The ‘80s were an era filled with Michael Jackson, big hair and “Flashdance.” It also happens to be when Jennifer and Geoffrey Mearns first met.
While Cardinal families fly to campus to celebrate Family Weekend, the presidential family finds itself reflecting on its favorite memories as a couple, family and now as Ball State’s 17th first family.
Jennifer said the pair’s mutual friends decided to set them up at a race after they discovered that both of them enjoyed running, and that both came from big families — President Mearns being the fifth child of nine, and Jennifer being the sixth child of eight. She says it was there that they had their first real conversation.
President Mearns, on the other hand, doesn’t remember it quite like that.
“It was maybe a half an hour before the start of the race, and we were both going to run,” President Mearns said. “So [Mearns’ friend] introduced us, and so she turned and said hello and chatted for about five seconds, and then turned back to her conversation with her father and some other friends. So, she essentially just gave me the Heisman trophy.”
However, their story didn’t end there. They met again for dinner shortly after Thanksgiving 1982 in New York City, though President Mearns says had there been cell phones back then, he probably wouldn’t have shown up.
Their date fell on the night of an Army vs. Navy football game in Philadelphia, a game that Mearns and his roommates had plans to go to.
“During the middle of the game they were like, ‘Why are you driving all the way back to New York City in the middle of the night to go on a date with a girl who apparently has no interest in you while we go have fun out in Philadelphia?’” President Mearns said. “So I was like, ‘Oh, you’re right.’ So every few minutes I would go out onto the concourse of the stadium to go to a payphone and I kept calling my friend to say I’m not coming. Well, he didn’t have an answering machine and the phone kept ringing and ringing.”
Mearns said he made a phone call every 15 minutes for the duration of the game, but never got a hold of his friend.
“Because of my friendship with this guy I drove all the way back from Philadelphia at 7 o’clock at night to get to New Jersey at 9 o’clock to take a shower, change my clothes and go into the city. If there had been cellphones, or even an answering machine, I would never have gone there, but I’m certainly glad I did.”
The pair has been together since that December, marrying after six years of dating. They now have five kids spanning the ages of 19 to 25.
“It’s a funny family. There’s always a lot of chatter,” Jennifer said. “I think we’re very fortunate because all of our kids get along very well. I know people that come from smaller families, or just different families that can be less verbal, that come around and I think it can be a little overwhelming for them to come to dinner with us.”
The Mearns’s middle child, Clare, said during a speech at President Mearns’ installation that her favorite part about their family growing up was the competitive nature, especially when they would play outdoor games.
“Games are not always leisurely or fun at the Mearns household,” Clare said. “While most parents let their kids win in order to build confidence and self esteem, my dad felt his role was to teach us to be gracious losers.”
President Mearns was quick to agree.
“I think it’s safe to say none of them are as competitive as I am,” President Mearns said. “However, some of them are a little more balanced, like their mother.”
Their Ball State Family
While the Mearns only moved to Muncie four months ago, they said they have already begun to feel at home on campus.
Jennifer says she regularly runs through Minnetrista and takes the eighth member of the family, their dog Katie, on walks around campus.
“I just think it’s such a nice community. People have been very genuinely welcoming and I think that’s been nice,” Jennifer said. “People will just come up on the street, some people might feel funny about doing that, but here people just come up and say, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood,’ or, ‘Hope to see you around,’ and, ‘Good luck,’ so that’s been really nice.”
President Mearns says that he has been pleasantly surprised with both the campus and the community.
“I know people who remember Muncie 50 years ago or 30 years ago and they say, ‘Oh, it’s not like it was,” and that may be true, but it’s also not like it was 5 years ago, it’s better,” he said. “It’s been very encouraging and refreshing to arrive knowing that the institution is getting stronger and that the community is sound and also notwithstanding its challenges. It’s nice to join any community that is improving and that’s certainly the case here.”
The Mearns will be participating in various Family Weekend events such as the alumni legacy dinner, the school of music showcase and tailgating at the football game.