From Residence Halls to Wedding Halls: Marriage at Whitman and Walla Walla University

Harry Kelso

Whether it be at Whitman, Walla Walla University, or wherever else, one’s first year at college is the opening to many directions in life. Across the board, one thing college students are interested in navigating is a relationship. While far more of us end up with confusion rather than clarity, a select few stumble across someone they will unwittingly grow old with. On campuses with such distinct cultures as Whitman and Walla Walla University, the latter of which is Seventh-Day Adventist institution, there is a chance of meeting “the one.”

A Whittie Romance

From participating in Greek life to becoming grandparents, Whitman alumni Howard and Roberta Paulson have come a long way since the spring of 1960, when they married their first year of college.

Roberta came to college from her nearby family farm in 1958 and lived in Anderson Hall.

One year later, in the fall of 1959, Howard arrived on campus from his hometown of Seattle. He knew some members of Tau Kappa Epsilon (TKE) and soon joined the fraternity. That first year, he dated many people, said Howard, and even wound up on a double date with Roberta.

This was all before they had gotten together.

One night, Roberta was set to go on a date with someone named Bruce from TKE, that is until he had to cancel. Bruce asked his fraternity brothers to take her out, so many of them lined up on Ankeny Field to race and settle the matter. Howard was the first to finish and immediately went to call up Roberta and ask her out.

The two dated throughout the fall semester and got married in the spring of 1960.

“I got married my freshman year of college,” Howard recalls, almost still in disbelief.

The Paulsons eventually settled down in Milton-Freewater to raise their kids.

“I think it’s easier to become involved in the community where your kids go to school. You know other parents in the area,” Roberta said.

Roberta and Howard were indeed involved in the local community.

They have found that many other Whitties stick around. For instance, their doctor is a Whitman graduate, as was the doctor who delivered their first kids. Their banker, financial advisor and an early employer of Howard’s were all Whitman graduates.

Strange how much time at college impacts the way in which our lives play out. For Roberta and Howard, Whitman College, accompanied by Greek life, fostered their relationship and made their life story possible.

“I believe in the fraternities,” Howard.

Not too long ago, Roberta met up with many old alumni of her sorority and of Howard’s fraternity. She says those relationships have stood the test of time and still bond them together.

Like his mother and father, Roberta and Howard’s son got married in his first year at college. They are still married, and life is good they say.

“Western Wedding University”

54 years later, and four miles away in College Place, seniors Licenna Bouit and Jake Newton of Walla Walla University (WWU) met one another not unlike Roberta and Howard in their first year of college.

During their first year orientation at WWU, deemed “Jump Start,” Newton saw Bouit, remarking it was “love at first sight.” Their friend groups formed through that initial period in Jump Start, but they did not officially meet until winter quarter.

In the middle of winter in the Blue Mountains, Bouit and Newton began talking, sheltered from the cold in the Bluewood Lodge, taking a breather from their snowboarding/ski class.

During class, they sat on the lift together by coincidence a few times, until sitting together became purposeful as they found they had an affinity for conversation with each other.

Soon after, Bouit and Newton began to date and found themselves busy amongst the shuffle of school, work and church.

Luckily, Bouit says that “ASWWU [WWU’s student government] events brought us together.”

They grew together as they became more involved on campus.

They were both RAs – she is now a resident dean of women at WWU. Working together helped, as did religion – she says church events helped them get together.

With the long list of responsibilities they have, being on a campus like that of Walla Walla University has worked out for them. Bouit admits though that “it worked” for them, but being that saturated and seeing one another all the time does not work for others.

Having been together for a long time, Newton began mulling over the idea of marriage last May, and Bouit says they had discussed it before this spring break.

So, over break, Bouit and Newton got engaged. The future looks bright for the couple. Newton has a potential job lined up and Bouit has been considering several options for after graduation.

Throughout their time together at Walla Walla University, and with the little time they have left, Bouit says all these things “facilitated an easier relationship.”

Easier is a relative term though, because WWU alum Josh Long says most relationships have their perpetual problems, his and wife Sasha’s included.

Josh and Sasha were both raised Seventh Day Adventists, but grew up in different settings – he in a coastal area densely populated with cows and she splitting her time between two states. Josh went through public schools up until college and Sasha enrolled in Christian schools.

In Josh’s own words, he believes Walla Walla University fostered his relationship with Sasha, just as it did for Bouit and Newton, and as Whitman did for the Paulsons.

“Where we do not differ is the values we try to live by and the values we come back to everyday. I think we probably could have pulled off being married going to a non-Christian school and still ended up being married,” Josh said. “But WWU created space where we did not just develop love and affection for each other but also a deeper sense of spirituality in ourselves.”

“By no means do I have it figured out and by no means [do] we always treat each other the way we’d like to be treated ourselves,” he added. “But our commitment [to] each other and service to others through God is unwavering I think in part to how and where our friendship developed at WWU.”

Josh and Sasha still reside in the community as Josh works for the Walla Walla Penitentiary.

Under Pressure

These stories of marriage from Josh and Sasha, Licenna and Jake, Howard and Roberta depict some of the happiest of circumstances. It should be remembered that these are wonderful stories with wonderful people, but by no means do they represent the norm.

Marriage rates among college-aged students continue to decline, but that interest in navigating a college relationship is still common on campuses beyond Walla Walla.

As seniors become alumni, many of them fly away to empower the world by the ideals in which they developed at either Walla Walla University or Whitman College.

Among Whitman alumni that are married, it is reported that 30 percent of them are married to another Whitman alumnus.

Walla Walla University’s Office of Alumni states that 17 percent of Walla Walla University alumni are married to another alumnus.

For other Walla Walla University students, such as sophomore Sam*, the pressure is real to get into a relationship as his older siblings have settled down. But finding love in the queer community on a campus like Walla Walla University is challenging, he said.

Further problems persist elsewhere on campus.

“There is even that whole mindset of ‘guys only go after freshman girls,’ because junior and senior girls, there is something wrong with them because they are not taken,” said WWU student Emily Robertson. “Like that’s literally some [people’s] mindset.”

On the flip side, when asked why so many people from his school get married, sophomore Aviation major Thomas Graham said, “I think many Walla Walla students get married because the winter quarter is so hard. Students are forced to stay indoors and actually talk to each other, therefore leading to people falling in love.”

The emphasis that WWU puts on marriage is emphasized by profiles listed on ASWWU’s website. A search of a WWU student’s name will bring up a profile, listing one’s relationship status (which is oftentimes “Looking” if not “In A Relationship”), major, minor, hobbies, as well as favorite books, movies and quotes so that someone looking for a relationship can find a compatible partner on the site.

A similar craze at Whitman is the new “Whitman Matchmakers” Facebook page, which prompts Whitties to take a questionnaire that uses the Stanford algorithm to match participants with five potential matches.

Some of the happiest couples like Howard and Roberta, as well as Josh and Sasha settle down in the Walla Walla Valley. And it should not be forgotten that many marginalized students on both campuses in the Valley feel left out or broken-hearted by unfortunate circumstances. Relationships are hard, lucky and require lots of work.

But there is hope for the rest of us; what each of these couples have displayed is a relationship in which both people are their own independent selves. It would seem that if we are not presently dating, there should be a goal to strengthen our status of independence.

Meanwhile, for those at any stage from ski lift sharing to school bus driving, build “the values [you] try to live by and the values [you] come back to everyday,” advised Josh Long.

*Name has been changed to protect identity.