Chico in Love
Campus Sweethearts Share Their Stories
Fun Meets Tradition
They were married in Reno by an Elvis wearing purple robes, with colleagues as their witnesses.
The wedding, in many ways, is emblematic of Eddie Vela and Celeste Jones’ relationship: Finding time for fun between the harried schedules of two academics.
When Celeste arrived at Chico State in 1999 to teach in the School of Social Work, she figured she would give it two years before considering other institutions. Then, at her first Commencement ceremony, the North Carolina native met fellow faculty marshal and Texas transplant Eddie Vela, who had been teaching psychology on campus for about 10 years.
Summer came and went, and that fall, the two flew to Long Beach together to represent Chico State at a statewide California Faculty Association meeting. Not knowing anyone else there, they spent most of their time together, bonding over their southern roots and related disciplines.
“There was something that felt familiar in our interactions,” Celeste said. “There was this immediate comfort level.
“Both of us knew there was something,” Eddie added. “You try to put it into words … It’s cliché, but there was some chemistry.”
When they returned to Chico, the two began lunching each Friday as friends. Both were married previously and had busy professional lives, and they didn’t go on an official date for another six months. But their connection grew stronger and after two years of dating, they were ready to take the next step. Sharing no interest in a big ceremony or time to plan one, Eddie voiced an idea to Celeste before an upcoming conference she was presenting at in Reno.
“I said, ‘Hey, how about an Elvis wedding?” he recalled.
“That’s brilliant!” Celeste replied.
A colleague spent the week before scouring downtown Chico shops for a dress for Celeste, and three couples and some of her fellow faculty—their “Chico family”—joined the couple for their October 30, 2003, ceremony.
“What was nice is we were two independent people coming together,” Eddie said. “We were two wholes.”
Both understand the obligations of teaching and scholarship that are part of working in academia, as well as the process of preparing for tenure, research, and committees, and respect the subsequent time and attention demands.
Chair of the School of Social Work when they married, Celeste transitioned out of her role just as Eddie became dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences. While they have published together, Eddie and Celeste are both mindful to maintain professional separation in their campus roles.
“I think a lot of people don’t even know we are a married,” Eddie said. “Even though Celeste and I are in the same college, we rarely find ourselves interacting. We are lucky to even find time for lunch.”
Celeste nodded in agreement.
“If I order lunch for a faculty learning community, I’m handing him half my sandwich as we pass in the hall,” she said with a laugh.
The couple carpools to work, where they sometimes brainstorm and problem-solve, using their shared network and campus knowledge to help each other.
Now closer to retirement side of their careers—Eddie with 30 years at Chico State and Celeste 20—they are considering how they will navigate that transition together and look forward to more time with one another.
Until then, they’ll continue doing their best to enjoy the rare moments they share, whether it’s remodeling their home, going to the gym, mountain biking, or watching Netflix. They also like to dote on their “fur-children” Bailey, a rescue dog, and Buddy, a neighborhood cat who adopted them for his own.
Their love of animals is one of many commonalities they share, so much so that they are considering rescue and foster work in retirement.
Celeste said Eddie makes her laugh often but she also admires his intellect and confidence, and how those traits are balanced with humility. And they both still loving to have fun.
“One of the things I appreciate is she has not lost joy in the simple things, to be silly, to be spontaneous, to be herself,” Eddie said. “Both of us have not lost touch with our inner child, even if it means playing Bruno Mars and dancing in the kitchen.”
Or being married by Elvis.
The Perfect Team
Mary Wallmark and Kim Chappell see their jobs at Chico State as the perfect fit.
“We are both sports-y, but we are on the same team,” Mary said. “How cool is that?”
After their work days are done, Mary, as the interim associate director of Student Life and Leadership, and Kim, the lead physician at the Student Health Center, the two often go home and marvel at their good fortune, supporting higher education in different ways.
“I see students at the top of their game, and she sees them on the injured reserve list,” said Mary. “We are on the same team that puts little Wildcats out into the world, and it’s fantastic.”
The love for Chico State is mutual.
“This community is my community. This is my town, and this is my University,” said Kim, a Colorado transplant. “I’m, of course, married to the person most passionate in the world about Chico State so it’s bound to rub off.”
This month, the two celebrate the 20th anniversary of the true start of their relationship—one they were never looking for in the first place.
In the early 90s, Mary made annual trips to Denver as the head coach of the Wildcats volleyball team, in search of high school talent. It was there she met Kim, a friend’s girlfriend who was completing her medical residency.
They’d see each other every spring, but both were in relationships and didn’t give their connection much thought.
In 1999, both now single, Kim called to see if Mary had plans to visit that year but she had no prospects to scout. The coach walked to a colleague’s office in Acker Gym, picked up a Magic 8 Ball, and swiveled it to see if she should go anyway.
She strode straight to her office and booked her flight for the February trip.
Flash forward three months, after lots of long–distance landline phone calls—and phone bills—the two were dating.
“She’s so funny and interesting – who wouldn’t want to talk to her?” Mary said.
Kim smiles and echoes the sentiment. The attributes each admired and still do about the other are the same—their intellect, sense of humor, and strength.
By August 2000, Kim left Denver for Chico, thinking she’d be gone maybe a year. To this day, Mary still considers her “the best recruit I ever made.”
Kim first worked at Enloe Prompt Care until she was hired as a doctor at the Student Health Center in 2002. Ironically, Mary was no longer working at Chico State (Her struggles to turn the volleyball team’s multi-year losing streak around had resulted in the end of her contract) but she was successfully rehired on campus as the director of club sports that same year.
Seventeen years later, they usually start their mornings together at the WREC but otherwise seldom see each other during the day. Mary’s BMU office is across campus from the health center, where Kim’s duties mean she seldom has time for breaks. Even so, they remain each other’s biggest defenders and cheerleaders.
“When the Wildcat Statue was unveiled … I was so proud I knew that person who made it possible,” Kim said. “If I didn’t work here, I wouldn’t understand what that statue meant for this community.”
Away from work, they enjoy golfing, outdoor activities, doting on their dogs, and “fam-cations” that blend travel with visiting loved ones.
In 2004, when then-Mayor Gavin Newsom allowed same-sex marriage licenses to be offered in San Francisco, Kim arrived at the health center the morning marriages began and her nurse practitioner asked “Why aren’t you and Mary in San Francisco?”
It was a good question.
She and Mary spent the day repeatedly calling the San Francisco clerk-recorder’s office to try to get a wedding appointment, and days later they were met by family members in the San Francisco City Hall Rotunda. Their wedding made CBS Sunday Morning but the marriage was voided five months later, along with about 4,000 others, by court order.
Four years later, when marriage equality was granted by the Supreme Court of California, they married in their Chico backyard in 2008.
“And if we had to do it all again, I will,” Mary said. “Whatever it takes.”
Seeds of Love
To most people, the 800 acres of teaching and learning space in south Chico is best known as the University Farm.
To 16-month-old Ollis Housley, it’s “Daddy’s farm.”
The toddler son of Lauren and Matt Housley gets a thrill out of occasional visits where he can see the sheep and play among the plants where his father works as greenhouse manager, and Lauren finds the agricultural space a great respite from the labs and classrooms of Holt Hall, where she works as a faculty member in the Department of Nutrition and Food Science.
The husband-wife team may share the same employer but it doesn’t always feel like it, they say.
“We are in different places, literally,” Lauren said.
The two met while Lauren was completing her undergraduate degree at the University of Georgia. Matt was her friends’ neighbor and they started to date in 2006 after 18 or so months of friendship.
By 2011, they had moved to Oregon for Lauren’s PhD program at Oregon State University, and Matt found odd jobs that resonated with his degree in horticulture—turf grass breeding, arborist, native plant restoration.
When Lauren decided to apply to Chico State, he too began to look for work and was hired at the University Farm, starting the same month.
Chico met both their goals to live someplace with easy access to the outdoors—to enjoy their shared passions of hiking, swimming, and mountain biking—and with a thriving arts scene. The University’s emphasis on teaching was another major draw for Lauren, coming from a research-focused institution, and Matt, too, has grown to appreciate it, as his role has the unexpected responsibility of training a few students each semester in how to propagate and care for plants.
“It’s really fun teaching people about the stuff that I enjoy doing,” he said. “It’s rewarding to see students come through who are at the start of their careers.”
As a faculty-staff couple, Lauren appreciates how each has fresh insights they can share with the other. Her role in faculty helps him in how he can aid those who use the University Farm as a teaching and research space, and his job as staff assists her in how she can support those within her department.
“We get insights from both sides,” Lauren said.
The two also reach out to one another when they read announcements or emails that might affect one another, such as grant funding or award nominations, and use their objectivity to help the other problem-solve.
“We are not in the same field but if I have an issue, he is removed enough to give me an objective perspective but he cares enough to think about it and help me through it,” she said.
When the Housleys were first hired, they were excited by the idea of having lunch together and popping over to see one another in free moments. But the six miles between her Holt Hall office and the farm don’t make that regularly feasible.
“There are days I do come by and it’s such a nice break from the rest of the world,” Lauren said.
Their son Ollis likes it too. Mellow and with an appetite for exploration, just like his dad, and smart and curious, just like his mom, he is the perfect combination of what his parents love most about one another.
As relatively new parents, their relationship as a couple is adjusting to its latest chapter. They are adapting from days of date nights to family trips to the playground and quiet time at home.
Each year, they do their best to do something special on Valentine’s Day, which is the anniversary of not only when they shared their first kiss but the date nine years later when Matt got down on one knee in the Oregon sand dunes to propose. They married in 2016.
“I realized that I had more fun with her than I had by myself, and it was hard to imagine being without her,” he said.
“He makes good times better, and he makes bad times better. And he is sweet with kids and animals, which made me realize he’d be an awesome dad, which he is,” she said, as Matt and Ollis tossed rocks in puddles and ran through the grass between greenhouses.