From the 1950s to 2020, couples recount falling in love at Middlebury

By Hannah Bensen and Nora Peachin

It’s exam week in the early 1950s and the endlessly ringing pay phone outside of Mary Peterson’s* room in Battell South is interrupting her studies. Determined to end the disturbance, Mary finally answers the phone.

“I’d like to speak with Mary Peterson,” says the voice on the other end.

“You’re speaking to her,” Mary says.

The voice belongs to John Clermont ’53, a member of the baseball and hockey teams. Mary is impressed by John’s varsity status, but something else entirely is the clincher for her. 

“He said that he had seen me at St. Stephen’s church,” Mary ’54 recalled in an interview with The Campus. “Any guy that gets up at the crack of dawn, and goes down to the early service at the episcopal church in the freezing cold … that sealed it for me.” 

In those days, Mary said, men lived on the south side of campus, while women attended the women’s college and lived on the north side of College Street. Women had to be inside their dorms by 10 p.m. on weekdays, could not wear slacks or shorts, and had to have a signed parent’s permission slip in order to get into a car with a male driver. 

Female students were also outnumbered by men by a ratio of about two to one, due in part to the G.I. Bill, which covered the tuition expenses of veterans who had served in World War II. Because of the bill, Mary said, her freshman class was a mix of 18-year-olds and veterans in their mid-twenties, some of whom had fought in Normandy on D-Day. 

Men and women were not allowed inside each others’ residence halls. To pick a woman up from her dorm, a man would press the buzzer of the room of whom he wanted, and the woman would come down. 

“Even if your father came inside to help carry a suitcase down, you would have to yell ‘Man on the floor!’ said Mary.  “And everyone would scurry because we walked around in our slips.”

Mary and John married in 1954. Mary Peterson became Mary Clermont, and they had four children together, one of whom attended Middlebury. John died in June of 2017.

The dating scene at Middlebury has changed quite a bit since Mary picked up the phone to find John on the other end. We wanted to know how. So, we interviewed Middlebury couples from the class of ’54 all the way through present day to hear their love stories, and find out what love has looked like at Midd over the past 70 years.

*Editor’s note: Mary Peterson and John Clermont are pseudonyms — Mary asked for their real names to remain private, due to the personal nature of the story. All other names in this article are real.

Peter ’54 (left) and Julie Parker ’54 (right) in front of Mead Memorial Chapel in 2018.

Peter and Julie Parker, both ’54, met driving back to the Midwest from Middlebury during Christmas break, with three other students in the carpool. Julie was drawn to Peter because he was not the “alpha male” type: he allowed another student to drive his car and “contentedly sat in the back seat with two women,” Julie recalled. 

“I had fallen in love, head over heels, by the time I walked into my house in Detroit,” said Julie . “I was so wildly in love that I told my parents, ‘I met the man of my dreams.’”

The road trip back to Middlebury cemented each person’s feelings for one another, but it was a few weeks before the couple reconnected. Julie didn’t know how to read Peter, who was a little shy; Peter didn’t think Julie was interested. 

Julie would often go to the student union, located in a temporary building where Proctor Dining Hall is now located,  with a friend during a break in her classes. She began to notice that Peter was very dependably there when she took her break. 

“I’d be watching his eyes,” Julie said, “and I thought I was getting more and more eye contact. So I asked my friend one day, dear as she was, if she would mind letting me go alone. And that was the day Peter asked me out, and everything was lovely from then on.”

The day before their graduation, Peter proposed to Julie in a garden by Hepburn Hall. They were married in 1954 and recently celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary. They have three daughters together.

Fast-forward to parents’ weekend a few years later, where Janie ’63 and Pete Johnson ’62 were having their first date at a Delta Upsilon picnic. It did not go smoothly: Pete and Janie’s mothers began to drink martinis together, and Janie’s father was engaged in a lively discussion with a professor about sex from an anthropological perspective. “So I was really stuck with Pete at that point,” said Janie. 

Luckily, Janie and Pete ended up enjoying each other’s company. The two liked to go dancing together and occasionally went to the movies. 

Janie was soon pinned by Pete. “Pinning” was a symbolic tradition within the Greek life community in which a fraternity member would give his fraternity pin to his significant other, signifying that the pair are moving towards an engagement. 

Despite receiving below-average marks in a sociology class they took together called “Marriage in the Family” (Pete received a D; Janie received a C-), Pete proposed to Janie outside of Battell during his senior year. Upon Pete’s graduation, Janie decided to forgo her senior year at Middlebury to follow Pete to Georgia, where he was starting his career in the military.  

“At that point in time, there were [very limited] career opportunities coming out of my graduation from Middlebury,” Janie said. “It was a totally, radically, different time. I wasn’t looking to just find a husband, I just happened to think that Pete was fun and I wanted to be with him.”

“That was the thing,” Pete said. “We had so much fun together, we just said, why would we put an end to it?” 

The pair were married in December of 1962. They now have three children together. They live in Danby, Vermont.

“We still have a laugh a day, even now in our old age,” Janie said.

Nancy ’93 and Don Hunt ’92 became close friends after having three classes together during the fall of 1989. Nancy later found out that Don had intentionally switched into all three of those classes after hearing Nancy’s schedule, but played it off as a coincidence. 

Nancy was drawn to her “very shy, but very sweet” classmate, who was raised by his mom and four sisters. Don was struck by the fact that Nancy — who is Italian, with dark, curly hair and a strong New York accent — hadn’t conformed to the style standards of the time for women at Middlebury.

After getting snowed in on the sixth floor of Hadley while studying for their finals in December of 1990, Don finally got up the courage to kiss Nancy. They started dating shortly after. 

“I can safely say my grades dramatically improved as soon as we started dating,” Don said. “Nancy wouldn’t let me skip class, and we both had an instant study group for many courses.”

Don and Nancy have four children together, one of whom attends Middlebury.

Cece Wheeler ’19 (left), John Natalone ’19 (right) and their cat.

After graduating together last spring, Cece Wheeler ’19 and John Natalone ’19 took their second cross-country road trip of college. Their first week-long drive took place the summer after their sophomore year — Cece needed to drive her car back to Seattle, where she’s from, and John generously offered to join her.

“We took a week-long road trip cross country, which I think is a pretty good litmus test for any relationship. It must have gone well because we did it again with John’s car when we moved to the West Coast after graduation,” Cece recounted.

John and Cece met during their first year in Atwater Commons, and dated for three years at Middlebury. Since moving, they have been enjoying some of the many perks of post-college life together.

“Instead of sharing a bathroom with four people I now only share it with one. and Public Safety has ticketed my car zero times since moving to Seattle,” Cece said.

Grace Vedock ’20 (left) and Taite Shomo ’20.5 (right).

Taite Shomo ’20.5 and Grace Vedock ’20 hit it off immediately when they met in Proctor during Taite’s very first semester.

“I was listening to a podcast, and my friend Jack told me to stop and come meet the new Febs with him, so I did. I’m glad that I did,” Grace said.

The two only talked for 15 minutes or so, but something clicked. A few days later, Taite received a Facebook message — hey girl, want to get dinner sometime? — and the rest is history.

The foundation of their more-than-three-year relationship? Food. Their first year, the pair cooked together a number of times.

“Our sophomore and junior years, we would cook dinner together every Friday,” Taite said, and for the past school year, “we’ve both been off the meal plan, so we grocery shopped together and made dinner together every night.”

“We made tiramisu together once sophomore year, and we still talk about it regularly,” Grace added. The couple also described a favorite pasta recipe, lovingly nicknamed “our pasta”: chunky tomato sauce, kale, toasted pine nuts, red pepper flakes and a ton of parmesan.

Dula Dulanto ’20 (left) and Melanie Chow ’22 (right).

After a month-and-a-half flirtationship, Dula Dulanto ’20 and Melanie Chow ’22 were ready to put a label on their relationship. So, Dula asked Melanie to ask him out.

“Usually the guy does that,” he explained, “so I asked her to ask me out because she’s a very fierce person, and she’s very empowered.”

She asked, and he said yes. The couple has now been dating for four months.

Dula remembered his friends’ surprise when he decided to begin a relationship during his final year at Middlebury. He described feeling pressured by popular “preconceived notions of what relationships are and how they function in college.” But, ultimately, once the two started talking, “that was it,” said Melanie.

“Sometimes [college] can feel lonely, even with a roommate, even with really good friends,” she continued, “but with Dula, I never feel lonely.” 

For a Q&A with the couples in this story, click here.