Love Through the Decades

Harold Kolenbrander and Judy Gosselink Grooters

Harold Kolenbrander ’60 and Judy Gosselink Grooters ’60 get a second chance at love.

The 60s: Second Chance at Love

Harold Kolenbrander and Judy Gosselink Grooters were born the same year, growing up just 20 miles apart. They knew each other during their time at Central College and graduated with the Class of 1960. Kolenbrander and Grooters were both involved in music and even ran with the same group of friends. 

Each married and had three kids, several of whom attended Central. The pair had very successful professional lives and stayed involved with Central, later being asked to serve on the Board of Trustees (which also overlapped). Both faced immense loss with the passing of their spouses. 

The parallels and similarities connecting these two are endless. They’ve always been tied to one another in various ways, but it was a college reunion that reconnected them. They both agreed to serve on the planning committee with some classmates from Central and exchanged information to stay in contact. 

Judy shares she “always sent Harold a Christmas card,” and that his cards to her “must have gotten lost in the mail.”

The summer of 2019, Harold dusted off her contact information and reached out.

He let Judy know he’d be in the area to attend his granddaughter’s college graduation ceremony and he’d love to see her on his way to Boston if she was in the area. She agreed and the two met for drinks that turned into a long dinner and even had breakfast together the next morning. As Kolenbrander drove away, he thought to himself, “I hope Judy and I can see a lot more of each other.” 

And as the saying goes, the rest is history — and neither had to worry about exchanging Christmas cards again.

The pair started making arrangements to see each other more often and see the world, but the COVID-19 pandemic had different plans. Their travels were put on hold, and not wanting to waste any time away from each other, they decided to quarantine together. 

“You get to know someone rather quickly when you’re holed up together,” Grooters says.

They didn’t know how long they’d have to quarantine but were glad to be in each other’s presence. Not long into their new living arrangement, they knew they wanted to make things permanent. And in 2021, the couple married at a church in Rhode Island. 

The wedding was just family; after all, that’s what it’s all about. Everyone came to their house before the ceremony for coffee, Dutch letters and various sweets from Jaarsma Bakery — a touch of Pella, of course. A friend of theirs had written a special blessing for them that was read during the ceremony, the church’s organist played the signature piece of their dear friend, Davis Folkerts ’60, and each of their children spoke. After, the family gathered for a beautiful lunch at a nearby restaurant where the couple has since celebrated their wedding anniversary. 

Married life is sweeter than a Dutch letter for this pair. Since the world has reopened, they’ve packed their bags and gone on several adventures — seeing friends from their time at Central, taking their rescheduled trips and planning new ones — to make up for the lost (COVID-19) time. Though, they wouldn’t consider it lost time; after all, quarantine is how they got to know each other all over again!

“It’s truly serendipitous,” Grooters says.

“I wasn’t married for nearly 40 years after my husband passed, and I certainly didn’t expect to be again. Having this family and Harold blows me away when I think about it.”

Harold shares a similar sentiment, “I’m delighted our paths crossed,” he says. “I couldn’t be happier with how everything worked out.” 

These two led lives of their own. They accomplished great things and when the time was right, Central led them back to one another. The pair had to grow up 20 miles apart to find their way to one another nearly 60 years after graduating from Central.

Next time you get invited to Homecoming or an alumni event, maybe reconsider before saying, “no.” You never know, in addition to seeing classmates and friends, you could walk away with a new love.

Bill ’70 and Barb Ebeling Thomas ’70 have shared 56 years together.

Bill ’70 and Barb Ebeling Thomas ’70 have shared 56 years together.

The 70s: Steps in the Wife Direction

Barb Ebeling Thomas ’70 first laid eyes on Bill Thomas ’70 outside of Central College’s student union her first day on campus in Fall 1966. He was walking down the steps with his friends Keegan (Jim Keegan ’70) and Kissinger (David Kissinger ’70) as Barb ascended the stairs and they struck up a conversation.

“For some reason, we started talking. I didn’t know his name, but found out he came from Des Moines, Iowa, and I told him I was from Chicago,” she reminisces. “So, for the first half of our freshman year when we crossed paths, I called him ‘Iowa’ and he called me ‘Chicago.’”

Fast forward to Spring 1967 when Barb often met Bill on the steps near the cafeteria in Graham Hall after dinner. The pair took long walks around campus, often stopping by the Old Central Bell or the football field. And with their walks, they stepped into the dating scene.

By Fall 1967, the couple was engaged. “He asked me to marry him on the 50-yard line of Central’s football field and we married at the end of our junior year,” Barb shares. The newlyweds lived in now-extinct married student housing during their senior year — a humble Quonset hut by the railroad tracks that formerly ran through campus.

More than 56 years — 54 of those years married, “Iowa” and “Chicago” are still walking through life together. The Thomases have two children — Bill Thomas II and Gini Thomas ’93 — and seven grandchildren.

“Unfortunately, Bill has Alzheimer’s now and has lost these memories, but I love to tell our grandchildren how we met,” Barb says. “Central holds many fond memories for us … and to think it all started on the steps of the old student union.”

A family full of Central sweethearts. Left to Right: Deb Worden Ziskovsky ’81,April Ziskovsky ’08, Jill Ziskovsky Holcomb ’11, Kelli Ziskovsky Holan ’13 and Lyle Ziskovsky ’81.

A family full of Central sweethearts. Left to Right: Deb Worden Ziskovsky ’81, April Ziskovsky ’08, Jill Ziskovsky Holcomb ’11, Kelli Ziskovsky Holan ’13 and Lyle Ziskovsky ’81.

The 80s: A Love for All Generations 

Lyle ’81 and Deb Worden Ziskovsky ’81 both came to Central to further their education and continue their athletics careers running both track and cross country for the Dutch. 

The pair met one of their very first days on campus in the fall of 1977 during cross country practice. “The men’s and women’s teams were a close-knit group, so everyone got to know each other very well, very quickly,” Lyle says.

That’s not to say it was love at first sight, though. Lyle and Deb were great friends who’d spend time together with the group going to movies at the Holland Theatre, grabbing ice cream at Dairy Queen, pizza from the Dutch Oven or just hanging out on campus. 

Things changed in their junior year. The couple went on some dates and decided to make things official in January 1980. They still remember one of their very first solo dates: They had dinner at George’s, saw two movies (“Foul Play” and “101 Dalmatians”) and ended the night talking for hours on end in a Scholte Hall lounge. 

Lyle proposed on graduation day in May 1981. “He gave me my ring just hours before the ceremony,” Deb shares. “It truly was a special, memorable day.” The couple married June 18, 1983.

Little did they know, their Central love story would lay the foundation for their children. The couple’s three daughters, April Ziskovsky ’08, Jill Ziskovsky Halcomb ’11 and Kelli Ziskovsky Holan ’13, all attended Central, subsequently marrying fellow Central grads! 

“Two generations of Central love stories — it’s amazing,” Deb says. “Central is a special place for all of us, and I love that it means something when we’re all there together.”

The Brown family today. Left to right: Joe ’25, Emilie Hanson Brown ’95, Jack, Pearl and Jason Brown ’94.

The Brown family today. Left to right: Joe ’25, Emilie Hanson Brown ’95, Jack, Pearl and Jason Brown ’94.

The 90s: Seven Year Glitch 

Excellent relationships with coaches, faculty and staff, involvement and athletics opportunities, academic programming and great experiences during Scholar Day drew Jason ’94 and Emilie Hanson Brown ’95 to Central College. 

He saw her — well, her photo — for the very first time on campus in Maytag Student Center along with all the other photos of first-year students. “She’s beautiful, but she’s out of my league,” Brown thought to himself.

The two met the night of the first dance on campus that fall. Jason talked his friends into delivering a message to the group of girls Emilie was standing with. They declared they were the “ratio police” and they were there to “make sure the ratio of guys to girls is 1:1.” 

Emilie picked Jason out from the back of the group and was immediately interested. Later, Jason and his friends went to Emilie’s room in Scholte and as soon as they knocked on the door, they ran away leaving a nervous Jason to talk to her. He asked her to go on a walk — the first of many — and she agreed. Not long after, the pair began dating. 

Unlike so many fairytales, it wasn’t happily ever after — yet. Acknowledging their age and places in their lives, they decided to break things off toward the end of the academic year. “We weren’t ready to love each other yet; at least not the way we wanted to or deserved,” Emilie shares.

They went on with their athletics careers and involvement opportunities on campus. They were always friendly when they saw one another — they had no reason not to be. Seven years would pass before they saw their opportunity for a second chance. Throughout those years apart, they would bump into each other or hear the other’s name come up in conversation just frequently enough that they could never get each other out of their heads. 

Emilie was in a serious relationship (with someone else) in grad school. As she drove cross-country returning home, she found herself thinking about her friends from graduate school and who she’d pair them up with. When she came to one friend, she thought, “Jason would be great for her … No, wait. He’s great for me!”

Jason’s younger sister, Maggie Brown VanderWilt ’97, was hanging out at the Hanson house with Emilie’s younger sister, Martha Hanson Koopman ’97, when she returned. Martha was excited to talk with Emilie about her new beau, but Maggie noticed everyone except Emilie seemed to be excited about the relationship. Being a great sister, she informed Jason of the news (and lack of excitement). 

A  couple of years went by and Jason returned to Pella to watch his sister Abbie Brown Sogard ’00 play volleyball one weekend. When he turned in the stands, he was met with Emilie’s eyes.

Jason was considering moving back to Pella from Overland Park, Kansas, to take over the InterVarsity program at Central. Emilie was in town working for Heritage Lace. He asked her to catch up and she gladly agreed. Not having anywhere else to go, the pair chatted in Maytag Student Center — where Jason first saw Emilie — for hours on end.

“We kind of knew that as soon as I got back to Pella, we’d begin dating,” Jason says. Not long after, he was back, working in campus ministries at Central. 

“We were together about three months before we decided to get married. I proposed Dec. 15, 1999, and we were married April 1, 2000,” Jason says. 

“We got married in Pella and had the reception in Graham Conference Center on Central’s campus,” Emilie shares. “Eric Sickler ’83, who was integral in my recruitment to Central, and his band, Ashanti, played our wedding reception, the college catered and the room was full of Central grads. During speeches, my younger sister, Aanna Hanson Hoch ’98, says, ‘okay, show of hands, who always thought this was going to happen?’ The entire room raised their hands.” 

“I think we always knew we were right for each other; we just didn’t have the timing right … until we did,” Jason says.

“We continue to learn and grow in our understanding of the world, each other, ourselves and God,” Emilie reflects. “We are evolving as people, and as our experiences grow, we are hopefully becoming more self-aware and more compassionate as individuals and as a couple. I appreciate that we welcome and encourage this process in one another. I want Jason to become his best self, and my experience in our marriage is that he wants the same for me.”

Time to grow personally and professionally, in their faith and in appreciation for one another (and perhaps a gentle push from all things Central) brought these two back together to create something stronger than they could have ever imagined at 18 and 19 years old: success in their professional lives; a strong relationship centered around love and Christ; and three beautiful children — Joe, a member of the Central College Class of 2025, Jack and Pearl.

Phil ’07, Carson, Raegan and Lindee Russell Jeneary ’08.

Phil ’07, Carson, Raegan and Lindee Russell Jeneary ’08.

The 00s: Des Moine Destiny 

Phil ’07 and Lindee Russell Jeneary ’08 met while they were students at Central College but didn’t know one another well.

Phil primarily took political science and history courses, had an active social life and spent a semester in Washington D.C. Meanwhile, Lindee focused on courses that supported her Spanish and international studies majors; was heavily involved in campus activities and leadership opportunities; and spent semesters in Mexico and Spain.

After graduation in 2007, Phil worked on political campaigns around Des Moines. When Lindee graduated the following year, her first post-college job was in Council Bluffs, Iowa. However, she frequently visited college friends in the Des Moines area.

At the time, Phil was roommates with Matt Clawson ’08, who also was Lindee’s friend. The living arrangement meant their social circles often intersected. Phil and Lindee, both single at the time, struck up a romance.

“We were inseparable,” Lindee gushes. “After a year of dating long distance, I was able to transfer my job to the Des Moines area.”

A year later, the couple traveled to Washington D.C., where Phil proposed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The couple married in October 2011; many of their guests were from Central.

“Trent ’07 and Allison Fegley Johnson ’08 were in our wedding party,” Lindee shares. “They’re now married!”

Phil and Lindee welcomed Raegan Kay into the world in 2015, followed by Carson Daniel in 2017. The family settled in Waukee, Iowa. Phil is the government relations director for the Iowa Medical Society, and Lindee serves as a deputy court unit executive for the United States Federal Judiciary. 

“I’m so grateful for the life we’ve created. It’s taken us on tremendous adventures,” Lindee says. “We look back fondly at our Central years and enjoy visiting campus when we get the chance!”

Edwin ’17, Everett, Emberly and Kailey Phillips Etienne ’18.

Edwin ’17, Everett, Emberly and Kailey Phillips Etienne ’18.

The 10s: Isn’t It Romantic?

Edwin ’17 and Kailey Phillips Etienne ’18 shared one sociology class, but their connection wasn’t established in the classroom. In fact, they were nothing more than friends for most of their mutual time at Central.

So, what took them past the friend zone? A movie-style meet-cute when Kailey returned from studying in Yucatán, Mexico.

“I was with my roommate at the post office in Maytag Student Center one afternoon and Edwin came up. He said something funny to welcome me back,” Kailey remembers. “Then a couple of weekends later, we met up, reconnected and realized we had more in common than we thought we did.”

Much of their relationship was spent making trips back-and-forth between Florida and Iowa and on hours-long FaceTime calls to do life together long-distance. They became increasingly confident their relationship was part of God’s plan for their lives.

“We knew it was not going to be temporary,” Kailey says, “We were ready to settle down.”

In what feels like the makings of a romantic comedy, Kailey flew down to Florida in 2017 for a nautical New Year’s Eve to watch the ball drop in Fort Myers. As it got closer to midnight, the yacht emptied — something she neglected to notice.

“The fireworks went off at midnight, and he was down on one knee,” Kailey smiles. “I couldn’t believe it; I was over the moon!”

The couple has been happily married since 2019 and have two children, Everett and Emberly. Edwin is now a detective and part of the S.W.A.T. team in Charlotte County, Florida, and Kailey is a licensed funeral home director and certified celebrant in North Port, Florida.

Caleb ’23 and Elise Visscher Kuiper ’23

Caleb ’23 and Elise Visscher Kuiper ’23 | Photo by Megan Irene Photography

The 20s: Servant Hearts, Glass Flowers 

Caleb ’23 and Elise Vissher Kuiper ’23 met on a mission trip over winter break in their sophomore year at Central College. Caleb was looking for community and a place to belong and found that in Campus Ministries.

New and open to exploring faith, he asked the group with him in Texas all sorts of questions. Among the answers, he found a new appreciation and understanding of faith and scripture as well as Elise. 

“We kept getting paired up and unintentionally working in the same groups,” Elise recalls.

“The whole group would go on hikes, and we’d reach a point where it was going to get more challenging. So, some would turn back, but Elise always continued. I loved her adventurous spirit and thought, ‘Well, I’m coming, too,’” Caleb says. 

The team had mangoes with a meal one day and Elise was set on taking those seeds and trying to grow some back home. So she took them home and Caleb did, too. “I knew I didn’t have anything to put it in or supplies to care for it, so I figured I could use that as a way to reach out when we were back at school,” Caleb chuckles.

Caleb planted the seed, literally, and it worked! 

The pair took time over spring break of their sophomore year to think and pray about their futures and summer plans (and whether they should start a relationship). They independently decided to both work for Lake View Summer Camp, operated by Joel Brummel, chaplain at Central, and his wife, Diana — thus, officially beginning their relationship in the spring of 2021.

Working with kids every day can teach you a lot about a person and in Caleb and Elise’s case, it only made them stronger. They owned their areas for growth as individuals and acknowledged one another’s strengths. Exhausted, they left camp feeling even more confident in the relationship. 

“I came back from camp and one of the first things I said was, ‘mom, I’m going to marry this guy,’” Elise says. “A little bit of panic set in for my mom because it’s the first thing out of my mouth after being away all summer and we’d only been dating about four months at that point.”

The couple started their junior year with dreams and plans for their future. They began talking about what getting married would look like and mean for them. Knowing full well that their parents would need some information to get behind this, Caleb and Elise prepared a presentation with three different timelines for marriage, a plan for how they would make this happen, support themselves financially and any other questions they knew their parents would have. 

With a little convincing, both sides recognized the thought and work behind what they prepared and the love between them and ultimately gave their blessings. 

Caleb intended to propose after finals in the fall semester that year. The Christmas Candlelight concerts came, and so did all of the family. After a small nudge from Elise’s grandmother, Dee Van Zee, a retired, longtime employee of the college, asking if he had anything special planned that weekend, Caleb realized that everyone they loved was right there and he should propose that day.

He waited until after the concert and pulled Elise away before they met up with everyone at her grandparents’ house. He took her to the boat ramp at Lake Red Rock where they’d danced together for the first time. Spoiler alert: She said, “Yes!”

They met up with friends and family right after and everyone cheered when they walked in the door. The couple went into wedding planning mode immediately.

One of the special details they wanted to include in their day was a hand-blown glass flower for all their guests to take home. Elise had taken a glass-blowing course and Caleb ended up taking one, too. They got permission, paid for the materials and nearly every spare moment they had in Spring 2022 was spent creating these special wedding favors. 

The pair married in Pella on July 23, 2022, before returning to Central for their senior year. “Our relationship, our marriage, it all just feels like it was ordained,” Caleb says. “So many things lined up for us to get together and to be here.”

They’re growing together in their life and love and look forward to capping their Central experience walking at Commencement in May.

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