Villanova’s own ‘power couple’

Laura Welch

Villanova is special to people for many different reasons. Students and faculty of the past and present walk through the campus as recollections flood over them. They remember a favorite class in Tolentine, games of frisbee on Sheehan Beach, meals eaten with dear friends at the Pit, hours upon hours spent in Falvey … whatever the instance may be, fond memories within the boundaries of our Villanova home have led to lifelong relationships with people we cannot believe we could ever lived without.

In many cases, Villanova has brought together husband and wife. This is the case with one favorite couple here on campus. Jokingly referred to by some as a “Villanova power couple,” Dr. John Immerwahr and Kathy Byrnes may never have known each other if the University had not brought them together. Immerwahr and Byrnes met in 1979 in Vasey Hall, Room 204.

Byrnes attended Villanova as an undergraduate from 1978-1982. She excelled as a student and even gave the commencement speech at the University’s graduation. In the speech, she talked of graduates’ social responsibilities.

“She was a brilliant student,” Immerwahr says. “They do not just let anyone give the commencement speech.”

Immmerwahr has been a professor at Villanova since 1973 and is currently the associate vice president of academic affairs. After receiving her undergraduate degree at Villanova, Byrnes attended law school at Duke, and she returned here in 1989 as a professor at the Villanova Law School. She became head of orientation in 1991 and is now associate vice president of Student Life.

Immerwahr and Byrnes met for a second time in 1992. Immerwahr inquired whether this was the same Kathy Byrnes he had as a student so many years ago. Shortly after, Immerwahr and Byrnes began working together on the Villanova Experience Program.

Immerwahr and Byrnes wound up teaching the same section in the Villanova Experience in 1996. Immerwahr taught the core humanities seminar while Byrnes taught the leadership class. During that year, the two began dating.

Four years later in July 2000, the couple married in the St. Thomas of Villanova Church in true Villanovan style. Rev. John Stack, O.S.A., Vice President of Student Life, presided over the ceremony. University President Rev. Peter Donohue, O.S.A., cantored at the wedding.

People often grow weary of working with significant others. For Immerwahr and Byrnes, working in the same environment has never posed any hindrance on their relationship. In fact, it has had quite the opposite effect.

“We absolutely benefit from working together,” Byrnes says.

“We work very well together,” Immerwahr adds.

The husband and wife team takes measures to make sure work does not completely take over their lives.

“We try not to talk about work issues at home,” Byrnes says.

Immerwahr and Byrnes say that their relationship also benefits from their working proximity because they can understand each other’s situations and can share frustrations. The fact that they have so much in common allows them to communicate in ways many married couples cannot. Another benefit of the couple’s working together is that they respect the confidentiality of each other’s position.

Recently, they had the opportunity to work together when they served on the same committee for Donohue’s inauguration. Byrnes says that they had to suspend the rule regarding not talking about work issues at home during the hectic planning of the inauguration. The couple agrees that, although time-consuming, the event was a great deal of fun to plan. The inauguration was not the first time the couple had worked together directly. They spent the summer of 2005 writing “Leading with the Heart,” the text used in addition to Stephen Covey’s “7 Habits for Highly Effective People” in the Leadership Experience class. They decided the book was necessary in order to make the seven habits described in Covey’s book more in-tune with the modern day college student.

Immerwahr wrote the first draft and Byrnes went back to add and revise. Immerwahr says that during the writing process, he would write freely whatever came to his mind, and Byrnes would be more discriminating in deciding what could actually be used appropriately for the course.

“I was the accelerator, and she was the brake,” Immerwahr says with a smile.

Immerwahr and Byrnes learned secrets for creating a winning relationship in the leadership course, and they apply them directly to their marriage.

“In the book there are so many tips to a successful marriage,” Immerwahr says. “[For instance], courage and consideration are extremely important in relationships.”

Another habit described in “Leading With the Heart” is “seek first to be understood then to understand.”

“Listening is always important, more so than giving advice,” Byrnes says.

Overall, Immerwahr and Byrnes agree that to have a successful marriage communication and effort are required.

Byrnes laughs a little and says, “He cleans the bathroom, and I do the laundry.”

It is obvious in sitting down with Immerwahr and Byrnes that, perhaps more than anything, their relationship works well because they genuinly enjoy one another’s company, which not all couples can claim.

“We don’t get sick of each other,” Immerwahr says. “Any time we spend together is good time.”