Cupid finds first Gannon couple still going strong

With Valentine’s Day annually capturing the hearts of many, February is known as the month for happy couples. With that being said, February happens to be an exceptionally meaningful month for David and MaryAnne Kozak, a couple who will mark 47 years on Feb. 26.

David Kozak, the director of the political science program, met his wife, MaryAnne Kozak, the director of learning and leadership, at Gannon University in 1964, where MaryAnne was among the first, eight-member female graduating class.

MaryAnne said she was in Beyer Hall when she first met David. “I was sitting with the other ladies when they told me there was a guy that I absolutely had to meet – we had the same sense of humor,” said MaryAnne.

David recalls that, as he approached the women, all he could hear was laughter resonating from the group. “I knew her name from her writing in the paper, and I recalled a hilarious column about what the females at Gannon should be called,” David said.

David said he was immediately taken by her similar sense of humor, and he thought she was very pretty. “I knew she was a very serious student,” David said. “She always kept herself very busy, and she was extremely involved on campus. I think we had the same sense of drive in common.”

MaryAnne said her first impression of David was that he would be a great friend. “I remember thinking that this very humorous and also very serious and thoughtful man was just what I was looking for in a friend,” MaryAnne said. “Now I think how nice it is that my friend turned out to be the man I loved.”

Although MaryAnne admits that neither she nor David wanted anything serious at the time, they continuously bumped into one another on campus and gradually became good friends.

David said the first time he asked MaryAnne out was to a ROTC ball. “Because she was so busy, she usually wore her hair up, but when I arrived, she had her hair down,” David said. “I was absolutely overpowered by her. She blew me away.”

David admitted that he didn’t know whether he should call MaryAnne or if he should wait a certain amount of time. “Fortunately, I didn’t have to debate for long,” David said. “MaryAnne called me first and invited me to a Shakespeare play at Mercyhurst.

“Our first date was on Feb. 20, 1964, and all I can say is that it was just there,” David said. The couple experienced a whirl-wind six-day courtship and was official by Feb. 26, 1964.

“When we were just into this relationship for five or six days, there was a huge banquet, but guys typically went stag,” David said. “I invited her but warned her that it was only for serious couples and that people might start to talk. I also told her that they were serving stuffed pork chops.”

“My response was to sign me up for both — both the stuffed pork chops and being his girlfriend,” MaryAnne said.

MaryAnne recalled that everyone – faculty, students and staff – at Gannon was very supportive of the couple. “I was one of 11 women on campus at the time, so there were virtually no other couples – just David and I,” MaryAnne said.

“We both had Dr. Beyer in class, and he was known for telling corny jokes that usually only David laughed at,” MaryAnne said. “I could always tell when he had told one of those jokes in the morning class, because, when I had him in the evening, he would always look at me with a certain twinkle in his eye, knowing that I would laugh as well.”

After running into an old classmate, the man remarked that the couple was still the same as in college and remembered them as the “lovebirds,” David said.

Both MaryAnne and David insisted that the faculty and administration encouraged their relationship. “Gannon was in the midst of a huge transformation at the time, and people were so helpful,” David said. “For example, the women on campus would see me around and immediately ask if I was looking for MaryAnne and tell me her whereabouts so that I could find her.”

Philip Kelly, a professor in the English department, has known the Kozaks since 1987 when he first met them at Gannon.

“When I think of them as a couple, I think of their complete sense of inclusiveness,” said Kelly. “For instance, a few years ago, David managed to have three very important speakers who were members of Clinton’s administration at the time, and he and MaryAnne invited 20 undergraduate political-science majors over to their home to have dinner with the men before the presentation.”

Kelly said that type of thing was very typical of the couple. “I remember explaining to the students that this was a very rare experience; not only did David manage to get very important men to speak at Gannon, but the students were able to have one-on-one time to speak to them over dinner,” he said.

The couple got married on Aug. 19, 1967, three months after MaryAnne graduated from Gannon, and that they only had to spend one year apart while she finished school and David was at Kent for graduate school.

“At our wedding, I just remember thinking what an overwhelmingly beautiful bride she was and that it took her forever to make it down that aisle,” David said.

MaryAnne said that simply seeing David standing at the altar is her fondest memory of their wedding day.

“Our wedding was very special not only because we were the first Gannon graduates to get married, but because students and faculty members that weren’t invited actually showed up and took a seat in the back of the chapel,” MaryAnne said. She said that they had a small service, but that it was very nice to see familiar faces in the back of the church smiling at her as she walked down the aisle.

“These are the memories you cling to when life gets challenging – my favorite memory of my wedding was what a gorgeous bride she was,” David said.

The couple has three children – Jeffrey, Timothy, and Jacqueline – and insists that they are a Gannon family. Both of their sons graduated from Gannon, and their daughter took classes at the university.

“One day, our 5-year-old granddaughter said that she is going to attend Gannon so that she can get a hot meal and do laundry at our house,” MaryAnne said.

The couple suggested that, no matter what, they have always had a Gannon affiliation and that the university plays a crucial role in their lives.

As a couple, both David and MaryAnne agreed that they have been successful because they were always friends first.

David said that the best thing about his life has been that she has always been by his side. “She has been there every step of the way through so many things I never thought I would do,” he said. MaryAnne added that you’ve got to see yourself as a team.

“Like I said, our sense of the humor is the same – she laughs at my jokes and makes me feel good every day,” David said.

Kelly said that it’s difficult to talk about one without talking about the other. “They are a remarkable team,” he said. “I can’t think of any other couple that has so neatly intertwined their academic interests – they are very mutually supportive.”

Kelly said that David is a huge Buddy Holly fan, and a few years ago, he discovered that Kelly was a fan also. “Ever since that day, MaryAnne and David invite my wife and me to every Buddy Holly-related event,” he said. “That just goes to show how thoughtful and inclusive they are as a couple.”

The couple mentioned that they take the time to go out every Saturday night – it is crucial to take time out to be a couple. Even when their children were small, and life was hectic, they tried to keep their Saturday evening dates as scheduled.

Kelly recalled that, when David achieved the Distinguished Professors Award last fall, he spoke about the significance of MaryAnne in his accomplishments. “I remember a woman approached David after the ceremony and said something to the effect of, ‘Wow, I wish my husband was more like you.’”

Kelly said that the Kozaks are truly very genuine – the way they talk about each other is exactly the way that they feel, and it’s very sincere.

“It’s been wonderful,” David said. “Life has been like a never-ending episode of ‘Welcome Back, Kotter.’ It’s a story I never get tired of telling – especially in February.”

DIANE CASSARLY

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