Long lasting marriages of UAA

Love, in all of its unbridled passion, bonding and lovey-dovey mushiness, is a commitment. Several of UAA’s faculty can attest to how deep a commitment it truly is.

“Our marriage is a challenge,” said Andre Thorn, Director of the UAA Multicultural Center. “It’s a daily challenge that we both strive to make work.”

Thorn’s situation is different than most: He and his wife of 17 years live in separate states. Five months ago, the couple made the difficult decision for Thorn to move up to Alaska and assume his director position, while his wife Stephanie remained in Columbia, Mo. to complete her Bar tests. She will be there for the next six months.

A well-built, smartly dressed and soft-spoken man, Thorn says the transition has been an ongoing coping process.

“We’re still working through it. It can be difficult, but we make the best of our situation. We make sure we meet up at least every other month, but still the distance is tough. I did marry my best friend.”

The two met each other at a conference for New College Admissions Counselors in Santa Cruz, Calif. They became quick friends, which “then evolved into something a little more serious.” In 1995, they were married.

Thorn is originally from Las Vegas, so the long-distance couple will meet there or in other neutral spots such as Seattle. When they’re apart, technology is their relief: phone calls, text, Skype and FaceTime help their ache for interaction.

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“Thank goodness we have unlimited minutes on our phones,” Thorn said. “We don’t have to worry about racking up long distance charges for that. And we try to tuck each other in every night over Skype.”

Luckily the couple has spent time apart before, so this latest separation isn’t an entirely new experience. For a while during his graduate schooling, Thorn lived in Nevada while Stephanie lived in California. And for a nine-month period, his wife studied in Senegal, West Africa on a Rotary Fellowship while he stayed in the States.

“We felt like if we could get through that early in our relationship, you know, with 17 years of marriage we can probably get through this at this point in our lives,” said Thorn.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, close in physical terms as well as emotional, are psychology professors John Petraitis and Claudia Lampman. Celebrating their 25th marriage anniversary just last June, the husband and wife have offices right next to each other and oftentimes teach the same classes.

The two attended the same graduate school, Loyola University in Chicago, Ill., with identical degrees, and dated for only a month before deciding to get married. They waited from December to June before having the actual ceremony.

“It’s not really the greatest career move to marry your competition,” said Lampman. “But we decided to go through with it.”

Fortunately for the both of them, two listings for the exact same job opened up at UAA—so in 1992 they made the move to Alaska.

This similarity has its perks: holding the same positions and often teaching the same class, the couple routinely share PowerPoint slides, compare notes, cover for each other’s lectures and bounce ideas off each other.

“It’s like having your own live-in consultant,” said Lampman, “and it’s made our jobs much, much easier.”

“At the start of our UAA employment, we didn’t collaborate that much,” Petraitis added. “Then one day we realized how stupid that was.”

Petraitis is admittedly the better writer of the two, committing much of his time to crafting sentences and editing his work, while Lampman is the more productive, able to churn through her papers at a more rapid rate.

The two met in graduate school. Petraitis was visiting a Social Psych class he was interested in, and Lampman happened to be sitting in on the class. Petraitis noticed a woman under the window at the far end of the classroom.

“I said to my friend, ‘Woo wee, who is that girl?’ Apparently she didn’t notice me, but I definitely noticed her,” Petraitis said. “In the fall semester she ended up taking the class, and from there, the magic happened.”

Petraitis and Lampman decided to keep their own last names upon marriage. Petraitis admittedly isn’t too fond of his, but Lampman definitely didn’t want her husband’s name.

“Mine’s easier to spell,” she explained. “So we decided, hey, we do everything else together, how about we have this one difference? That did have some side effects though—when our kids were little, I think they thought all parents work together and have different last names.”

As psychologists, the couple’s marriage has been decidedly smooth.

“We hardly ever fight,” said Lampman. “Actually, I can probably count the number of fights we’ve had on the fingers of one hand. And this works because we don’t make needless assumptions.”

Deep-seated romance is found in the upper tiers of UAA management as well. Mike Driscoll, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, has been married to his wife Becky since 1984; coming up on 28 years.

“Our marriage has been a great and wonderful experience,” Driscoll said. “I can’t imagine life without my wife in it.”

Driscoll went to Michigan State University during his college years, and as a freshman spent many nights sleeping on the dorm floor of some female friends. The group all played Dungeons & Dragons together. As it turned out, these were Becky’s cousins, and during one of the cousin’s weddings she came up to visit from Las Angeles. Driscoll and Becky met, and both hit it off very well. When Becky returned to LA, Driscoll wrote her copious letters, and during spring break of 1984 he flew over to visit her. They had a “absolute wonderful time” in the Redwood Forest during his time there.

Driscoll could contain himself no longer, and proposed to Becky in the parking lot of a Motel 6 in Los Gatos, Calif. They skipped straight over the courting period and everything else; both simply knew things would work.

“We spent an awful lot of money on long distance phone calls, so there’s that form of commitment,” Driscoll said with a laugh. “People told us we were crazy for doing things so soon, but I think in the end we were right and they were wrong. Just a guess.”

The couple moved to Alaska in 2006. While Driscoll fulfills his duties as Provost, Becky is completing her Master’s in English and working as a teacher assistant for Freshman Composition. Their two children attend UAA as well.

“There’s a rhythm to academic life that suits our marriage very well,” Becky said. “Although there are challenges as well—whenever the kids and I get together all we do is rag on the administration, and Mike has to cover his ears and go to a different room for that. He gets left out on that one.”

Small work conflicts aside, the couple have maintained a deep and long lasting marriage.

“We’re not the same people as we were when we first got married,” said Driscoll, “and that’s the best part about this whole thing. It’s been an amazing journey continually growing and changing together.”