Rob was heading from the showers to his dorm at the University of Hawaii when he saw her – a young woman with long brown hair, gorgeous eyes and an instant, powerful pull on him.
“I was dazzled,” he said of that day in late August 1974. “She was beautiful, but it wasn’t that superficial feeling, it was a deep feeling.”
Pat, a student at West Chester University in Hawaii via a college exchange program, was quite shocked herself. “Here’s this guy walking towards me in a towel – this pretty nice guy with his long legs. I was like, ‘You must be cool with that’, but all I could think was, ‘Oh my God, I’m in a mixed dorm!” And then he walked into the room directly across from mine.
Everyone on the floor was hanging out together. Rob learned that Pat is from Shavertown, Pennsylvania, and that she, like him, was studying education. Pat learned that Rob had moved around a lot before he graduated from high school in Rockford, Michigan. And that he had a girlfriend he had been dating all summer. She had returned to Japan, but Rob had not broken up with her.
Pat was returning to campus after a day at the beach when a soldier followed her from the bus to campus. “I felt like Rob was a really safe guy to ask for help – he had a girlfriend and so he would know I’m not just coming to him.”
“Thank you for your service, but she’s not interested,” Rob told the soldier when he and Pat reached the hall. “She’s my girlfriend. Leave her alone.”
Rob and Pat were never technically alone, but whenever their group went to Pizza Hut, they sat together and talked all night. It seemed like Elvis’ “Can’t Help Falling in Love” would play every time.
The gang decided to climb Diamond Head. “The wind was blowing and you had to hold hands to help balance yourself,” Rob said. On the narrow crater rim, Pat and Rob touched for the first time. “There was electricity between us,” he recalls.
“After that, we knew there were clear signs of love,” Pat said. Their friends saw what was happening and his friends didn’t like it. “Why are you hanging out with him?” He has a girlfriend,” they said.
Rob didn’t feel good about himself either. The jealousy he felt when Pat received a letter from a boy at home led him to say hypocritical and a decision. “We have to commit to each other,” he told Pat, who agreed.
Rob wrote both Dear Jane’s letter and Dear John’s letter, which Pat signed. They first kissed on Dec. 17, just before going their separate ways for winter vacation.
“I want to marry you,” Rob told Pat during their second semester in Hawaii. “You’re from Michigan, we’re from Hawaii, I’m from Pennsylvania,” she pointed out. “Even if we’re in love, how is that going to work out?”
Rob wasn’t intimidated by the logistics. After spending the first few weeks of summer with him at his parents’ Michigan home, Pat became equally determined.
In early August 1975, at Pat’s parents’ house in Pennsylvania, Rob gave Pat a diamond ring. “If I’m going to wear a ring, you should have a ring too,” Pat said. She gave him a silver ring.
He returned to Hawaii and she returned to West Chester for their senior year. “We wrote 23-page love letters to each other every day, full of passion and feeling,” Rob said.
Pat and Rob were married on August 14, 1976 at Irem Country Club in Dallas, Pennsylvania. They served pineapple coconut cake to their 100 guests and danced to the song they keep hearing every time they go to Hawaii: “Can’t Help Falling in love.”
Pat took a job where she had taught her students – East Goshen Elementary in West Chester. Rob was hired by Lukens Steel Co. For the next 41 years he worked in sales and industrial relations for Lukens, Bayou Steel and other companies.
Rob’s sales job required him to relocate, and for the first seven years of their marriage, they moved. “We lived in Atlanta, Houston, and northern New Jersey, and I was a substitute and then found a full-time teaching job wherever we went,” Pat said. “We had so much fun – wherever we live would be our travel base.”
Then, in 1983, their son Robert was born and Rob told his employer that his moves had to end. “I moved five times while I was at school, following my father’s career,” he says. “We moved to Rockford in my senior year, and it was really tough. It was important to me that my children stay in one place.
In 1984 the family moved to Glenmoore, Chester County, to the house where Pat and Rob still live. His son Michael was born the following year. When her boys were in kindergarten, Pat taught there. She then followed them to Shamona Creek Elementary, where she taught for 23 years.
Rob, who has an MBA from West Chester, has always been an athlete – he played basketball on the University of Hawaii JV team – and he shared that love with his boys. “Since my kids were 4, I’ve had them playing baseball, soccer, basketball and midget football,” he said. When Mike and Rob were older, much of the family activity centered around their football games at Downingtown High School.
Family trips also started when the boys were little. “When Rob was in fifth grade and Mike in third grade, we took them to Hawaii,” Pat said. The family returned when the boys were teenagers and their love for Hawaii was contagious. Mike spent a summer studying there – the perfect excuse for Pat and Rob to take another trip.
Now both 68, Pat and Rob retired in June 2017. To their delight, their children live nearby. Mike and his wife, Ashlee, have four children: Cade, 8; Rowan, 6; Asher, 4; and Ainsley, 11 months. “They are the spark of our life,” Pat said. Much to his grandmother’s delight, Cade is about to start third grade at the school where she was teaching third grade. Often the whole family gets together for Friday night dinners.
The couple still cherish the long romantic letters they wrote during their last year apart. They are kept in a secret place. “Our children can read them when we die,” Pat said.
Ask them what they like about each other, though, and you’ll get an idea of what those notes contain:
“Rob has such a strong sense of character, and I’m so lucky to have him in my life,” Pat said. “It took me six years to complete my doctorate [from Immaculata University]. There were several times when I wanted to quit, but he kept me going. He showed me the way to the finish line. He’s nice and he can say what he thinks. He is handsome and masculine. He checks all my boxes.
“Her beauty comes from within,” Rob said. “She is caring and supportive. She makes me feel good. I can be very sequential – we have to do this, then we have to do that. But she will say, ‘Look how the sun meets the sky, and how the sky meets the water. Look at the colors! And I stop making my list. She gives me this.
Earlier this month, Pat and Rob celebrated their 46th wedding anniversary at the Sweet Valley, Pennsylvania lake house where they briefly stayed after their honeymoon. Later this summer, they will make their eighth trip to Hawaii.