Married to colleagues

How often do university or college students get to learn from both husband and wife? How often do husband and wife get to work together? At Bluffton University, there are multiple staff and faculty couples, and some students get the chance to work with both of them.

At least three faculty-staff couples work at Bluffton University.

Also, for some of the couples, students are usually unaware that the two are married. Communication professor Dr. Zachary Walton and Assistant Registrar Karen Bontrager have different last names, so students may be confused.

Walton and Bontrager met in 2001 when they were both students at Bluffton University.

Walton also started working at Bluffton University in 2009 before Bontrager, who started at Bluffton in 2013.

“Being able to see each other at lunch time is nice,” said Bontrager. “Working at the same place means that we’re in a unique position to understand each other’s work stresses.”

The couple does not use the same last name, so some students do not know that they are married.

“Zachary tells students that we’re married,” said Bontrager.

She also said she hates being called “Mrs. Walton.”

Some students do get to work with Bontrager and learn from Walton during the same semester.

Hannah Conklin

“It’s funny because I really enjoy the things I do with each of them but rarely get to see them interact with each other,” said junior Hannah Conklin, who currently works with Bontrager in the registrar’s office and is taking a class with Walton. “When I go over to their house for the [Art, Communication, and Theatre] department Christmas party, it’s interesting to see them interact as a couple compared to how I normally see them throughout the day, which is independently.”

Another married couple a Bluffton University is another communication professor, Dr. Gerald Mast and his wife, Carrie Mast, the administrative assistant to graduate programs.

Gerald and Carrie met at First Mennonite Church, and they have known each other for almost 18 years.

Gerald has been at Bluffton University since 1996, and Carrie started working part time at Bluffton in 2013, which was helpful when raising their three kids.

“I like seeing Carrie during the day, even though it doesn’t happen much – usually about once a week at Forum,” said Gerald.

Also, both of them have said that it is nice only needing one car because they both work at the university.

Although they do share a last name, students do not typically know that they are married.

“Sometimes students note that we both have the last name of Mast and ask if we are related,” said Carrie Mast. “I usually respond, ‘Sort of. We’re married.’  But, in reality, we really are distant cousins – like fifth or sixth cousins.”

Dr. James Harder, the president, and his wife, Dr. Karen Klassen Harder, a business and economics professor, also share a workplace and relationship.

James and Karen have been married 39 years, and they only spent two of those years at a different organization than the other.

“It’s wonderful,” said Karen. “We have had a very abnormal career and vocation experience together. The result is that we know a huge amount about each other’s work.”

Going from the wife of the president to a faculty member on campus could be challenging, but Karen says it’s not too difficult.

“In my role as professor, I relate to President Harder as an employee,” said Karen. “I communicate with him in the same way I communicate with other colleagues and students on campus. For example, we talk about campus events: Forums, music performances and athletic competitions. As the president’s spouse, I might talk with him about our children, about which Netflix choice we should make or about when to take our next walk.”

Karen’s favorite part about being married to her coworker and the university president is sharing experiences in the Bluffton community.

“That’s a privilege we don’t take for granted.”

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Nicole Centofanti

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