Kenneth Harwell was working as a night clerk in the lobby of Hess Hall in the early 1970s when he spied a beautiful co-ed walking by.
“I took one look at her and realized I wouldn’t have any luck with her at all,” he recalls. “She was beautiful, and I later learned she was smart, too.”
Disregarding his fears of rejection, Harwell began to flirt with the young lady.
Earlier this year, more than forty years —and a lifetime of experiences—later, Harwell, now 60, and his college flame, Aimee (Crabtree) Painter, now 59, tied the knot.
They exchanged vows where the first sparks flew: the lobby of Hess Hall. It was just the two of them, a minister, their wedding planner, and any students who happened to wander through. The decorations included posters made by the housing staff. And, afterward, there was cake and punch for anyone who wanted to join in the celebration.
Twists and turns
Harwell and Painter’s romance began to bud almost immediately after they met that night four decades ago. Painter began coming down to the lobby to see Harwell whenever he was working.
Soon the two were dating. They met each other’s families. They got engaged and then…
“She broke it off, but she never told me why,” Harwell says.
They stayed in touch for nearly a decade.
She completed her bachelor’s degree and then her master’s degree in speech pathology. She married. She had three children.
He completed his bachelor’s degree in public administration. He ran his own computer company. He remained a bachelor for many years and then married in 2002. As the years passed, he devoted much of his time to caring for his aging mother.
Around 1998, Painter— then divorced—began wondering what had happened to her college love. She couldn’t find a phone number for him, but eventually tracked down Harwell’s mother in Nashville in 2004.
“Aimee gave my mother her name and number,” Harwell says. His mother wrote the information down, but, for one reason or another, didn’t give it to him.
Then, in 2006, out of the blue, Harwell’s mother remembered Painter’s call and told him about it. She had gotten Painter’s name and phone number, she said, but couldn’t remember what she’d done with it.
Again, it seemed as if the past would be forgotten.
‘Too many coincidences’
On December 17, 2010, after a lengthy battle with dementia, Harwell’s mother died.
Then, on January 1, 2011, Harwell’s wife died unexpectedly.
“Needless to say, I was a wreck,” he says. “I had prepared for my mother’s death, but not for my wife’s death.”
A grieving Harwell was at his mother’s home in mid-January 2011. He was on his knees, throwing phone books over his shoulder into a trash can when a piece of paper came fluttering to the floor.
“It was in my mother’s handwriting,” he says. “It was Aimee’s name and phone number.”
Harwell called Painter on January 21, 2011.
She was surprised and delighted. She had been thinking about him. She had just heard “their song” and had been singing it to herself all week.
Soon they were dating and realized they had been given a second chance at love.
“There were just too many coincidences for this not to be fate,” Harwell says.
When they decided to marry, the date—January 21, 2012, the one-year anniversary of their reunion—seemed ideal.
The wedding venue?
“We tried to think of a place that what would mean the most to us,” Harwell says. “We said, ‘Why don’t we get married at Hess Hall? It’s where we met and where we courted.’ We both lit up and thought that would be a great idea.”
The newlyweds will eventually live in middle Tennessee, but now commute between Atlanta and Nashville. They also make frequent trips to Knoxville to attend football games—and remember where their love began.