As Valentine’s Day approaches and love fills the Cornell campus, The Sun interviewed eight Cornell couples about their love stories. Have no fear, current Cornellians: While some married their first-year crush, for other couples, their love stories were anything but linear.
For Julie Vargo ’82 and Chris Metz ’82, their love story involved marrying other people before rekindling their friendship at a Cornell reunion. For Andy Atwell Ph.D. ’02 and Tina Atwell ’98, M.I.L.R. ’00, this meant taking a break until a long walk brought them back together.
Below you will find the stories of a few successful Cornell relationships. As current Cornell students are finding out their Perfect Match, their stories aim to inspire and serve as a reminder of the joys Cornell has brought to some couples.
As Ms. Vargo said, “I think that everybody probably thinks that their love story is awesome, right?”
Like Father, Like Son
Angela Cheng-Cimini ’92 and Michael Cimini ’92, Matthew Cimini ’19 and Sarah Dickerman ’19
Angela Cheng-Cimini ’92 and Michael Cimini ’92 met on the second day of their freshman orientation. Ms. Cheng-Cimini learned that an old elementary school friend of hers, Todd, was accepted into Cornell and reached out to him to reconnect.
“I looked him up, and Michael was his freshman year roommate. Had it not been for my friend Todd, we’d likely would never have met,” Ms. Cheng-Cimini said. “We ran in very, very different circles. So Todd is responsible for all of this aftermath.”
They started as just friends and finally made their relationship official on March 15, 1989, about seven months after they first met. They remember spending good times together around the falls in Ithaca and near Mr. Cimini’s fraternity house.
“We used to like to go to the bridge behind the engineering quad, near Collegetown through the woods,” Ms. Cheng-Cimini said. “It wasn’t terribly well-traveled. But the water ran under it and it’s a really beautiful spot. We would often go there just to enjoy the peacefulness.”
Years later, their son, Matthew Cimini ’19, decided to attend Cornell to study engineering, despite the fact that he wanted a different experience than his parents.
“I specifically thought, ‘No way I’m going to go to the same college as both my parents and then do the same dating thing that they did,’” Matthew Cimini said. “I purposely went in with the mindset that that was never going to happen.”
But like his parents, Matthew Cimini met his soon-to-be wife, Sarah Dickerman ’19, on one of the first days of his freshman year. They both lived in Clara Dickson Hall and were part of a friend group of 12 people that remained together throughout college.
Four years after graduating from Cornell, the couple is set to get married this May. Within their Dickson friend group, there are two engaged couples and one married couple.
“The love was too pure and too strong,” Ms. Cheng-Cimini said. To which Matthew Cimini said, “I couldn’t resist.”
Julie Vargo ’82 and Chris Metz ’82
Julie Vargo ’82 and Chris Metz ’82 had paths that likely crossed often during freshman year, with both being involved in Greek life and regular patrons of the pubs on North and West Campus. Ms. Vargo worked at the concession stand at the football field, and Mr. Metz was a football player.
They started dating sophomore year and on-and-off their junior year. Ms. Vargo invited Mr. Metz to her sorority formal during junior year, and he turned her down, which she said irritated her.
“About a month or so later, he called and invited me to his fraternity formal, and I stood at the phone, repeated everything he said to me back to him and turned him down the exact same way he turned me down,” Ms. Vargo said. “We hung up the phone and I laughed like crazy. In retrospect we both think that was probably a bad idea.”
Both Ms. Vargo and Mr. Metz then went off to marry the next people they dated. At a 10-year college reunion, Ms. Vargo ran into another Cornell ex-boyfriend.
“[My ex-boyfriend] was fat, bald and obnoxious. So I thought to myself, I am going to make a point never to see Chris Metz ever again, because he was the most beautiful man I had ever dated. That was the extent of it, and then I went on with my life,” Ms. Vargo said.
At their 30-year college reunion, Ms. Vargo’s friends wanted to go to the Statler bar to meet up, but since she knew Mr. Metz would be there, she decided to go watch the President’s lecture in Bailey Hall instead. But then she received a message from Mr. Metz telling her to save him a seat, as her friends had seen him and gave him Ms. Vargo’s phone number.
“[Chris] wasn’t that bald and obnoxious — actually, he’s still a little obnoxious. And I love that,” Ms. Vargo said. “We just rekindled a friendship.”
It wasn’t until years later that the two became partners. Now they have six kids between them, two of which attended Cornell.
“We had eight years back on the Hill, going to these functions and tailgates and parties and football games,” Ms. Vargo said. “Fortunately our kids let us come back and infiltrate. It’s been super fun. And we go back to reunions every year, we just went to our 40th.”
Although their relationship was not linear, Ms. Vargo said it worked out the way it was meant to be.
“I’m really lucky that I got a second chance, and so is he, to have this really amazing relationship,” Ms. Vargo said.
Jennifer Leeds ’91 and Rob Hess ’91
Jennifer Leeds ’91 and Rob Hess ’91 became friends in genetics class in the fall of their junior year. Mr. Hess was rushing a fraternity at the time, and he invited Ms. Leeds to go with him to his winter formal.
“He picked me up at a happy hour at my girlfriend’s house. He was really, really nicely dressed and all clean shaven. He had this humongous bouquet of flowers and took me to a nice dinner, which was out of character,” Ms. Leeds said. “Normally he was a long haired hippie freak Deadhead and smelled like a fireplace most of the time.”
Over winter break, Mr. Hess went to Jamaica and bought Ms. Leeds a necklace as a souvenir. That Valentine’s Day he cooked her their first meal, and they have been together ever since.
”He lived up on Ridgewood by all the fraternities, and I was in Collegetown, so we would just walk a lot across the whole campus, across the quad and then across the suspension bridge,” Ms. Leeds said. “So we had a whole bunch of romantic dates walking across the suspension bridge.”
After they graduated, they continued to spend a lot of time together on the Ithaca campus, hanging out frequently in Tjaden Hall. When Ms. Leeds found out she was pregnant on Valentine’s Day, the couple decided to name their son Tjaden after their favorite hall.
”When our son told us he was going to Cornell, we jokingly said, ‘Well, you’re going to meet the love of your life at age 19.’ And he thought we were insane,” Ms. Leeds said. “Then he did. So now [Tjaden] and his partner live in Austin, Texas, after meeting when they were 19 at Cornell.”
Lynah Faithful-ly Wed
Margo Bittner ’80 and Jim Bittner ’80
Margo Bittner ’80 and Jim Bittner ’80 met on one of their first days of freshman year, while sitting around the lounge of U-Hall 1 getting to know the new students in their dormitory. The first time they officially spent time together was on a double date to a Harry Chapin concert — but they weren’t paired with each other.
They then became good friends, and Ms. Bittner began to reap the benefits of Mr. Bittner’s role as manager of the Cornell hockey team. He was allowed two tickets a game, which he would always allocate to her.
“After the hockey games, we would actually go with the hockey players to some of the different bars. We loved to eat at the Cabbagetown Cafe,” Ms. Bittner said. “We attended a lot of concerts at Barton Hall at that time. In fact, I still have some of the ticket stubs in our scrapbooks.”
They began dating on-and-off by the end of their first year. They made their relationship official when Mr. Bittner visited Ms. Bittner when she was taking classes over the summer on July 23, 1977. The couple married in Anabel Taylor Hall on Aug. 25, 1979 with a wedding party full of Cornellians. They continued to attend classes and live in Cornell’s married student housing on North Campus for another semester.
“One of the things we started back then was we would buy the same t-shirt and wear the same Cornell shirt,” Ms. Bittner said. “Now we’ve been married 43 years. We just got back from a cruise vacation and we actually buy matching clothing. Still to this day.”
Tonya Engst ’89 and Adam Engst ’89
Tonya Engst ’89 and Adam Engst ’89 met one of their first nights as first-year students. Ms. Engst was getting ready for a dance at Noyes Lodge with a group of students that she knew from Ithaca High School. But the large group also swept in some students who weren’t from Ithaca, one of which was Mr. Engst.
“We felt from that very first night that we had seen each other before, you know how sometimes you feel that way with someone? We tried to put it together, but we never figured it out,” Ms. Engst said. “So maybe it was just a spark.”
Ms. Engst was dating her high school sweetheart at the time, so the two were just friends during their first semester at Cornell. But Ms. Engst knew she had feelings for Mr. Engst when he became closer to one of her friends.
“The first day of chemistry class, he did not sit next to me. He sat next to this friend of mine named Christine. And I was upset about that,” Ms. Engst said. “So we had a conversation, and it became clear that I needed to break up with [my high school sweetheart].”
They have been together ever since. Ms. Engst recalled one of their best dates together at the Cornell Botanic Gardens on an abnormally warm March day. They set up camp outside a large oak tree and decided to stay the night.
“At some point, maybe 3 a.m., we woke up and we were so cold. It was really not summer, and we were just so freaking cold,” Ms. Engst said. “So we walked all the way back to Collegetown to get into his dorm and warm up.”
Ms. Engst now works in the Industrial and Labor Relations School at Cornell, and the couple’s son Tristan graduated from the University in 2021. As Ithaca residents, the Engsts are still very involved on campus, specifically with the Finger Lakes Runners Club.
“Adam is the president of the club, and I’m on the board. So right now we’re on campus every Tuesday night in Barton Hall because we do club track practice there,” Ms. Engst said. “I don’t think we realized just how often we would be at Barton Hall, but that’s our spot.”
Long Walk to Love
Tina Atwell ’98, M.I.L.R. ’00 and Andy Atwell Ph.D. ’02
Although Tina Atwell ’98, M.I.L.R. ’00 completed her undergraduate degree at Cornell, it wasn’t until she was back for her masters that she met her husband, Andy Atwell Ph.D. ’02, at West Hill Community Church.
“I think we were one of four single people from Cornell that went to that church,” Ms. Atwell said. “So that’s where we met.”
Ms. Atwell finished her degree before Mr. Atwell, and the couple decided to break up. Nine months later, when Ms. Atwell visited campus for a recruiting event, they met up in a parking garage and walked around campus together, and have been a couple ever since.
In 2003, the Atwells decided to get married in Sage Chapel, where Mr. Atwell frequently sang while pursuing his degree, with their reception in the A.D. White House.
“I’m originally from Missouri, and Tina’s originally from Wyoming, so we have family all over. And she was at the time living in Connecticut. And then I was here in Virginia. So when trying to decide where we would want to get married, someone would be traveling,” Mr. Atwell said. “We just decided that we really like Cornell. And that’s where we met. And we really wanted to just get married at Cornell and then whoever could show up could show up.”
The couple has a daughter who also attended the University. In 2013, Mr. and Ms. Atwell spent a romantic weekend together at the Statler to celebrate their 10th anniversary.
“Both of us really have really fond memories of Ithaca, Tina was there longer than I was, and we still have a couple of friends that still live there,” Mr. Atwell said.
A Sage Strategy
Janelle Aslam E.M.B.A. ’08 and Saad Aslam E.M.B.A. ’07
On Janelle Aslam’s E.M.B.A. ’08 first day of her masters program at Cornell, her new class was walking into Sage Hall all together. Standing outside Sage Hall smoking a cigarette was Saad Aslam E.M.B.A. ’07, who immediately laid eyes on her.
“He was the very first person that I met, the first impression of the program. And he continued to ask me out,” Ms. Aslam said. “When we started, I was adamant that I was going to focus on my studies and also my job, and I wasn’t going to date anyone.”
After a few tries, Ms. Aslam finally gave in and attended a first date watching the movie Godzilla under the stars. Mr. Aslam bought her sunflowers and dessert from a nearby bakery.
The couple went on to date for the remainder of the masters program and got married in 2009 at Sage Chapel.
“Since we met outside of Sage Hall, we thought it was appropriate to actually get married at Sage Chapel,” Ms. Aslam said. “And we had our reception across the street as well.”