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Couple who met at IMU return for 60th anniversary

Pat and Gene Tharp at a military ball. On a recent summer weekend, two former Indiana University students returned to the Indiana Memorial Union with their family and sat at the very spot where their love story began more than 60 years ago.

Pat and Gene Tharp were both students at IU Bloomington when they crossed paths at the IMU in October 1961 — a chance encounter that would change their lives.

Pat and one of her friends had decided to take a break from studying and walk over to The Commons at the IMU for a Coke. They didn’t realize until after they purchased their drinks that the seating area was full, but two men sitting at a table for four near a set of revolving doors said they were getting ready to leave. The women sat down, and the men ended up sticking around to talk to them.

One of those men was Gene, who was a member of the Air Force studying in The Intensive Language Training Center at IU. Gene asked her to play cards the next day, but Pat said she didn’t think much of the encounter initially.

“I wrote in my calendar what I did most days, and it didn’t even make my calendar,” she said. “But it ended up changing my life from then on.”

They did play cards the next night, and that was followed by an official date. They were engaged the following May, a milestone that also took place on IU’s campus.

“I always tell people we met near revolving doors and have been going around together ever since,” Pat said.

Pat and Gene Tharp sit in the IMU, where they met.

While the couple didn’t graduate from IU, they treasure the Bloomington campus, and especially the IMU, because of the role they played in their love story. They live in nearby Columbus, Indiana, and they’ve celebrated multiple anniversaries on campus — renting bikes to ride around Bloomington one year, staying at the IMU another. Most recently, they returned with their children and grandchildren to celebrate 60 years of marriage with a special dinner in the Federal Room of the IMU.

“We walked the campus with grandchildren and children and some spouses, and showed them the buildings where we had classes and where we lived,” Pat said. “We went to the very place in The Commons where the table sat and our daughter took pictures of us sitting there in the IMU.”

Pat and Gene’s love for IU has continued into the next generation. Of their six children, four have degrees from IU.