The Romantics: finding love at Mason Gross

College – what’s love got to do with it?

Plenty, where these couples are concerned.

Below are the stories of four couples who met at Mason Gross and went on to build a life together beyond Rutgers.

Acting the Part

Sometimes you audition for a role to be close to the girl. Tim DeKay? He didn’t even need to try out.  He met his wife, Elisa Taylor, on the first day of class in Mason Gross’s MFA Theater program. They were paired up as scene partners.

“I looked over, I’ll never forget, her hair was in a ponytail. I thought, ‘Oh, man,’ ” DeKay says. “[After] we would meet together and work on scenes together.”

For DeKay, connecting with Taylor as an actor was the first step in their relationship.

“When it comes to artistic work, you must be open and raw,” he says. “You really get to know these people in a strong way and must trust that you can be vulnerable with them. You’re constantly together all day.”

The necessary trust and vulnerability allowed DeKay and Taylor to become closer.

“We were friends for the longest time,” DeKay remembers, “[but] second semester, we got serious.”

The pair married in May 1991 in Phoenix, a year after graduation. Since then they’ve moved to California and had two children. DeKay now stars on TV in USA’s acclaimed series White Collar.

In 2010, DeKay and Taylor returned to Mason Gross with their kids. On Douglass campus, they played Whiffle Ball by the pond also known as the Passion Puddle. It is said that if a couple walks around the pond twice, they are going to marry.

“We made sure we walked around it two times,” DeKay says with a laugh.

Casting a Spell

“One night, a number of performance art pieces were staged at Douglass; I was engaged by the work, but enraptured by Cheryl,” Visual Arts alum Chris Chevins recalls. “It was the night I first remember falling totally under her spell.”

From the beginning, Chris Chevins and Cheryl Peterka shared many passions. First, there was the mutual attraction.

The couple met in class as visual arts MFA students in 1981. Peterka’s initial impression of Chevins: “funny, charming and enormously talented.” Chevins recalls her “warm brown eyes,” her keen intellect, and “her highly creative artwork.”

Then, the pair discovered they had a similar aesthetic. Although she was a sculptor and Chevins was a painter, Peterka notes that even before they met their “art work was very similar, in an odd way.”

“[It] made us feel very connected,” she adds.

Chevins agrees: “I think it was one reason we really ‘got’ each other from the beginning.”

The couple got married in 1991 at City Hall in New York City. Now their taste for new ventures has got the couple into designing, renovating and managing apartments in New York City. After 33 years together, art and exploration are still the keystone of Chevins and Peterka’s relationship.

 “In the beginning it was pure passion,” Chevins says, “but we never stopped being surprised and challenged by each other over the years. We appreciate each other’s sense of humor and we learned how to be helpful and good listeners... I think we were extremely lucky to meet each other.”


In Harmony

Myles Weinstein first saw Lorraine Kelley singing on stage in a production of Candide at the Nicholas Music Center.

But he had a problem:  Kelley was on the stage while Weinstein, a percussionist, was stuck in the pit.

“I was sitting in that pit looking up at her and I thought she was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” Weinstein remembers.

The then-head of the music department, Valerie Gudhall, rectified things. She took them both by the hand and introduced them at the opening-night party.

“That was the perfect in for me,” Weinstein says. “My heart was racing [and] for the rest of the run I had the pleasure of… watching her perform.”

The couple married in October of 1987, after Weinstein completed his master of music degree. In 2001, Weinstein left his job to start his own booking agency for jazz artists: Unlimited Myles. The couple’s collaboration began when Kelley took over the travel arrangements in 2003.

“[My former boss] asked me: ‘Who are you going to have work with you?’” Weinstein recalls. “I told him Lorraine. He said it would never work. But it has – we have moments where we snip at each other but that’s normal.”

Kelley agrees: “For me to get on the phone and make the hard sell is not good.”

“And my main thing is booking gigs,” Weinstein adds. “Anything that takes me away from that is a frustration.”

One of the first artists they signed was Kenny Barron, who was a music professor at Rutgers when they attended.

“It was difficult to call him ‘Kenny,’” Kelley admits with a laugh.


Neighbors, Partners, Family

Amy Gennaro and Chris Willcox met, had a family and did live happily ever after – down the street from one another. They met in 1996 at a meet-and-greet for Visual Arts MFA students and soon became romantically involved. They moved to Minneapolis in 2000 and had their sons, Jasper and Emmett, in 2004 and 2006 respectively.  

In 2007, after 11 years together, Willcox and DiGennaro split up.

“When we broke up I thought: ‘Oh, that was a failure,’ ” Willcox admits.

“It isn’t what we planned for – no one says, ‘Let’s have kids and break up,’ ” DiGennaro agrees, “but it’s just a plot twist.”

For Willcox and DiGennaro, breaking up did not mean that they needed to break their family apart – only rearrange it. Two summers ago, DiGennaro moved into a house two blocks away from Willcox. Jasper and Emmett now jump between the houses throughout the week.

Both artists are frank about how the separation and the close quarters can be challenging:

“I’ve never been so angry at someone sometimes,” DiGennaro admits, “but [I] always go back to the idea that we love each other and we love our kids.”

“It’s like any other relationship where we negotiate things and compromise,” Willcox agrees. “We don’t want to romanticize [this] – it’s a hard road.”

Still, stereotypes of separation and divorce complicate Willcox and DiGennaro’s relationship.

“People want to say, ‘What are you? Partners? Exes?’ I call her my kids’ other mom,” DiGennaro says.

For DiGennaro, this confusion has a larger impact on how she thinks of her family.

“The story of romance in our culture is a monolith. The reality of building a life together is something entirely different,” she points out. “We’ve built a life together and that building changes… Part of me wants to build a mythology that combats the myth of a ‘forever marriage.’ ”

“We’re endorsing divorce now,” Willcox jokes.

Willcox and DiGennaro credit their role as artists for giving them the tools to reject a conventional separation. As Willcox points out, there is “no book for us.”

 “For our MFA theses we [both] talked about liminal space – an ambiguous space between things,” she adds.  “We’ve created that space now [so] we have to keep negotiating.”

“One of the reasons we’re able to keep going because we care about meaning as artists,” DiGennaro points out. “Even when it’s hard we don’t stick with the meanings we know. We make alternatives.”

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--Story by Alexandra Klaassen

Posted February 2015