Illinois alums tell their love stories years after graduating together


Photos Courtesy of Scott and Kathy Christensen and Shawn and Kate Mayernick

(Left) Scott and Kathy Christensen at the Delta Chi winter formal in 1980. (Right) Shawn and Kate Mayernick in the Fall of 1999 at an Illini football game.

By Sam Schrage, Staff writer

College relationships come and go, but for Kate and Shawn Mayernick and Scott and Kathy Christensen, the romance lasted far longer than a night out at KAM’s.

For many people, Valentine’s Day is a day to cherish the love between you and to your significant other and reflect on your memories as a couple. For these two couples, Valentine’s Day is a day that reminds them of where their love stories began.

If you ask Shawn Mayernick when he first fell in love with his wife, Kate, he’ll tell you it was the first time they met in fall 1998 at his fraternity’s (Alpha Tau Omega) barn dance. The moment Kate walked up the steps onto the bus, Shawn was smitten.

“I thought she was literally the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen, and I still do today,” Shawn said.

Although the couple met briefly that night, they didn’t reconnect until next semester at KAM’s. It was Shawn’s 13th-straight night going out, and Kate had just ditched serenades with her sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta. Needless to say, they instantly hit it off and went out on their first real date four days later at Kite and Key, a joint sorority date event.

Then, 23 days later, Shawn told Kate he loved her and since then the two have been inseparable.  

“I could have said that I would marry Kate in the first 23 days we were dating,” Shawn said. “It sounds crazy, but all I wanted to do was to be with Kate because nothing else mattered. Everything changed for me when I met her. I still look up to her to this day.”

For Scott and Kathy Christensen, their love story began in the first week of freshman year at Quad Day. 

However, when Scott asked Kathy to his Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity formal in fall 1980, it took some convincing until she finally said yes.

“He asked me and I said no because my roommate liked him. For a couple of weeks, he kept trying to talk me into it,” Kathy said. “But as luck would have it, my roommate moved on to someone else so we thought it would be OK if we went together.”

After countless dinners at Zorba’s and date events with Scott’s fraternity, Delta Chi, and Kathy’s sorority, Chi Omega, the couple dated off and on for the entirety of their college career.  

However, it wasn’t until Scott and Kathy took some time apart that they realized they were meant to be together.

After breaking off her engagement with someone else, Kathy realized the one person she missed in her life was Scott.

“You’re young, and you think you need to experience more of life. I luckily realized in time that I was probably passing up something much better than what I thought I wanted,” Kathy said.

Ultimately, it was the time apart that strengthened their relationship even more.

“We fell in love immediately. We met at 18 when we were pretty young, and we didn’t even realize what we had. It took time and some breakups and heartaches to ultimately strengthen our relationship,” Scott said.

Scott and Kathy were married in 1987 — about a year after they reconnected.

Having celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary just last year, the couple couldn’t be happier with how their life turned out. They have three daughters: Carly, Sara and Abbey, who is a current University student. The couple currently resides in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Shawn and Kate also found that time apart after college to be beneficial to their relationship. They admit that long-distance relationships can be hard, but they said having space to breathe and grow professionally really helped them grow as individuals and as a couple.

“A lot of times, being apart was helpful because we started to realize how much we did care for each other. We were trying to become successful in our own ways, but that timing was good because it gave us some time to learn and breathe,” Shawn said.

It was their time apart that made Kate realize what she and Shawn had would last a lifetime.

“I knew I was going to marry him when I was working in New York City,” Kate said. “I was walking down Fifth Avenue and talking to Shawn on the phone and he said, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore. You have to sell your condo and move in with me.’ That’s when I thought, this is forever, this is really forever.”

Approaching their 10th wedding anniversary this year, Shawn and Kate now live in Springfield, Illinois. They have two sons named Pierce and Palmer.

Both couples agree that their time at the University helped shape them as people and in their relationship.

“We love the University of Illinois. We always say we bleed orange and blue. We are so fond of our memories of U of I and how the University shaped us and allowed to grow and change,” Kate said. “We loved our life there; it was home to us. We’re hoping our children will want to go there too,” Kate said.

For Kathy, it was the confidence she gained and the friendships she made that made her time at the University one of the best times of her life.  

“It was an amazing time of life. You grow up so much, and I was much more confident as a person after having succeeded at Illinois and learning about what you can actually accomplish on your own,” Kathy said. “My friends that I made at Illinois are still my friends today. It was really impactful and formed the rest of my life.”

As Scott reflects on his time at the University, he says he treasured his time as Chief Illiniwek the most. Scott played the Chief for three years after trying out during the spring semester of his freshman year.

“Being Chief was pretty special. Kathy was there the day I tried out — she helped me with my dance for months,” Scott said. “Whether people are for it or against it, at the time, it was something pretty special. It was a great way for me to make my mark at the University.”

Kate also had an active role in sporting events as a cheerleader during her freshman and sophomore years. Now, Kate loves to share that part of the Illinois experience with her sons at football and basketball games.

“I think some of the sporting events are our favorite just because going back now as adults and taking our kids back there is like reliving some of those college days we were fond of and makes us feel part of campus,” Kate said.

As both couples reflect on their relationships in college, they urge other college couples to value compromise, consideration and to let the other person grow — even if that means taking time apart.

These couples’ relationships are an inspiration to not only the University community, but also to those closest to them.

Part of what made Abbey Christensen, sophomore in ACES, decide to attend the University was the stories and experiences her parents shared with her.

“I think my parents have shown me what I want to have when I’m older,” Abbey said. “They have stories about everything and have known each other for so long. They love each so much, and I could only hope for something like they have,” Abbey said.

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