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Campus connections: Many love stories begin at NIU

Northern Illinois University graduate students Megan Kozenczak and Alex Pitner, both 24, browse Pinterest in their free time Wednesday on campus. They will both graduate in May and get married Dec. 19.
Northern Illinois University graduate students Megan Kozenczak and Alex Pitner, both 24, browse Pinterest in their free time Wednesday on campus. They will both graduate in May and get married Dec. 19.

DeKALB – It all started with a package of hot sauce.

Northern Illinois University graduate students Alex Pitner and Megan Kozenczak attended a friend’s wedding in July, where Pitner found a hot sauce package reading, “Will you marry me?”

It was a point in the relationship which first made the couple consider marriage. Three months later, they were engaged.

“He got down on one knee and said, ‘I couldn’t imagine spending my life with anyone else,’ ” Kozenczak, of Hampshire, said.

The couple is just one example of many who meet at NIU and end up getting married – many of them right on campus at the Holmes Student Center, Altgeld Hall or the Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center.

Ellen Andersen, special events director for the President’s Office, said 12 to 15 weddings are held at Altgeld alone each year. The student center caters to all three university venues.

“If couples did meet here, a lot of them want to come back to campus because it’s significant for them,” Andersen said.

Oswego native Meredith Garren will have NIU elements in her wedding in September. Garren, an NIU admissions counselor, met her future husband, Cameron Eskoss, while studying at NIU.

On Garren and Eskoss’ first date, they watched “The Proposal” followed by eating at Dairy Queen. At their wedding, they will have pictures on display from their time living in campus dorm rooms and time spent around campus.

Garren still remembers her dates with Eskoss on a college budget, when they gazed at the stars in NIU’s observatory, had study dates in the library and attended athletic events together.

“I was able to get my degree and still find the guy I was going to spend the rest of my life with,” she said.

Cindy Wallin, special events planner at NIU, said some students who meet on campus also become engaged there. Wallin remembers one couple who met in the student center’s Duke Ellington Ballroom during a concert and ended up getting engaged in the same room.

“They just thought it was a nice completion,” Wallin said. “They met here, now they propose here.”

Sugar Grove resident Meghann Wiles married her husband, Nick Wiles, in June 2007 in DeKalb after she transferred to the NIU as a sophomore.

The couple began casually dating pretty quickly, and the relationship evolved into something neither Meghann nor Nick Wiles expected, she said.

Meghann Wiles gives credits NIU for her 12 years with her husband, who is an Army veteran. They have a three-week-old son.

“So many good memories can take you back to when you were first meeting and dating,” Wiles said. “It always makes me nostalgic to think about Northern. Everything started because of that.”

Jack Barry, NIU senior and president of the Student Association, hopes his current one-year relationship with his girlfriend will turn into a lifelong partnership. Both Barry and his girlfriend, Susie Richard, are involved in numerous extracurricular activities, which is how they met.

“Northern gives people the opportunity to get involved, and you never know who you’re going to meet or what’s going to become of it,” Barry said.

Pitner and Kozenczak are looking forward to their wedding, set for Dec. 19. Pitner said he never would have met his fiancée if it wasn’t for NIU.

“It definitely fosters an environment for people to have that opportunity,” Pitner said.

Kozenczak actually kept the hot sauce package that was used as an odd reminder of their love for one another.

“The reason I kept the hot sauce was me telling him that I wanted to reassure him, ‘This is for when you’re ready,’ “ Kozenczak said.

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