Tommie Traditions: Kissing Under the Arches

True Tommies

Dr. Victoria Young, art history professor at the University of St. Thomas, acknowledged that "Arches are symbolic in architecture as portals or gateways … from the profane to the sacred realm, like entering into a Gothic cathedral. Almost every architectural time period has some type of them."

So highly does the St. Thomas value its Arches – the center of which contains the sculpture of St. Thomas Aquinas and a plaque inscribed with the Prayer of St. Thomas Aquinas – that it officially spells the iconic structure with a capital A. Each year the Arches, which have stood proudly at the heart of campus on Summit Avenue since 1947, serve as a gateway for first-year students, who march through them at the beginning of fall semester to ceremoniously ignite their college years.

But did you know that according to a longstanding legend the St. Thomas Arches are also a gateway to everlasting love? The tradition states that students aren’t True Tommies until they’ve been kissed under the Arches at midnight. Some even believe that couples who kiss beneath them, at midnight, of course, are destined to marry.

Apparently, arches are significant across collegiate lines, as other arch-bearing universities, like Miami University, the University of Michigan and Upper Iowa University, share the tradition.

While the legend may be impossible to prove, plenty of Tommies have embraced the myth and gone on to marry. Who better to share their insights into this folkloric tradition than some Tommies couples who have taken it to heart.

Ali Krieger '10 and Sam Rauchwarter '13

Ali Krieger learned about the Arches tradition from a St. Thomas tour guide as she passed through the Arches for the first time as a prospective student in 2006 and said she hoped to be kissed under the Arches since she was a freshman. Little did she know, she would meet Sam Rauchwarter, a fellow UST swim team member, three years later, and he would grant her wish.

Krieger and Rauchwarter on top of Quandary Peak, Colo., moments after he proposed.

Krieger and Rauchwarter on top of Quandary Peak, Colo., moments after he proposed.

"We met a couple weeks after he started St. Thomas during a captain's swim practice and started dating soon after" she remembered fondly. "I knew about the tradition, and I wanted to get it in before I graduated in May (of 2010). In April just before my graduation, Sam and I were hanging out and he asked me, 'So, do you want to become a True Tommie?' We went for a walk in the quad that night and at midnight we kissed under the Arches."

The rest is, or soon will become, history. On Aug. 6 Rauchwarter proposed to Krieger on the top of Quandary Peak, a 14,000-foot mountain near Breckenridge, Colo. She said "Yes," and the two will marry in May next year.

Christopher Wheaton '03, '08 J.D. and Karen (O'Connell) Wheaton '90

Chris and Karen Wheaton pose beneath the St. Thomas Arches on their wedding day, Aug. 21, 2004.

Chris and Karen Wheaton pose beneath the St. Thomas Arches on their wedding day, Aug. 21, 2004.

Chris Wheaton remembers meeting and hitting it off with a "smart, independent and quite beautiful woman," he recalled, at a party the day after Thanksgiving in 1997. He admits he "dropped the ball on following up and getting a date," but the pair reunited five years later when Karen O'Connell, tipped off by a mutual friend that Wheaton was available, made a move and paid him a call.

On Aug. 31, 2002, the couple met for their first date at 128 Cafe, where O'Connell boldly clued Wheaton into the Arches tradition over dinner, hoping to lure him into True Tommie-dom that very night. Mum's the word on whether they kissed that evening, but Wheaton declares that they became True Tommies together, under the Arches, after he took her to see Shakespeare's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" at the old Foley Theater some months after their first date.

Wheaton and O'Connell wed in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas on Aug. 21, 2004. "To ensure the blessing of true love, we commemorated the kiss in our wedding photos under the Arches as well," Wheaton said.

Suellen Mickelson McGowan '82 and Michael McGowan '81

It was better late than never for Michael McGowan, who became a True Tommie a year after he graduated from St. Thomas.

Mike and Suellen McGowan, 2012.

Mike and Suellen McGowan, 2012.

According to his wife, Suellen, "I don’t remember how we decided, but we both thought we should be 'official' Tommies and decided to head to the Arches. There were flurries in the air, and it was evening, so I remember the lights on the buildings illuminating the snow as it fell."

She also remembers the legend was well known among the students at the time.

"Since I started St. Thomas the second year the school was coed, Mike and I weren’t sure if it was OK for a Tommie to kiss another Tommie – the legend that I had heard was that in order to be a True Tommie, a Katie had to be kissed by a Tommie – but we gave it a shot! By the way, I’m also a True Katie, as Mike kissed me at the Dew Drop Pond when I was completing my master’s degree there!"

History proved the McGowan's chance was one worth taking. The two became engaged a few weeks later just after Thanksgiving, married on July 29, 1983, and "we've been inseparable ever since," Suellen said. This year they celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary. They have two children and four grandchildren.

Amanda Adkins '09 and Scott Adkins '11

Scott and Amanda Adkins on their wedding day, Aug. 9, 2008.

Scott and Amanda Adkins on their wedding day, Aug. 9, 2008.

In the summer of 2007, Amanda Adkins made one request of her boyfriend, Scott Adkins: She wanted to become a True Tommie before they got engaged. Her simple request planted an idea in the mind of her suitor. Just after the first day of fall semester that year, Scott proposed to Amanda beneath the Arches.

"He decided that it would be the perfect moment," Amanda recalled. "So we had dinner at the Binz, hung out  and then we headed out to the Arches. We waited for midnight before we shared our kiss. He then sang 'Would You Go With Me' by Josh Turner. At the end he got down on one knee and asked me to marry him. I kissed him, thinking I had answered. But after our kiss, he reminded me that I had to answer. Of course, my answer was 'Yes!'"

The happy couple, who met at the annual South of the Border Cinco de Mayo event on south campus, were wed Aug. 9, 2008.