush when Ashlon passed by. Cyndi, John and Debora saw us holding hands while going to the cafeteria, class or school events. Dora caught Ashlon winking at me while I was filing paperwork.”

Two months after their movie date, Ashlon and Aracely made it official. They were a couple. On Valentine’s Day the next year, Ashlon took a bouquet of roses to the office to surprise his love. A woman there — “slightly oblivious to our courtship,” Aracely says — thought they were for her.

Ashlon graduated in 2009 with a bachelor’s in history. Today, he’s an assistant branch manager at Security Service Federal Credit Union. “I was proposed to and graduated in May 2010 with my bachelor’s in Communication Disorders,” says Aracely, who works at Epic Pediatric Therapy.

They were married on Aug. 12, 2011. “We would like to say, ‘Thank you,’ to our cupids; Amy Minton, Cyndi Cavazos, Peggy Prather, Debora Guzman-Perez, John Sanchez and Dora Ramos,” Aracely says. “We hope our love story, like so many others, shows the beauty of a small school ambience and the hope that you can find love in the tiniest of places.”

 

Love at the Lake -David_GeriThe idea came David Smith in a burst of cupid-inspired creativity. Why not invite that lovely girl he’d seen around campus, the one with whom he had chatted briefly in the UWAC, to join a club? David admits to nerves. He recalls that when they first met, at 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning, she  seemed far too chipper for the hour. But David summoned his courage and made his move.

The result? Geraldine Rodriguez said why yes, she would be happy to join “Student for Healthy Decisions.” Next thing you know, Geraldine was dressing up as a life-sized cigarette butt for an event called, “Stop Smoking Day,” and that’s how their romance got sparked. “Ever since that humorous start,” David says, “Geraldine and I have been joined at the hip.”

That was in 1999. David (B.S. Electronic Commerce 2002) proposed to Geraldine (BBA 2002, MBA 2005, M.S. Organizational Leadership 2007, PhD Leadership Studies 2011) on Christmas Eve 2003, a guy from a small country town outside Austin to a girl with a large family from Mexico. But first he sought the blessing of her grandparents.

“Looking back, it must have been hilarious to see this kid who didn’t speak Spanish trying to explain to them in Spanish how much he loved their granddaughter and wanted to marry her,” David says. “I was pretty sure that I got their blessing but given how bad my Spanish was, I just as easily could have asked them if I could to buy a toaster in Laredo. Fast forward a few weeks. Apparently the proposal had become the worst kept secret in the family. All night everyone kept fighting over who could sit closest to us for the front row view, which was quite funny in itself to see. Going traditional, just after midnight I got down on one knee and asked the question.”

They married in June 2004. The young lady who said “yes” is a customer support operations manager at Pearson, Inc. “The Lake holds a very special place in our hearts,” says David, the labor and employment manager at Six Flags Fiesta Texas. “The experience we had there shaped our future and laid the foundation for who we have become. We are blessed to have each other and are grateful to The Lake for being the place where it all started.”

 

Alec and Gennelle TomicLove at the Lake -Alec and Genelle Tomic

It was a reality TV romance. Sort of. Alec Tomic and Gennelle Fernandez met on a television set in St. Martin’s Hall in 2010. She was directing; he was working the camera. Several classmates assisted, and because many were speaking in Spanish, Genelle directed in the language of Mexico. She asked the cameraman a question in Spanish. Alec, a native of Pozega, Serbia, did not respond.

“When he didn’t reply I asked him if he understood and he said he did not because he didn’t speak Spanish,” Genelle says. “I laughed and felt so bad for assuming. After the production, Alec came up to me and we started talking about our cultures and our interest. We talked as we walked back to our dorm room, Flores, and before I went up to my room he asked me for my ‘digits.’ From that day on, there was a spark and that was the start of our love story. Aleksandar asked me to be his girlfriend on December 25, 2010.”

Two years later … Genelle opened a Christmas gift. Inside the wrapping was a jewelry box, which she had wanted. Alec told her to open the drawers. The last one contained rose petals. Among the red petals was a rose stem with a diamond ring. “As soon as I realized what was happening,” Genelle says, “Alec was on one knee, asking me to be his wife.”

Since graduating and starring on the men’s basketball team, Alec (BBA 2011) has become an accounting specialist for Vutex. Gennelle (BA Liberal Arts 2011) is a facilitator for Nationwide Insurance.

“Alec and I got married on Dec. 27, 2014 in Dorado , Puerto Rico. Since I was little, I had always wanted to get married on the beach. He made that dream come true.  As we exchanged our vows, there was a rainbow in the sky. Alec and I believe that was our grandparents’ present to us from heaven. That day was the best of our lives.”

 

Love at the Lake-Gabe and CarolNavaThe first sparks flew at a picnic. On a volleyball court at Raymond Russell Park, Carol Quiroga noticed the cute guy’s athleticism. Gabriel Nava noticed the pretty girl’s legs. They were there, on a chilly spring afternoon in 1985, with classmates at an all-day event for OLLU friends.

They had seen each other in a computer lab but didn’t meet until the picnic. The connection was instant. They talked and laughed and carried on. By the end of the evening, Gabriel and Carol were holding hands. “She borrowed my jacket that night as it was cold and she ended up keeping it,” recalls Gabriel (BBA 1987). “I think she did that to make sure I would call her the next day — which I did. And from there, it was love forevermore.”

Thirty years later, Carol (BBA 1988) confirms the jacket story as the great beginning. “By fall of 1985, we were boyfriend and girlfriend,” she says. “We were inseparable. We studied, worked out, ate and watched TV together. What attracted me first was his athleticism, then his humor and intelligence. Over time, I realized he was just a giving and good person and fell more in love with  him for those qualities.”

They dated for five years and married on Nov. 17, 1990. Today, Gabriel is an IRS agent in the Large Business and International Division in San Antonio. Carol is a senior manager in Information Systems Organizations at the University of Texas Health Science Center. They have two children — a 10th grader and 7th grader — and will be celebrating their 25th anniversary this year.

“As the years have passed, I have been blessed to be on the receiving end of the real beauty that Carol has inside,” Gabriel says. “Like my aunt told me, ‘The nicer the person is inside the prettier they are outside.’ All true for my wife, Carol.”

 

In a sand sculpture on South Padre Island, he posed the question: “Will you marry me, Oralia?” What was supposed to be a graduation party for Emilio Guerra (BBA 2012, MS Accounting 2013) turned into a proposal before a large gathering of family and friends.

Oralia Anaya said “yes” and a whirlwind followed. Emilio, a senior accountant for AT&T Services, Inc., and Oralia (BBA 2011, MBA 2012) married on Feb. 14, 2014, and enjoyed a Catholic ceremony the next day at Sacred Heart Chapel.

Theirs was a relationship that began slowly. They met in December 2009 at a midnight breakfast on campus, right before finals. Emilio and Oralia talked into the wee hours of morning. She felt a connection but Emilio did not ask for her number, and they lost touch over Christmas break. Providence brought them together the next semester in an International Business class.

He asked for her number to “borrow” a book. They began texting and talking and feelings began to spark. “One day I forgot to text him and he got upset and stopped talking to me for a whole month,” says Oralia, a branch manager for Enterprise Rent A Car. “At the end of the semester we started talking again because of a study group. Summer came and we would text every day but did not see each other. In October of 2010, I went to Barcelona on a study tour with other OLLU students and that is when I realized I wanted to be more than friends because I missed talking to him every day. When I came back, I convinced him to be part of an organization that I was vice president of. On Oct. 28, 2010, we were organizing a Halloween event. It ended late, so he walked me to my car. It was chilly outside so he wrapped his arm around me to keep me warm. I opened the car door but before I could get in, he turned around and gave me our first kiss.”

A year after Oralia earned her bachelor’s, Emilio graduated and planned a party at South Padre Island. There on the beach, she found a sculpture with a proposal written in sand.

 

Love at the Lake-Renée and AndrewHe proposed on the bank of the Riverwalk. Surrounded by members of two families, she said, “yes.” It was then, in 2007, that Andrew Licon, a wealth advisor, and Renee´Pena, a legal secretary, began planning their wedding. The dream was to get married at OLLU the following year.

“Not only is that our alma mater, it is the place that brought us together,” says Andrew, who works for Frost Brokerage Services in Addison. “So like other alumni, we immediately booked Sacred Heart Chapel. In May 2008, though, we thought all our plans would change as flames engulfed Main Building. We prayed for everyone’s safety and also that the fire would not spread to the Chapel or other parts of the campus.”

Andrew and Renee´met in an English class taught by the late Howard Benoist. The spent the entire spring semester of 2002 without speaking until they found themselves in a computer lab in the library. They struck up a conversation and carried it on to lunch at Lisa’s Restaurant.

As residents of Providence Hall, they dated mostly on campus, dining in the cafe, taking in plays at Thiry Auditorium, watching the ducks at Lake Elmendorf. Andrew became President of the Student Government Association; Renee´became a Lake Ambassador and Camp Dillo Student Leader. Andrew (BA Marketing 2005) and Renee (BA Psychology 2005) graduated and took jobs in San Antonio. Three years later, they watched a four-alarm fire burn Main.

“On Aug. 30, 2008, only three months after the fire, our dreams of getting married at OLLU in Sacred Heart Chapel came true,” Andrew says. “Over the years, we have continued to stop by campus and walk the halls where we met and spent our days getting to know one another. We are always amazed at how God brought a Dallas/Fort Worth boy and a San Antonio girl together and blessed us to have Our Lady of the Lake as the place where our love began.”

 

Aaron worked as a student employee in the Psychology Department. Claudia was employed in the Harry Jersig Center. A co-worker of Aaron’s mother, Diana Ramos, thought Claudia Rodriguez would be a “perfect match” for him. So mom and two OLLU co-workers — one in the Psychology Department, the other in Harry Jersig — played cupid in the summer of 2003 and arranged a “chance” meeting by inviting the students to lunch. No sparks flew, and Diana Ramos (BA Art 2006, MA Human Sciences 2009), thought that was that.

It wasn’t. One day, Aaron fixed a tire for Claudia’s car. “A few weeks later, I finally built up enough fortitude to ask for her phone number,” Aaron says. “She respectfully declined my request but took my number instead.”

A relationship began forming. In the spring of 2004, they took a class with John Nira, PhD, professor of Religious Studies and Theology. Dr. Nira told Diana that Aaron and Claudia began sitting closer and closer to one another as the semester progressed.

After dating a while, Aaron took additional coursework so he could graduate with Claudia in the spring of 2005. Today, Aaron (BA Psychology 2005, M.S. Counseling Psychology 2007) is a licensed professional counselor; Claudia (B.S. Education 2005) is a teacher at Northside ISD. “I would love to take the credit for matching my son to his wife,” Diana says, “but Providence may have come into play.”

Aaron: “In February 2009, I proposed to Claudia in her pre-k classroom with about 15 4- year-old witnesses surrounding us. We were married six months later. We have two beautiful children. Our Lady of the Lake University will always be a sentimental place for us.”

Alumni Donors: Hector and Martha Gonzalez

Love at the Lake-Hector and Martha GonzalezHector Gonzalez was a homesick freshman from El Paso when he saw the striking brunette, gliding through the halls. He tried to make eye contact as she approached. He offered a smile, then a “hello,” hoping she would reciprocate. But she moved on, right past him, as if she didn’t notice.

Hector waved the next time he saw her. She did not respond. Hector decided the girl was rude. When he saw the brunette again, Hector stopped her.

“Why won’t you say, ‘hello?’”

The girl laughed. “Oh, that must have been my twin sister, Martha.”

Twin sister? Yeah, right, Hector thought. Later, a young lady approached Martha and said, “I want you to meet this guy I like.” The guy was Hector — and Hector was not interested in Martha’s friend. But he was thrilled to finally meet Martha.

If not for Providence, Hector would never have come to San Antonio. A sister, Maria Gonzalez, wanted to attend OLLU. Maria’s parents wanted her to stay in El Paso. Hector? He had no intention of going to OLLU. But then Maria and her parents reached a compromise: She could leave home if she didn’t go alone.

“Maria convinced Hector to come with her,” Martha says.

Hector did not take to OLLU right away. “Throughout the fall and mid-spring semester, he was homesick for El Paso,” Martha says. “He had made up his mind that he was going to finish the year at OLLU and return home by the summer. Well, he never left”

When the homesick freshman and brunette finally met, Hector discovered that she did have a twin sister, Elizabeth. During the fall of 1979, the three of them became good friends. “By the end of spring 1980,” Martha says, “we were officially a couple.”

In time, a second romance blossomed. Elizabeth Garza and Rogelio Ramirez, a fellow student, became a couple. Hector and Martha, meanwhile, spent all their time together. They attended basketball games (before the program was dropped) and prom; they enjoyed study sessions and dorm life; they shared meals in the cafeteria and hung out with friends they met from across the U.S. and around the world.

Then came a blow. Martha’s sister was diagnosed with aplastic anemia, a condition that prevented her from producing enough blood cells. Martha became a bone marrow and blood donor. Elizabeth cut back on school and made regular visits to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Martha dropped classes and rode the bus to visit her sister. The twins battled the condition together, but not without moments of triumph and joy.

A year after Hector earned a bachelor’s in social work, Martha graduated with a degree in biology in 1984. A year later, Elizabeth earned a bachelor’s in computer science. “We were so proud of her,” Martha says.

Hector proposed to Martha on Valentine’s Day 1986, and they married the same year. Elizabeth, meanwhile, began teaching computer science at St. John Bosco School and got married in March 1988. The following March, she passed away.

The years went by. Hector became a supervisor for pre-trial services in the federal court system. Martha became a substitute teacher in the Northside Independent School District. Children were born. The kids grew up and left home but not without hearing and treasuring the stories. “I owe my existence to OLLU,” says Jessica Gonzalez, 26, the oldest of Hector and Martha’s children, “for I would never have been born if my parents had not attended the school.”

Jessica knows that Dr. Francine Danis, a recently retired professor of English, taught her parents at OLLU. When Jessica enrolled at OLLU to pursue her master’s in Creative Writing,  Dr. Danis became her director and mentor at the Writing Center and hired her as a writing consultant. “It has been a blessed life,” Jessica says.

Martha agrees. She and Hector have become Alumni Donors and remain grateful to OLLU. “We want to give back to an institution that gave Hector and me the ability to succeed in all aspects of our lives,” Martha says. “Currently, OLLU is providing our eldest daughter, Jessica, with employment (through TRIO) and the opportunity to earn her master’s degree at the Lake. It has been Jessica’s dream to be a part of OLLU, where her parents met and graduated. She remembers all the wonderful stories we have shared with her and others about our life at the Lake.

“We have been married for over 28 years. God has blessed us with three children — Jessica, Joseph and Jennifer. We have purchased bricks in memory of my late twin sister and another brick in our names. We believe the money raised is going towards a good cause. As an educator, I will be sharing my skills by volunteering a few hours every month at the OLLU Writing and Tutoring Center. Giving back to our alma mater is a blessing.”

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