Park University sets the stage for an international meet-up
Sarah Hopkins-Chery almost didn’t go to the Halloween party that changed her life. It was October 2005, her first semester at Park University. She decided to go to the costume party—dressed in a last-minute pirate costume—because everyone on her basketball team was going, and she was a long way from her home in Essex, England. Lenes Hopkins-Chery was at the same party, though he hadn’t planned to be. He and a group of friends showed up—without costumes—and he spotted Sarah from across the room. He knew she played basketball and asked mutual friends for an introduction.
“The funny thing is that I’d said to friends that I knew I was going to marry an English girl someday,” says Lenes, who is originally from Haiti. “When I saw her I thought, ‘Wow.’ I knew I had to meet her. Then when I got home I sent her a message that said, ‘You rock my world.’” The rest, as they say, is history.
After exchanging messages they went on their first date; Sarah wanted to go to TGIFriday’s, and Lenes thought there was one in Tiffany Springs. On the way to the restaurant, Sarah told Lenes his headlight was out, and when they pulled up to the restaurant they realized it was a Ruby Tuesdays, not a TGIFriday’s. They decided to stay, then were pulled over on the way back to campus for the bum headlight.
Even though they came from different countries, Sarah and Lenes were both star athletes at Park University; Sarah played basketball, Lenes ran cross country. Both fell in love with Park University and Parkville before they met; Sarah says Parkville is similar to her hometown in England, minus public transportation, and Lenes says his initial intention of staying for just one semester ended because he fell in love with the city and the people.
They were married in Liberty in September 2009, and worked to incorporate their English and Haitian cultures into their celebration. They flew a Haitian and an English flag and served food from both cultures. Lenes’ mother is a chef and makes what Lenes calls “the most amazing liqueur” from scratch, which was served at the wedding. Their DJ incorporated everyone in the reception and tried to make the experience as unique as the couple.
When asked how cultural differences affected their relationship, both laugh and tell about the back pews at their wedding.
“There’s a difference between Caribbean time and English proper time,” says Sarah. “My family is prompt, but Caribbean time is different. Lenes’ family and friends aren’t as strict about being on time; we even had to adjust times for people in the wedding party, so everyone would be there when they needed to be,” says Sarah. “If you look at our wedding photos, you can see that at the beginning of the ceremony the back pews are empty. By the time the ceremony was over and we were leaving, those pews were full. That’s Caribbean time.”
Family dynamics was another adjustment for both. Lenes comes from a large family; he is one of ten siblings. Sarah is an only child. “My family is loud and there are always a lot of people,” says Lenes. “I love to move around and be loud, but Sarah is more reserved. It was interesting to watch her quietly observe while everyone else was so animated.”
“And when we go to visit my family, he has to adjust to the quiet,” says Sarah. “It’s very calm and peaceful there, the opposite of when we’re with his family.”
Though both have graduated from Park University—Lenes with a bachelor’s degree and Sarah with both a bachelor’s and master’s degree—and they still live in Parkville. Sarah has become an adjunct instructor of communication arts and a women’s basketball assistant coach at Park University. She is also in management at American Airlines. Lenes also has three jobs: he runs a marketing entertainment company, works for an energy company based in Johannesburg, South Africa, and works at Delta Airlines.
Their marriage works, they say, because they each understand and respect what matters to the other. Their experience as student athletes instilled a determination to continually achieve goals and both cite an unflinching faith in the other.
“It takes effort and work but it’s worth it,” says Lenes. “We make it work because it’s what we both want. We’ve both always been motivated, and we still are. We both have high expectations of ourselves and each other, and we know that it takes time and effort to reach our goals.”
Sarah says the six jobs they collectively juggle may seem like a lot–and it is.
“But it really is true that when you’re passionate about something it’s not really work,” she explains. “We don’t do these things—careers and marriage—because they are chores that we have to do. We just do it. We do it because we want to.”