A Match Made in Hess Hall

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.

10 Comments on “A Match Made in Hess Hall

  1. What a wonderful love story about Kenneth and Aimee. I would like to meet them some day. If this message can be sent to one or both of them, I would like to invite them for a tour of the Tennessee Theatre and play some love songs for them on the Mighty Wurlitzer organ. I can be contacted at snyderbs@utk.edu. If they get to Knoxville for a foorball game, we could get together at that time. All best. Bill Snyder

  2. WoW! A very interesting and happy story, thanks for sharing, and I’m glad everything finally worked out for the both of you!

    Wait a minute … that was the time when I lived in Hess Hall too! Hey, Kenneth Harwell, maybe you stole my girl??? :-) :-)

  3. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I wish Kenneth and Aimee all the best in the world.

  4. “Ken Hardware” this is TomTuck and that’s what I used to call you. You may not remember me, but I was an RA in Hess and then somehow got into the banking business. As I recall, the last time I saw you, you were hawking french toast sticks for Wendy’s (the Sheeley brothers) breakfast in Knoxville and were headed back to Nashville…in a red truck maybe? About 1973ish. In any regard, I remember you, outgoing, funny an all around good guy. I know the short story I read just covered the highlights of what I’m sure has been an exciting life. Have you been in Nashville the last 40 years? Sandy and I have a son there that’s a CPA. When you come to Knoxville for a ballgame this fall I’d like to invite you to our tailgate. If your interested, just respond and I’ll fill in the details. Congratulations on your wedding, the unique venue and your beautiful bride.
    TomTuck

  5. What a beautiful story.I have often wondered where my wonderful friends from UT have ended up.

  6. So many relationships blossom on campus, and it’s great to hear about such a romantic one! My husband and I met in in HSS (the Humanities and Social Sciences building), which is where we had several Portuguese classes together. While we didn’t get married there, it will always hold a special place in our memories. Congratulations to the happy couple!

  7. CONGRATULATIONS!

    WE WISH YOU MUCH HAPPINESS. YOU MAKE A GOOD LOOKING COUPLE.
    YOU’VE BEEN BLESSED TO FIND EACH OTHER AFTER SO MANY YEARS,APART..IT HAD TO BE FATE.
    KENNETH,VIRGINIA WOULD BE SO PROUD OF THE TWO OF YOU.
    SHE MAY HAVE NOT LEFT THE LAST WORD ON THE BARK BUT, SHE DID LEAVE THE LAST NOTE TO YOU ON EARTH.
    WE KNOW SHE IS SMILING ON THE BOTH OF YOU IN HEAVEN.
    KAY & RAY

  8. OMG. Ken and I were great friends at the time. I would love to hear from him, as I haven’t since around 1974 or so.

  9. so happy for you both! i will always love you dear friend and be here for you and hope to get to know Aimee and love her too! Congratulations dear friend!

  10. Dear Harwell (KENNETH), I am Jen Hintons mom.I’ve never had the opportunity to meet you, your Mom was very sick at the time of Jen and Johnnys wedding in Savannah. But, i feel like i know you a bit as Johnny and Jen think soo very much of you, and John and Judy speak sooo fondly of you. Also, I’ve seen LOTS AND LOTS of pictures from all the UT football games. Just wanted you to know that my Jen posted your story on her Facebook page and i just got done reading it.. I was realy moved by it and you have restored my belief that EVERYTHING happens for a reason !!! What a terrific thing to be reconnected after all this time !!!! Congratulations to you both..