Photo by Brian Waldbillig ’18

In July 2017, the Winona State University Alumni Relations Office hosted the first ever Sweetheart Weekend to celebrate the hundreds of couples who have found their “sweethearts” at WSU.

Forty-three couples ranging in age from 23 to 73 came “home” to WSU to rekindle the romance and revisit the place where it all started. The couples were led on guided campus tours that explored the places where memories were made, as well as introduced the couples to all the exciting changes that have taken place at WSU over the years. Other sponsored activities included exploring the Winona-area on the iconic Trester Trolley, a Mississippi River tour on WSU’s Cal Fremling floating classroom, and a formal Sweetheart Dinner and Dance.

The couples also had the opportunity to take in all the wonderful things the Winona area has to offer, from Great River Shakespeare Festival productions and Minnesota Beethoven Festival concerts to world-class exhibits at the Minnesota Marine Art Museum and Winona County Historical Society.

It was a memorable weekend for all the WSU Sweethearts, but for one couple, Lizzie Bartow ’14 and Grant Johnson, the weekend became the beginning of a whole new chapter in their lives after Johnson popped the question and Bartow said “yes.”

“Winona is a very sentimental place for me,” Bartow said. “I wanted to come back with Grant to go down memory lane.”

Bartow studied nursing at Winona State and received her degree in 2014. She met Johnson while he was attending WSU from 2011-14, and the two have been dating since February 2012.

“We both have a love for breakfast, so we were always in the egg line at 7 a.m.,” Bartow said. “One day he worked up the courage to say hi to me.”

Sweetheart Weekend gave Bartow and Johnson a chance to take a trip down memory lane and visit all their favorite Winona spots. They had lunch at the Blue Heron, floated down the Mississippi River, and then took a detour to watch the sunset at Garvin Heights Overlook.

“When we were at Garvin, we were reminiscing about the good ol’ days and looking over the bluffs,” Bartow said. “We talked about how we first met, funny stories, dates we went on and more. Grant then expressed how grateful he was that he said hi to me in the egg line and how his life changed since. Next thing I knew, Grant was on one knee proposing!”

The proposal took Bartow completely by surprise.

“It was my idea to go to Sweetheart Weekend, and I planned the whole trip,” said Bartow, “so it didn’t even cross my mind.”

Getting engaged at Garvin Heights, in the city where they met, brought everything “full circle,” said Bartow.

“From meeting in the egg line not knowing what to expect, falling in love in our college town, having our love travel across oceans to back where it all started,” Bartow said. “I couldn’t imagine it being any other way.”

The newly engaged couple capped off their momentous night with the Sweetheart Dance on campus and shared their good news with their fellow WSU Sweethearts.

“It was inspiring to be there with people together for over 60 years. You don’t see marriages last that long anymore,” Bartow said. “A common theme for advice was to respect each other and a marriage takes work.”

The next WSU Sweetheart Weekend takes place July 20-21, 2018. Save the date and Don’t miss your opportunity to create more memories in the place where it all began! Check the WSU Alumni and Friends website for updates and information or contact Tracy Hale, Associate Director of Alumni Relations, at Thale@winona.edu.

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Brian Waldbillig

Brian is a Public Relations major and Communication Studies minor from Farmington, MN. His hobbies include photography, hiking and going to concerts.