In fall 1968, Bonnie Knapp was a first-year student at Clarion and was looking for ways to make social connections.

Merle “Butch” Minick was a junior who, along with his Phi Sigma Kappa brothers, was looking for help decorating the fraternity’s float for the Autumn Leaf Festival parade.

Fast forward to July 2023. The pair returned to campus to reminisce about where it all began, part of a week-long excursion that culminated in the celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary.

“We were getting floats ready for ALF. We needed some labor, and we went to the dorm and got all these girls. They started putting flowers together,” Butch said.

“I was at Forest Grove, my first dorm,” Bonnie said. “It was my first weekend on campus, and (the Phi Sig brothers) came to get people to work on the floats. It was a way to get out and meet people.”

Butch doesn’t remember the actual moment their paths intersected that Saturday, but he recalls that later in the day, Bonnie asked him where she could find a newspaper.

“Well, it’s up the street,” he responded.

“Can you show me?” Bonnie asked. She admits that she was flirting. It worked.

“We had a date,” Butch said. “We went to a show. I picked a flower from the hillside to give to her.”

They were together from then on.

Originally from Tidal, near New Bethlehem, Butch was pursuing a secondary education degree, planning to teach history. He completed student teaching at Keystone High School in Knox, but after he graduated in 1970, Uncle Sam intervened. Selective Service was using a lottery system, and they called Butch’s number. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

In Clarion, Bonnie, who grew up in Sewickley and was an elementary and special education major, continued with her school work and was active in operatic productions. As her senior year approached, Bonnie learned about a Kappa Delta Pi overseas student teaching program that Clarion and Miami University in Ohio were collaborating to offer. She signed up and made arrangements to student teach in Athens, Greece.

Before she left, Butch had a question to ask and a piece of jewelry to offer, which Bonnie accepted. They married July 28, 1973, a year after she graduated.

Their early years of marriage were spent with Bonnie teaching and pursuing her master’s degree, and Butch 400 meters below sea level in a submarine. Bonnie’s only way of communicating during those 100-day deployments was through an allotment of five, 10-word messages that the Navy could transmit to the submarine via a floating antenna. They had no holidays together until Butch’s enlistment was up.

In the Navy, Butch worked in nuclear engineering. When he returned to civilian life, he enrolled in engineering courses in Pittsburgh. He crossed the Bloomsfield Bridge to go to class.

“The left turn went to the Cathedral of Learning; the right turn went to the (Pittsburgh Penguins’) Igloo,” he said, indicating the irresistible lure of hockey games. “I didn’t finish my degree, but I pursued the career.”

He worked as an insurance loss consultant engineer before moving into the nuclear power industry. He retired at age 62 as the nuclear supervisor for third-party inspections, ensuring compliance with American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ codes. He worked as an overseas consultant in Italy and Switzerland for another four years before fully retiring at age 66.

Bonnie completed her master’s in special education, followed by a Ph.D. in curriculum and supervision. She taught elementary education for one year before moving to Allegheny Intermediate Unit as a special education teacher and serving in other capacities, including master teacher, curriculum supervisor, then as director of the Western Instructional Support Center. She finished her career as assistant to the executive director, AIU3, Pittsburgh.

“In  my role  as assistant executive director, I oversaw community education programs which provided educational  services to children, youth and families in non-traditional settings. Among these were Head Start, homeless children and family services, family support centers, young children with disabilities, travel instruction services for youth with disabilities, educational services for youth in detention centers and shelters, youth and adults in jails and adult (English as a second language) services," Bonnie said. "I had the honor of working with staff members who made enormous differences in people’s lives.”

The Minicks live on a 34-acre farm in Sewickley, which they feel blessed to still share with Bonnie’s 97-year-old mother. They have two male cats, Bobo and Nikki or Nicky – spelled differently by Butch and Bonnie. Each winter, Butch flies to Florida with Bonnie’s mom, then flies home to make the trip by car with Bonnie and the cats. Their Florida home – much to Pittsburgh sports fan Butch’s delight – is “so close” to the Pirates training camp.

In addition to Clarion, their 50th anniversary trip includes stops in Tidal to visit Butch’s parents’ graves, Bedford Springs, Treasure Lake, State College, Lebanon and Philadelphia.

“I said to (Bonnie), it would be really nice to come here and go to college now,” Butch said.

“The campus is fantastic,” Bonnie said of their summertime visit. “It’s got a lot of energy. Even though nobody is on campus, it feels alive. It’s so new and well maintained.”