Joliet Junior College has changed the lives of many students throughout its 115-year history. The college has helped its graduates take the first step that has led many to successful careers across the country. In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, we’d like to showcase another way JJC has changed the lives of our students.
Pam and Bob Childress have traveled the world and raised two sons together. They’ve held many successful careers – Bob, spending more than 20 years in engineering positions with the military, and Pam as a teacher, counselor, childcare worker and insurance adjuster. After 45 years together, Pam and Bob are happy, and they still poke fun at each other with the same innocence as the teenagers they used to be when they first met and fell in love at Joliet Junior College in the mid-1960s.
Pam, who was president of JJC’s Spanish Club in 1965, first noticed Bob when she was standing behind him in the lunch line at the college’s annual leadership conference in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin – and right away, she was smitten. There was just something about his bright, red hair and blue eyes.
Originally of Lockport, Pam was known for her school spirit and involvement in JJC activities. Though she was outgoing and had a lot of friends at JJC, she was shy around boys. It wasn’t typical of her to start a conversation with a boy she’d never met before, but she knew she had to say something to Bob.
Bob, originally from Mississippi, attended the leadership conference as president of the engineering club. He hadn’t expected Pam to talk to him that day, but he couldn’t deny it – there was definitely a connection between them.
When they got back to Joliet, Bob and Pam became friends. They didn’t get to see each other as often as they would have liked due to their busy schedules that fall, but when they did see each other, it was usually in the student activities office.
JJC Administrative Assistant Susan Wood, and Assistant Dean Walter Zaida’s secretary, Edith Stewart, always tried to convince the both of them that they should start dating.
“They were our matchmakers,” Pam said. “Bob would come in to turn things in for his club, and they’d say: ‘Have you seen Pam? Doesn’t she look cute?’ Then, when I’d come into the office, they’d ask me: ‘Have you seen that redhead? Don’t you think he looks adorable?’ I’d always blush. They were so nice. They were our little cupids.”
Before long, fall semester ended and after a break from classes, students started getting in the rhythm of schoolwork again as they rang in the new year – 1966.
It was at that time that signs were posted around campus for the Sadie Hawkins Dance. Back in the ’60s and early ’70s, students celebrated “Sadie Hawkins Week,” which was a time for the students to switch gender roles. Female students were expected to hold their boyfriends’ books, help them with their coats, pay for food, and of course, ask them to the dance. Pam and Bob weren’t officially together yet, so they didn’t participate in the gender swap. Pam did, however, gather up the courage to ask Bob to the Sadie Hawkins Dance. When he said yes, she was elated.
Pam remembers Bob driving to her house in his green Volkswagen the night of the dance. When they got to the school, they talked, danced and shared their first kiss. At the end of the dance, they got their picture taken and a parting gift – a redneck-themed marriage license signed by “Marryin’ Sam.” The licensed declared that they had a “six-bit” wedding – or in other words, a wedding that only cost 75 cents.
Meanwhile, through his studies at JJC, Bob was working on creating a new activity for his fellow students. At that time, computers were just starting to become part of the curriculum, and as president of the engineering club, it became Bob’s sophomore year project to create JJC’s first “Digitation Dance.” It included a lot of data collecting, in the form of questionnaires students had to fill out. Then, the computer would calculate which students made the best match.
Bob was paired with Marg Sauer, and Pam with Jeff Emerson. When Pam found out that she wasn’t paired with Bob, she was sure he’d rigged it. Pam still gives Bob a hard time about it to this day.
But even though they were matched with other people, the dance didn’t end too horribly, according to Bob.
“When both of us showed up at the computer dance, neither one of our dates showed up because the weather was so severe,” Bob said. “So, we ended up together even though we were matched up with other people.”
According to Pam, Bob never asked for her hand in marriage – he just mentioned it one day, out of the blue.
“We were just on a date one day and Bob said, ‘Well, when we’re married…’ And I said, ‘When we’re married?’ And then he said, ‘You do want to get married, right?’ And I said, ‘Yes, yes I do,’ so that’s kind of how history transpired. He never asked me on one knee, but I did get a beautiful ring,” Pam said. “He asked me when I wanted to get engaged, and I figured my birthday was a good day.”
After JJC, Bob transferred to the University of Illinois and Pam to Augustana. They both achieved their bachelor’s degrees, and exchanged vows on June 21, 1969 – just three short years after they signed their “redneck-themed” marriage license at the JJC Sadie Hawkins Dance.
In addition to their successful careers, they both eventually went back to school to achieve their master’s degrees (Bob received two), and as their careers came to a close, they retired in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
“We both love JJC and we think more people should go to a junior college,” Pam said. “If they don’t, they miss out. We were both very successful students at JJC.”
“JJC definitely changed my life entirely. I often look back on my life and think about the turning point, and JJC was definitely it,” Bob added.
The couple has created so many memories throughout their 45 years of marriage. Through it all, they will always remember one thing: JJC is where their love story began.