The Secret Elopement—Grace for the Impulsive

Connected by the Campus

Things were a lot different at the then-called Trinity Junior College campus in 1971. Back then, it was common for Christian institutions to enforce strict guidelines when it came to interactions between men and women. Trinity Junior College was no different. But it was there that Kathleen Gipson and Bob Snyder found love and chose to pursue what they knew God had given them.

How They Met

The couple met in the gym, while in signing up for a boat trip/dinner cruise, and decided to go for coffee. Both of them went with innocent intentions. Marriage was far from their minds. Kathleen had determined long ago never to marry. Her desire was to be a teacher and to travel the world. Similarly, Bob was just looking to have fun. Neither one expected it to lead to anything serious.

But what they found in each-other’s company left a lasting impression. With five of their six classes together, they soon became inseparable.

But during this first semester, Kathleen received some devastating news. Her father, who worked for the U.S. government, was going to be transferred to an assignment in Okinawa, Japan. Kathleen was supposed to go with. But how could she leave, especially now after meeting someone so wonderful?

The Fateful Field Trip

One day, while their psychology class was on a field trip to a divorce court, Bob got an idea.

“The next day, Bob wrote me a note during class and said that we should elope,” Kathleen says.

Abrupt as it was, this seemed like the perfect plan. She said yes.

Little did they know that this decision would go directly against school policy, which stated that students were not allowed to marry during the school year.

December 14th

They had booked an appointment with a justice of the peace for December 14th, the last day of classes. But on that day, they awoke to a severe winter storm.

“No power at the school, and no water,” says Kathleen, “so I could not shower, or brush my teeth.” They also had finals, which they had to take in the dark. Afterward, they climbed into a friend’s car with two other witnesses and drove over icy roads to make their wedding appointment. The whole way, Bob’s friend tried to talk them out of it.

But they were undeterred, and seven minutes later, they were officially married. It was a whirlwind romance. Within twelve weeks of meeting, they were man and wife.

“This group pic is our wedding party,” says Kathleen. “The two girls sitting down were our Canadian witnesses. The guy beside Bob is Arne Olsen. He stood up for Bob. The girl beside me is Lucy Wardle, who married Arne Olsen.”

The Aftermath

Bob’s parents hadn’t lost power during the storm, and he still lived at home, so they went there after the ceremony so Kathleen could do her laundry and freshen up.

“Oh my, we were so young,” says Kathleen. “It was hard to not giggle as I shared supper with his family, knowing we had just been married for a couple hours.”

They kept their marriage a secret for about a month, but it didn’t take long for rumours to start spreading around campus that the two were planning to elope. The truth of what really happened eventually got out. “The campus was buzzing,” says Kathleen. “Everyone was so happy for us.”

Everyone was happy but the staff, however. The couple were taken aside and informed that they’d broken campus policy. Something had to be done as consequence.

President Cal Hansen and staff met to discuss the situation. But despite having rules against students marrying, the staff chose to exercise grace on this impulsive young couple. Bob and Kathleen were allowed to remain students, but they were required to find an apartment together, and Kathleen’s course load was reduced so she could support her husband. “Remember, this was 46 years ago,” Kathleen says.

The Days Ahead

Unfortunately, things didn’t go so smoothly with their parents. Both Bob and Kathleen’s families were deeply hurt that they weren’t consulted about the elopement, which made the first years of their marriage very difficult.

“On one hand, we were young and in love and on this amazing adventure of beginning a life together,” says Kathleen, “but on the other hand, we did not have the support of family because they were hurt.”

Bob and Kathleen regretted not telling their parents, but felt they had no choice. Over time, their parents were able to forgive and come to terms with what happened.

Bob and Kathleen Today

Today, Bob (66) and Kathleen (65) remain happily married.

“Our 46+ years together have been a wild and crazy adventure,” says Kathleen. “We have gone through some heart-wrenching, painful struggles as partners and parents. As I look back on the last 46 years I don’t think I would change much. I am the person I am because of the circumstances in my life—good and bad.”

Despite the drama of the day, Bob and Kathleen are thankful that the school that brought them together was willing to extend grace and support to them in the beginning of their marriage.

“If I have any regrets,” says Kathleen, “it’s that my attitudes did not always reflect Jesus. But God is gracious and merciful. I thank Him daily for the commitment Bob and I have had over the last 46 years. I pray that as we face the senior years together that we will overflow with God’s grace for each other.”

 

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Alumna Kathleen Synder standing in a snowy field on campus, with the original dormitories behind her.

Kathleen Synder on campus in 1972, during a snow storm.