For Amanda (Bertsch) Rein, a split second of eye contact was enough for her to know life would never be the same.
Amanda remembers July 28, 2003 very well. She was still a few weeks from her freshman year at KCC, and she had an interview in the college’s print shop.
Garrett Rein worked there already, assembling handouts, folding brochures and helping with set-ups for events.
“When I showed up, Garrett was sitting in the finishing room,” Amanda said. “I instantly made eye contact with him and – this is going to sound crazy – I just knew he was going to be a significant part of my life. And somehow I managed to finish the interview even though I was thinking of Garrett. And then as I left I made eye contact with him again. I went home and, apparently, I told everybody that I met my husband.”
Amanda--a native of Chebanse--was hired.
A few weeks later they went out for the first time. It was the weekend of her 18th birthday and they each invited a friend along.
“We wanted to go see a movie in the New Lenox area, but we got there and it was sold out,” Amanda recalls. So they went to eat, and all four in the group got food poisoning. They went back to her parents’ house and watched The Matrix.
Kendra Schoon, a KCC student who has been Amanda’s friend since grade school, was along during their first night out.
“I could tell he was a good guy,” Schoon said. “As the months went on, I began to see my current fiancé, Jacob. We started hanging out occasionally as couples, doing things like late nights watching movies and eating pizza, that sort of thing.
“I knew they had a strong bond. They are very much alike. They are two very smart people.”
Another of their first dates was a trip with a KCC honors group called the Baccalaureate Scholars to the Opera in Watseka, where Garrett lived.
At work, their supervisor caught on that something was happening.
“She wandered out to the finishing area quite a bit,” said Stephen Dockemeyer. “At first I thought she was feeling a little isolated in the copy room. But eventually I figured out that she was just talking to Garrett.”
They dated for a year and Garrett was ready to graduate from KCC in 2004 with an engineering transfer degree.
He considered colleges in Idaho and Utah, but ended up taking an option relatively close by – Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
Amanda continued at KCC, working in the Media Department and stayed active in Phi Theta Kappa honor society. She was also part of the Baccalaureate Scholars program, which offers a full-ride scholarship to high achieving students.
“I think it’s really an excellent program,” Amanda said. “I think I learned a lot of leadership skills in the program.”
Many of her friends were Baccalaureate Scholars, too. “We were a group that really stuck together. We were really good friends and kinda did everything together those two years. We stayed in close contact for a long time after all going our different ways.”
When Amanda graduated from KCC, she almost attended the University of Illinois. She even had housing arranged. But she chose SIU-C because of their radio/TV broadcasting program and a scholarship offer. And Garrett was there.
“It was during my first year in Carbondale that I realized how much I missed Amanda and that she was the one for me,” Garrett said. "The time apart was hard. It was always a year together, a year apart.
“I was happy that she decided to go to SIUC,” he said. “I didn't want another year apart.”
Garrett finished his engineering degree in 2006 and accepted a job in Oklahoma.
On Dec. 21, it was winter break for Amanda, and Garrett drove 14 hours to get home for the holidays. He called her late that night, invited her over, then proposed.
“I was reading my horoscope in the Kankakee Daily Journal and it said ‘Tonight, say yes!’” Amanda said. “I didn't even know I was going to see Garrett that night. He knew I liked surprises so he decided to come a little early and not tell me. He completely surprised me.”
The next May, Amanda finished her radio/TV degree.
They were married a few months later by the river at the Kankakee Elks Country Club. Several KCC friends were among the guests.
“People were coming up to me at the bridal shower saying, ‘Remember when you told me you met your husband that day, and you were 17, and we told you that you were crazy?’” she recalls.
“It was great that all of our friends and family were at the wedding,” Garrett said. “We probably both would have preferred to get married barefoot on a beach somewhere. We cared about each other, not all of the wedding details. But it was important that our loved ones were there to share the day, so we made the right decision.”
Within days, the newlyweds moved to Oklahoma. Soon enough, they both had jobs and they bought a house. But, it wasn’t long before the economy crashed, and both jobs were gone. It was time to move back home.
"We paid off our student loans, even with the economy crashing and us losing our jobs," Amanda said. "Both of us had paid off our loans by 2008 and I had only graduated in 2007. That’s because we went to KCC for two years and got all of our pre-reqs out of the way. We credit KCC with helping us stay out of debt.”
In 2010, Garrett got a job in Wisconsin and the couple moved to the outskirts of Milwaukee. Their daughter, Caeleigh was born in November 2013, and shortly after, Amanda left her job to care for her. Now, she has a new career which starts in March, at the same company where Garrett works.
Through the moves and almost 13 years, they have kept in contact with Dockemeyer and other friends from KCC.
“I think of them more as friends than as former students,” Dockemeyer said. “Whenever we are together, it’s like no time has passed.”
“We met some of the best people ever at KCC,” Amanda said. “Both of us always say that was the best decision we made, to go to KCC."
Photo credit: AC Photography, LLC