Sweet love story

Featuring Pastor Rich and Kenna Lee Carlson

“My roommate back at Union wrote me a letter while I was a student missionary and mentioned he was dating a nice girl, who happened to be Kenna Lee,” said Pastor Rich Carlson.

Pastor Rich, vice president for Spiritual Life for Union College, has been married to Kenna Lee Carlson, director of Alumni Activities, for 43 years and counting! The phrase, “Union makes better lovers,” is an accurate statement for this happy couple.

In the 1970’s, Rich Carlson and Kenna Lee Austin were students at Union College. Back then, dating was a little different. A gentleman could take a lady on a couple dates one week, and then his friend or acquaintance could take her out on a few dates without there being gossip of, “Oh my goodness, I can’t believe she went on dates with more than one guy!”

It was normal to do such things without ridicule.

During his time as a student at Union College, Carlson was in Peru as a student missionary, and was also dating a young lady. The relationship soon ended amidst his missions.

“I was seeing Rich’s roommate for a few weeks and he was unsure of what he wanted, so I stepped away until he could decide,” said Kenna Lee.

Carlson had no idea that the news of Kenna Lee and his roommate breaking things off would possibly be some of the greatest news he would receive.

When Carlson returned from his adventures and missions in Peru, he became involved in school life as ASB president and part of campus ministries, which often required him to speak up front.

The first time Kenna Lee noticed Carlson she thought, “I don’t think Rich would want to date me because he’s the ‘BMOC’ (big man on campus).”

Since his roommate was no longer dating Kenna Lee, he introduced them to each other.

Carlson then proceeded to ask her to go to the gymnastics home show with him for their first date, and she said yes. However, soon after their date, Carlson’s roommate decided he would like a second chance with Kenna Lee.

The two men began competing for her attention. One would leave their room to go to the rotary phone and call her for a few minutes and then return to the room. Then, the other would leave to call her and then return to the room, neither saying a word to each other about where they went or whom they spoke to.  

Kenna Lee needed to decide between the two so she prayed about it a lot and spoke to her sisters. She came to the conclusion that, with God’s help, Rich was the man for her!

Rich asked Kenna Lee’s dad for her hand in marriage and then proposed to her on Valentine’s Day on center campus by the rock pile. She said yes.

Pastor Rich and Kenna Lee were married on New Year’s Eve 1972 and have been happily married ever since.

Pastor Rich’s advice for young couples today is, “Don’t go hunting and don’t compromise, because you may just regret it.” In other words, compromising on the person you marry might just compromise your marriage one day.

“Run towards Jesus,” says Carlson, quoting one of his favorite sayings, “Anyone who keeps up, introduce yourself.”

If God is the center of any relationship, he will throw you curve balls indeed. But, he will also look out for your best interest in all you do.

Roxi Peterson is a senior Communications major.