A dusky graduation party, a request for a piece of chewing gum, an invitation to church — couples meet in innocent and unusual ways. And when the chemistry is right, chance encounters can turn into lifetime commitments and workplace adventures.
At least that’s the case for three couples at the School of Dentistry, one each from faculty, staff and students. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, they share their stories of love – and loving UMKC and being at the School of Dentistry.
Timothy and Liza Cox met 35 years ago at a party to celebrate the end of high school in their hometown of Adelaide, Australia. They were in a group that had gone outside to take a break from party noise.
If the street lights had been working, it would’ve been love at first sight.
“The lights were out because of road work nearby,” Liza said, “so no one could see anyone else well, just outlines. I remember being completely enamored by his laugh and the warm timber of his voice.”
Timothy said, “There was clearly some powerful chemistry. It was pretty obvious to everyone that this was something special.”
Across three decades and three continents, the Coxes say, they still have something special. Their careers have taken them to Houston, Italy, back to Australia, to Seattle at the University of Washington for 13 years, and now UMKC, where they landed in fall 2018.
Timothy is a UMKC School of Dentistry professor and endowed chair in dental and musculoskeletal research. Liza is senior research associate in the school’s Oral and Craniofacial Sciences Department, where she has her own research project. Her work also includes, as she puts it, “often making Tim’s more complex ideas come to life experimentally and problem solving for the lab.”
With all that to juggle — plus dogs, two teenage sons and getting settled in Kansas City — Timothy said it helped immensely that “we know what each other expects and wants, often without having to say anything.”
It also helps that Kansas City, UMKC and the School of Dentistry all seem like a great fit.
“The opportunities in KC were exciting for us on many fronts, scientifically,” Timothy said. “There was the chance to be around more colleagues with similar developmental biology and craniofacial interests and in a successful school and department with the resources critical to drive our work forward. We have felt supported and welcome by both research and administrative staff.”
Liza said the dental school offered “a wide array of accomplished colleagues, acknowledged partnerships and outstanding research being conducted.” She also finds the school’s diversity refreshing, along with “the willingness of the university to respectfully embrace the wider community.”
Karissa Kramer and Nicole Patterson’s relationship actually started with a bit of miscommunication while working together on a class project in high school in fall 2010.
“I asked if she had gum,” Nicole recalled, “and she said, ‘You’re lucky I like you. It’s my last piece.’ ”
Karissa was being sarcastic, but Nicole took her at her word, and soon they were dating. “I knew she was the one from the start,” Nicole said. Karissa agreed: “We both knew very early on that this was the real deal.”
They were married in July 2016, and shortly after that Karissa joined Nicole on the School of Dentistry staff. Working together on the Team 1 staff at the school also has been ideal; Karissa is a clerk and Nicole is a dental assistant.
“We have different jobs but interact often,” Nicole said. “It’s great being able to drive to work together and eat lunch together, too.”
They also enjoy interacting with students and seeing their reactions when the students discover they are married — something one class didn’t do till graduation day.
“Many people don’t realize we are married because we are the same gender,” Nicole said, “so it’s always fun when they ask or it gets around and students end up messaging each other about it.”
Mary Margaret Pearman and Brandon Kratz know dental school isn’t exactly conducive to romance.
Their first two years, Brandon said, “we were in the same classes all of the time. We couldn’t really ask, How was your day? We already knew.”
And being each other’s patients when they started clinical work brought tears to Brandon’s eyes, and not in a good way.
Taking X-rays, Mary Margaret discovered that Brandon had quite a gag reflex – trouble when a competency exam calls for inserting a slide holder into the patient’s mouth 18 times.
“I was literally crying from gagging so much,” Brandon said. “She did end up passing her competency. The sacrifices I make …”
On the other hand, he said, “It is really nice to have somebody who knew what you were going through. Somebody that could relate to some of your frustrations with school. It was also really nice that we could study together, quiz each other, or even give each other tips on how to drill a better cavity prep.”
“We both get it,” Mary Margaret said. “Which makes us excellent listeners and even better problem solvers for the other person.”
It also helped that their relationship had a solid foundation. They both are Catholic and met as undergraduates at UMKC when Mary Margaret was looking for someone to go to Mass with her.
“We had very different interests but could not have had more similar values,” Mary Margaret said. Brandon, from Springfield, introduced her to his love of the outdoors, “and I take full credit for introducing him to vegetables and sunscreen,” she said.
Another plus: Brandon has the romance thing down. He proposed after dinner and a sunset cruise at their favorite getaway spot, Table Rock Lake. He led her, blindfolded, to the boat dock where he first told Mary Margaret he loved her. And then he got down on one knee.
“He had music and rose petals and big string lights hung all across the dock,” Mary Margaret said. “He even had some of our closest friends in a row boat taking photos.”
Brandon also worked in a surprise with the ring. “I made it at a dental lab and melted some of my grandfather’s gold down to put in it.”
Now they’re looking forward to graduation in May and getting married in October in Mary Margeret’s hometown, St. Louis.
Besides the chance to grow together through its challenges, Mary Margaret said, UMKC and the School of Dentistry have given them another big gift.
“We have such an amazing support group of friends. They make us laugh until we cry and we hope to maintain these relationships long after graduation. Individually, we are great people. Together, we are even better.”