Alums make new college memory at the spot where it all began
UWL alumnus Alex Gonzalez, ’11, popped the big question to his future bride at the spot where their relationship started eight years ago.
After all, being at the right place at the right time was critical to how their story began.
Gonzalez remembers his first day of management class with now retired UWL Professor Tom Hench in 2009. Gonzalez walked in and grabbed a seat at a round table at the back of the room. But as the students began to funnel in, the junior realized he was surrounded by men.
“It’s not that I don’t like guys, I just would prefer a little diversity when it comes to the people I work with for an entire semester,” he says, noting that seating chart of college classrooms is typically solidified on day one.
As he debated his choice of chair, Gonzalez watched a beautiful young woman walk in and sit down at one of the empty tables up front. With only 30 seconds to spare, he decided to make the swap, walking right up to the seat where Monica Mariño was sitting next to the lecture podium.
They locked eyes.
“Thank you for saving my seat,” Gonzalez quipped as he pulled out the chair next to Mariño’s.
Mariño, who had many multi-cultural college friends, immediately recognized the tiny Christmas tree on Gonzalez’s bracelet as the Lebanese flag.
“So you are Lebanese…?” she asked.
Conversation ensued and the two became fast friends. Over the years, they found they shared a lot of commonalities such as their type-A personalities, Latin backgrounds and roots in large cities — Gonzalez from Miami and Mariño from Bogota, Colombia.
“La Crosse gave us both the opportunity to slow down, focus on education and, most of all, have a ridiculous amount of fun doing it,” says Gonzalez.
Gonzalez tried to become more than friends with Mariño six times while they were still in school. But, each time, Mariño turned him down, noting her commitment to finishing her degree. She ended up graduating in only three years.
After graduation, Mariño moved to Austin and Gonzalez to Atlanta, but their friendship continued.
Gonzalez called Mariño when he learned she was moving to Atlanta, asking once again if she’d give dating a shot. “It was a hard conversation to have considering that we were really good friends,” he says.
Mariño eventually made the move to Atlanta and agreed to the date.
Fast forward three and a half years, Gonzalez was ready to propose where it all began.
Unfortunately, Hench’s former classroom in Wimberly Hall — room 138 — is now the College of Business Administration dean’s office. But with help from UWL Marketing Professor Steve Brokaw who put him in touch with Nicole Vidden, academic services director in the dean’s office, they were still able to have a memorable marriage proposal July 3. Mariño didn’t suspect a thing.
On their return visit to La Crosse, the two took in the city, hiked the bluff, and made their way to campus. They walked the halls of Wimberly Hall starting with the fourth floor and making their way down. They were being goofy and reflecting on old times. But, as they reached floor one, Mariño noticed a change in Gonzalez’s demeanor.
“…then he got really serious and started talking about how we can do anything together… and how the last couple of years have been amazing,” she says.
“Why are you saying this?” she asked. “You are going to make me cry.”
Then, Gonzalez got down on his knee. Mariño’s jaw dropped when he proposed outside room 138.
“After the fact, I don’t think he could have proposed in a better, more meaningful place,” she says. “La Crosse and the campus truly does represent where we first met and we both loved our college experience.”
Gonzalez says their experiences at UWL — including this brand new one — will keep them coming back to visit year after year.