ABINGTON, Pa. — A chance encounter on a sunny fall day at Penn State Abington would forever change the lives of two young people. Now, almost six decades later, the start of their love story came full circle on another fall day during a special dedication outside the Sutherland Building, where the couple first crossed paths.
Barbara and Sam Evans, class of 1971, were both in their first semester at Abington, then known as the Ogontz campus, in 1967.
“I was with a friend outside of the Sutherland Building, and we paused to say hello to another friend and Sam was with him," Barb said. "l looked at Sam, and I noticed his smile, his bright eyes and his warmth — and his being handsome helped! His whole demeanor gave me a good feeling about him."
They would run into each other at club meetings and intramurals and not long after Sam asked Barb out on their first date.
“I saw the man that Sam is on our first date," Barb said. "We were talking about family, and he pulled out pictures of his younger siblings from his wallet. We just connected in so many ways and, most importantly, about family."
Their romance deepened as they attended military formals due to Sam’s involvement in Reserve Officer Training Corps, and they later transferred to University Park together to complete their degrees with a group of now lifelong friends. They married in October 1971, six months after graduating.
“Our romance was meant to be," Barb said. "My parents said Sam was the son they always prayed for."
Barb paid a surprise visit to Abington recently without Sam, who is in hospice with frontotemporal dementia. The visit was arranged by her cousin, Rosemary Patricelli.
Patricelli, who lives within sight of the Sutherland Building, has watched in amazement at Barb’s devotion to Sam since his symptoms first surfaced almost 10 years ago. Although they have aides, Barb rarely leaves her bedridden husband’s side.
“Barb takes such extraordinary care of Sam," Patricelli said. "It’s breathtaking to watch. I desperately needed to do something that would bring her some joy, and I started thinking about their connection to Penn State.”
Patricelli contacted Karen Weiss Jones, the director of development and alumni relations at Abington, and they brainstormed ideas. It was decided to add a plaque to a bench outside of Sutherland to celebrate the roots of Barb and Sam’s story.
“They are a Penn State family, and now this is a place for Barb and Sam and their family that acts as a testimonial to their love and their dedication to each other,” Patricelli said.
One of Barb and Sam’s sons, Brett, accompanied Barb to campus along with Rosemary and another cousin, Marie Patricelli. As the rain fell softly, Brett FaceTimed his dad who, with the help of an aide, watched as the bench was unveiled.
Barb smiled from ear to ear and dabbed at her eyes when she saw the plaque, which reads: “Sam ‘71 and Barb ‘71 Evans. Our lifelong love began here.”
“I’m beside myself and overwhelmed by the love," Barb said. "We are so blessed. We have so many wonderful memories as sad as it is to see a man who was so active and people-oriented to be suffering the way he is.”
According to Rosemary, the hospice aide said that Sam was fixated on the phone during the brief ceremony.
“Sam can’t speak any longer so you have to read what’s in his eyes," she said. "He stared at the screen the entire time."
After Barb and Sam graduated with degrees in education, they both embarked on careers teaching in Bucks County. Barb retired from full-time classroom assignments to raise sons Brett and Drew, who are Penn State alumni, but she continued as a substitute teacher, homebound instructor and private tutor.
Sam taught social studies at the high school for the majority of his career in the Council Rock School District and worked as an assistant football coach.
“Sam mentored student teachers, and he was asked to be the lead teacher in inclusion classes," Barb said. "He is a wonderful, caring, and patient man that extended to students. And Sam is still teaching us by being courageous."
Despite his teaching and coaching obligations, Sam managed to serve 29 years in civil affairs in the Army Reserve, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. His unit traveled extensively with stops in Iceland, Germany, Jamaica and Haiti.
Their connection to Penn State has helped keep Barb, Sam, their children, grandchildren and extended family and friends close. They have been members of the Bucks County chapter of the Penn State Alumni Association and longtime football season ticket holders. They continued to attend games for some time after Sam’s diagnosis.
“Penn State has been part of our lives and carried us through with so much joy," Barb said. "From that first day at Ogontz, when I saw Sam’s expression, the warmth in his smile, and his eyes lit up, and it grew and grew. ... We are blessed to have these memories and people in our lives. I’m a glass half full kind of person and a believer in little things in life that become more meaningful as we become more mature."
About Penn State Abington
Penn State Abington provides an affordable, accessible and high-impact education resulting in the success of a diverse student body. It is committed to student success through innovative approaches to 21st-century public higher education within a world-class research university. With more than 3,100 students, Penn State Abington is a residential campus that offers baccalaureate degrees in 25 majors, accelerated master's degrees, undergraduate research, the Schreyer Honors College, NCAA Division III athletics and more.