Happy Valentine’s Day!
Let’s not trot out the cliché: “Love is in the air.”
Oops, we just did. OK, scratch that.
It is true, though, that love has started and lasted for students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
Some meet here and stay here, landing jobs at UTC after graduation.
Some are current UTC students who plan to graduate together.
Some meet, break up, get back together and spend more than two decades as a couple.
Here are stories of lasting love with a UTC connection.
Put together as a pair
Emily Martin kinda knew the guy who yelled “Hi” at her when she and her mom were leaving Chili’s restaurant in downtown Chattanooga.
“My mom was like, ‘Who is that?'” she said. “And I said, ‘Oh, it’s just that Tyler Forrest guy.'”
That same Tyler Forrest guy who kept coming by her desk when they were both students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 2008 and she worked in the Chancellor’s Office.
“He just kept walking past my desk and I’d be like, ‘Hey.’ And I just kept thinking, ‘Gosh, I see that guy around a lot.'”
It wasn’t by accident, he said.
“I would make it a point quite frequently to go into the Chancellor’s Office to see her,” Tyler said. “I still vividly remember where she would sit in there because I used to make quite a few trips to see her.”
His persistence and personality paid off. The two have been married since June 2010 and now have two children, five-year-old Caroline and three-year-old Ben. Today, Tyler is vice chancellor for finance and administration at UTC. Emily now shares “colors and numbers” with their kids while also managing several properties they own.
Before taking on those jobs, she worked at UTC for five years, first as coordinator of programs and events, then as associate director of stewardship and advancement services in the Office of Development and Alumni Affairs.
Emily graduated from UTC in 2009 with a bachelor’s in business administration. Tyler earned a bachelor’s in business in 2010, an MBA in 2012 and Ph.D. in 2021, all from UTC.
When listing one of the reasons they originally were attracted to each other and still are, both use the same phrase: “Put together.”
“He just was very put together and, you know, he never met a stranger,” she said. ” He was an all-around great guy. I just knew that he was the one.”
“She’s very put together,” he said. “She’s very organized. She fits me quite well. She’s a good listener. I’m a good talker. ”
The listener/talker combination was valuable on their first date, when he was brave (let’s go with that) enough to ask her to a University of Tennessee football game in Knoxville. And she was brave (let’s go with that again) enough to accept.
So it was two hours in a car to Knoxville, four hours or so for the game and two hours back in a car.
“I was very nervous about that because I thought, ‘Here is probably an eight-hour period. Now I’m gonna have to come up with conversation,'” he recalled. “So I had written out some advanced topics on notes first, just in case I needed them.”
Emily scoffs at that.
“Tyler never runs out of things to say, so I’m not sure why he was worried about that.”
Break-up to make-up
James Howard was standing in a nightclub in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, having one of the worst times of his life, when he realized he’d made a huge mistake.
He’d broken up with Christy Thau after they’d been dating for a year and a half and just before she was about to graduate from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga in 1996.
“It was the first and only club I’ve ever been to,” he said, “but that’s where I truly fell in love with Christy.”
He drove home to Chattanooga as fast as he could with a marriage proposal on his mind, hoping to make it back in time for her commencement.
“I remember sneaking into The Round House to see her graduate,” he said.
He wasn’t that sneaky. Christy saw him and felt bad, too.
“I was excited for graduation, but then in walks James, and he’s right in front of me, and it was heartbreak all over again,” she said.
The pain didn’t last. The two just celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary on Jan. 18. They have two daughters, Gracie, 21, and Lucy, 13.
When the Howards first met at UTC, they hit it off immediately. She was studying interior design at UTC and he was studying communications at UTC and Chattanooga State Community College.
Before meeting him, Christy had heard James speak at the Baptist Student Union on Vine Street. She quickly asked her Cupid of a friend for the pivotal, official set-up.
As the host of the morning show on WDEF-FM/Sunny 92.3, it’s no surprise that James is the talkative, outgoing one. Christy is more shy and introverted.
Spend a minute with them, though, and you can see and feel their connection. They finish each other’s sentences in the best way and laugh a lot. Their personalities couldn’t be more different, they said, but that that’s the key to their compatibility.
“Communication is huge for any couple … and that’s my weakness,” she said. “James is much more expressive and I admire that about him.”
“She balances me out and vice versa,” he said.
Both born and raised in the Scenic City, the Howards had mutual friends growing up but didn’t meet each other until both were enrolled at UTC. Cupid, as fate’s fickle fancy would have it, actually set James up with another Christy in their group of friends. He and “the wrong Christy” only had one date, he said.
Christy (the right one) said her husband has always been a romantic. One night he asked her to wear a blindfold and drove her to the Collegedale Municipal Airport after a covert ice cream stop.
“I had no idea what was going to happen,” she said.
A pilot and aviation enthusiast, James uncovered her eyes as the runway’s blue lights flickered on, and “we watched the stars for hours that night and ate a melted banana split,” Christy said.
With 25 years of marriage behind them, Christy and James know every moment isn’t dipped in sunshine. “Every marriage has its ups and downs. Its strengths and weaknesses,” Christy said.
When you’re lucky in love, though, it usually works out, especially if there’s a secret message between the two.
One of James’s continuous, tried-and-true commitments to Christy is always opening the car door for her.
“Even when I’m frustrated because we’re arguing or something, and I don’t want to open that door, I open that door,” he said. “And those nine or 10 seconds it takes her to get is like a breath, and we know we’re going to get through this.”
Married: With classes
It’s a bit tough when your classes are on opposite sides of the campus at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
And you don’t attend classes on the same days.
And one of you is on the rowing team and the other is on the Ultimate Frisbee team and practice times don’t line up with each other.
But all those obstacles usually weren’t and today aren’t problems for Chynna and Ben Cohen.
“We don’t really run into to each other that often,” Chynna said, “but I love being on campus together. I think it’s like a super-unique experience.”
Having married in August 2021, they also have the experience—super-unique, too, maybe—of being a married couple graduating at the same time.
In May, Chynna will receive a bachelor’s degree in the double major of exercise science and sport, outdoor recreation and tourism management. At the same time, Ben will receive a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering.
Having your spouse on campus can be a plus, even if you only can spend a few minutes together, they said.
“In the past, if we were both here, we would always meet for lunch or sometimes breakfast,” explained Chynna, who does most of the talking while Ben sits quietly beside her.
“It’s nice having her here,” he said.
Even when they were on campus at the same time, Chynna spent most of her time on the west side in the Metro Building. Ben was over on the east side, camped out in the College of Engineering and Computer Science building.
As long as they can spend time together, even in small chunks, the distance isn’t an issue. Thirty minutes is enough.
“Just sitting down, talking to each other about your day, how you’re feeling and just spend time catching up,” Chynna said. “I think the stress comes when we get too busy, invested into other things that we’re doing instead of each other.”
They admit, though, that their initial attraction was purely physical. She’s 6’1″ and he’s 6’5″ (no, they don’t play basketball).
“So his height attracted me at first, but he’s super-sweet and fun to be around. He’s goofy and silly,” Chynna said
Her height was the first thing he noticed, too, Ben said, but it quickly went deeper that.
“I actually got to know her, and she’s my favorite person to hang out with. It’s been great having your best friend to get to marry.”
One more visual thing, though.
“She’s obviously super-pretty.”
Love, love, love all the love stories!!! The writing made me laugh and the stories are sweet!!!
Sears, Scrappys, and UTC. Just celebrated our 35th anniversary.