Generations of Earlhamites Have Found Love Around The Heart
February 13, 2013
The academic rigor that plays out on the Earlham College campus works far better at matchmaking than eHarmony or Cupid.
“The learning that you go through here helps you to know so much about the character of the people you are sharing the experience with,” says Janica (Johnson) Kyriacopoulos ’81 who met her husband Peter Kyriacopoulos ’80 at Earlham. “Earlham is such a personal and communal experience that you left here knowing nearly everything about your friends because by the end there wasn’t much that you hadn’t already been through together.”
Janica and Peter say Earlham served as more than a springboard for their marriage; it played a definitive role in their lives.
“I learned to be exceptionally inclusive at Earlham and capture the talents of those around me to work together,” says Peter, who has put his political science degree to work in several governors’ offices in Washington, DC, handling federal affairs for state agencies. “This environment, this place very much influenced who we are and the choices we make.”
While on campus, the Kyriacopouloses had a close-knit group of 15-20 friends.
“The academic rigor required that we study really hard,” Peter says. “It’s surprising when I think back how hard we all worked. It was a big deal for all of us to do well academically. We were competitive, but we were all mutually supportive.”
Members of the group often took classes together, and Janica and Peter admit to trying to outdo each other in their coursework.
Outside of classes, the couple spent a lot of time conversing in the common areas of their dorms, and there were the occasional off-campus dinners and dances. They were also very active in intramurals.
“We were really, really good in intramurals,” Janica remembers. “Some among our group of friends were athletes, and we were all very competitive. We just enjoyed doing anything together.”
Janica and Peter’s story, and the stories of their children Dylan ’13 and Ilyah ’14, are part of a larger romance with the College that began when Janica’s grandfather, J. Grant Johnson, decided to complete his education at the age of 40. This was even more unusual because J. Grant and his wife, Goldah, had four boys at the time, one of whom joined his father as a fellow student on the Earlham campus. Eventually, all four, JW ‘41, Phillip ‘50, Charles ’46, and Jim ‘60, would graduate from Earlham.
“My father was the first in the family to go to Earlham,” says Jim, the youngest of the four boys and Janica’s father. “He had one year of college but at some point he felt a call to the ministry and started serving in a couple of Quaker meetings. It quickly became apparent that he needed to finish his education and he was inclined to attend Earlham. We moved to Richmond, and I came along in a basket.”
“My family was patient with me and allowed me to look at schools in Colorado and Arizona,” Jim remembers. “With my father and three brothers having gone to Earlham, Earlham was a constant influence. I felt like I needed to be my own person. Everybody in the family stepped back for a minute; they didn’t do high pressure.”
Perhaps Cupid helped to persuade Jim.
A certain young girl, Helen (Ellis) Johnson ‘64, had caught his eye in the elementary school he attended in Ridge Farm, Ill., and at Junior Vermilion Quarterly Meeting. In the sixth grade Jim made a bold proposition that would later come true.
“He was wearing one of those t-shirts that said ‘Earlham Class of 19??’ and he came up to me and said ‘I’m going to go to Earlham and why don’t you go there too?’” Helen says. The couple dated off and on through high school but had decided that once they arrived at Earlham they would not maintain an exclusive relationship.
“We really didn’t know very many people when we got to campus, and we found ourselves drawn more and more together,” Helen says.
“We spent a lot of time sitting and talking in the Earlham Hall parlor,” Jim says. “At nine or 10:00 p.m., Miss French would announce that it was time for the boys to leave because Earlham Hall was the girls dorm and visiting hours were over. There were other rules, too, such as both feet had to be on the floor at all times!”
In addition to the parlor talks, there were lots of walks — walks to the Kissing Stone and along the Serpentine — for the couple, who decided to marry after their sophomore year.
"There were quite a few married couples then," Jim remembers. Although housing for married couples was available on campus, the Johnsons became "Day Dodgers," a term that referred to students who commuted.
“The first year after the wedding we went to Indiana State,” says Helen, “but immediately decided that we missed Earlham.”
The couple returned to Earlham where Jim continued studying with Elton Trueblood, Hugh Barbour and Joe Elmore. Like his father, he would go on to a ministry among Friends in Indiana and Illinois, while Helen cultivated a successful teaching career in music.
After retiring, the Johnsons returned to Richmond in April 2012 to live in the independent housing at Friends Fellowship Community. The move has facilitated new Earlham acquaintances and a closer connection to their grandchildren Dylan and Ilyah.
“We visit them every time they get hungry for cookies,” Helen says referring to the grandchildren. “They have been out in Bethesda, Md., all these years. It is a great situation.”
Jim pauses to consider the impact Earlham has had on his life.
“It began those first days when I had a father and older brothers talking about Earlham and I was too young to even know what college was,” Jim remembers. In retirement, the Johnsons are able to share their grandchildren’s Earlham experience and now have several former faculty members as neighbors. “It’s just been a continuum; Earlham has been a wonderful continuum in my life.”
Plenty of other couples have met at Earlham, too. Make sure to check out the couples that have been featured on the Alumni Council Facebook page this month in honor of Valentine’s Day.