Campus sweethearts share their stories
Modeling Healthy Relationships
Jeff Harrington has spent the last five years with his life on display for Chico State freshmen. As the assistant residence community coordinator in Whitney Hall, his hours on and off the clock are devoted to being a good role model.
This year, he took his commitment to a new level, marrying his girlfriend Kelsey—a prevention coordinator for the Campus Alcohol and Drug Education Center (CADEC)—and turning their healthy relationship into one more example for students. The couple lives in a Whitney Hall apartment and spends most working and recreational hours surrounded by students, whether dining with them in Sutter Hall, attending campus events, or crashing residence hall trivia nights.
“That’s why I do the job,” Jeff said. “The whole point of living on campus is to model good behavior. It can be taxing, tiring, but it’s totally worth it.”
They hope to show students the value in taking time to know themselves, identifying what they want in a partner, and finding a partner who treats them with love and respect.
“My favorite part about it is they get to see Jeff a different way, in this family-esque way,” Kelsey said.
They first met years ago, running in the same college housing circles when Kelsey worked for UC Santa Cruz. But it was at a conference in 2014 that love struck.
The following weekend, Jeff went to visit her and met dozens of her family members during Easter festivities. A week later, she came to Chico and was introduced to his family.
The next month, the couple spent 10 days in Hawaii, using a “100 questions you should ask before getting engaged” list to get to know one another. People thought their whirlwind romance was crazy, but they had faith.
For 17 months, the two frequently made the 204-mile drive between Butte County and the Bay Area to see one another.
Last June, they decided impromptu to get married and began planning a wedding ASAP, not just because they wanted a future together but so they could live together on campus. Kelsey began applying for jobs at Chico State and was soon hired at CADEC.
The engagement ring arrived six days before their wedding. Jeff officially proposed on “an undisclosed campus rooftop.”
They married on Fourth of July in a flash-mob wedding at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, where they crashed an event with a band that played their first dance.
On New Year’s Eve, they had a larger reception in Chico, joined by friends, family, and alumni.
Neither can imagine marrying someone who wasn’t an extreme extrovert; both love being around students all the time.
“It’s not unusual to have life conversations at 11 p.m.,” Kelsey said. “You have to be very understanding.”
“She is very understanding,” Jeff said, with an emphatic nod.
The marriage also helps Jeff with work-life balance, Kelsey said. In addition to daily walks with their dog and classes together at the WREC, they make a point to have regular Tuesday movie dates, Wednesday night trivia at Woodstocks, and weekends at campus activities.
“When you are hanging out with your partner and you really love students…you don’t feel like you are wasting a Friday night hanging out with students,” Kelsey said.
Both look forward to the future and lifelong careers at Chico State. As they plan to buy their first home, they’ve considered how their lives and relationship will adjust to not living on campus.
Lunches together and quick coffee dates will be a must, as will supporting one another at their programmatic activities, they agree.
“I can’t imagine working on campus without him,” Kelsey said.
Comfort Through Closeness
Alan Rellaford and Daria Booth met a decade ago in Tehama Hall.
Ten years ago, Advancement Director Daria Booth couldn’t help but notice Creative Services Director and lecturer Alan Rellaford as he strolled past her office to teach creative design in Tehama Hall. Gradually, he started to say hello and strike up conversation.
One day, Daria mentioned she was looking for a safe place to walk and Alan suggested the Genetic Resource Conservation Center in south Chico, offering to show her around himself. As they walked the loop one afternoon, she found herself so enjoying his company that she scrambled for a reason to circle the loop again.
“It really was a ploy to spend more time with him,” she said.
Both were single but neither looking for love. With the help of an observant coworker playing Cupid, the seed was planted that both were interested in one another.
One rough day, Alan came by Daria’s office to ask how she was and she started crying. Pulling a cloth handkerchief from his pocket, he offered it to dry her tears.
“That pretty much did it for me,” she said. “He was so gallant.”
They kept their relationship secret for many months before comfortably letting colleagues see them together at a campus event in summer 2006.
After years of dating, the two married November 21, 2009.
“At our age, you know what you want. There isn’t a lot of mucking about but we were careful and enjoying a long courtship,” Daria said.
Six years later, they still keep a low profile on campus and both are so occupied with their jobs, they seldom see each other while at work.
“I still come across people who didn’t know we were married,” she said. “Our jobs overlap at times because we are in the same division (University Advancement) but we save getting together for when we really need it.”
Sometimes that means Alan delivering a blank scantron to Daria just before she races off to a class for her master’s degree. On other days it means he calls her as a sounding board for text to accompany one of his designs.
In earlier years, they often met for lunches in the amphitheater or walk breaks along the creek, but their busy jobs have put such get-togethers on the back burner.
“We say we make it a priority, but it’s something we need to do more,” Alan said, staring warmly into Daria’s eyes.
They compensate with weekend plans, including visits to the coast, antiquing, and visiting museums. They also have turned one another’s interests into passions of their own, with Alan embracing a house full of pets and Daria becoming a bicyclist.
One of their early dates was actually a distance ride one frigid, rainy morning. Toward the end of the 40-mile trek to Richvale and back, she realized she couldn’t feel her toes but pedaled on as Alan taught her how to ride in his draft. Later, they realized she actually had a touch of hypothermia.
“It told me a lot about her willingness to stick with it,” Alan said. “That was one of the things that made me fall in love with her. I admired her toughness and willingness to see it through.”
Daria loves his ballroom dance skills and the grilled cheese and tomato soup he makes for her after a long day. He admires her ability to connect with other people and her sense of humor, as she knows how to make him laugh when tasks are challenging.
Both have a hard time imagining working on campus without the other.
“Even if we don’t hang out, I like knowing he’s there,” she said.
Campus Love at Last
For three-plus years, Sandra Beck and Sara Cooper did long-distance dating. With Cooper committed to her job as a professor at Chico State and Sandra well-vested in the Bay Area as a registered architect in the private and public sectors, they made it work.
Yet, both thought their relationship was missing something.
“It almost felt like two lives. And now, it feels like it has really come together. This,” Sara said, with a sweeping glance across south campus, “is our center.”
In June 2014, the two married at San Francisco City Hall and had a second reception in Chico shortly after. Sandra moved to Chico and began consulting for the University, in addition to working on out-of-town projects.
In January, she was named director of planning, design, and construction and the campus architect. Sara had already been here for 15 years, teaching Spanish, Latin American and Latina/o cultural production, and LGBTQ studies.
They seldom have time to see one another on campus, so sometimes making time together is as simple as packing lunch from home and eating in one of their offices.
“It’s just a chance to say hi and know she’s just one building over,” Sandra said.
Both eagerly await the chance to move their lunch meet-ups to the courtyard of the new Arts and Humanities Building, and to go as patrons to its events. After work, they often walk to dinner or events downtown, or to a show at Laxson Auditorium.
Sharing the same employer has given both new appreciation for their workplace and provided opportunity for valuable insight.
Sara taught her wife how to ride her bike to campus and gave her tours of Trinity Hall, and Sandra has enjoyed sharing her insider’s look at campus buildings as she familiarizes herself with them one by one.
“I feel I understand more about what’s going on in her job now that she’s at Chico State,” Sara said.
The two first met more than 18 years ago while country-western dancing in the East Bay. They remained casual acquaintances but reconnected via Facebook five years ago.
“We started writing long messages back and forth and that just progressed,” Sandra said.
One passion both share is for higher education. Sara’s focus is on teaching, and while Sandra is intimately involved in design and construction, her focus for many years has been at universities.
“I feel I get to give back, to help inspire students and to empower people,” Sandra said.
Sara is glad Chico State captured her love’s heart as much as it did hers many years ago.
“This place is just so beautiful,” she said. “That was really the draw.”
Thinking back to her hiring, Sara was also impressed by how LGBTQ+ friendly the campus was, from the warm welcome she received to her opportunity to coordinate the new Gender and Sexuality Studies General Education Pathway. And it was important that Chico State offered benefits for domestic partners.
Sandra admits she was wary to leave the diverse Bay Area for rural Butte County, but trusted Sara’s experience.
“It’s very important to me that she is out and feels comfortable here and is able to be part of the community,” Sara said.
She hasn’t been disappointed.
“We are everyday members of the campus community,” Sandra said, reaching out to grab Sara’s hand.