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Loving in the Lehigh Valley: These couples' love stories began right here

Valentine's Day Story Cover
Grace Oddo
From left to right: TOP: Kelcie and Richie Warmkessel, Jennifer and Michael Roth, Chelsea Kirtley and Amie James
BOTTOM: Lauren McChesney and Matt McClanahan, Rain Black and Robin Gow, Meghan and Paul Kita, and Sara and Shane Hansen

BETHLEHEM, Pa. — Kelcie Warmkessel could have decided to go home.

Amie James could have not responded to a random Facebook message.

And Rain Black could have gotten choked up at Barnes & Noble.

Love begins when someone takes a chance, and LehighValleyNews.comspoke with seven couples who are proof.

In January, we sent out feelers via social media to hopefully hear local love stories in time for Valentine's Day, and the responses did not disappoint.

From the athletic fields of Moravian University to the smoke-choked taproom at Volpe's, these couples' "forevers" began right here in our area.

Kelcie and Richie Warmkessel: 'Intuition told me to say yes'

Kelcie Kosberg and Richie Warmkessel
Richie Warmkessel
Kelcie Kosberg and Richie Warmkessel of Germansville, Pa.

It was 11 p.m. on a chilly Tuesday night, and all Kelcie Kosberg wanted to do was go home.

She had just moved to Bethlehem from Warren County, New Jersey, with hopes of finding more performance opportunities.

There was theatre a-plenty; she had just joined a production of "Tony and Tina's Wedding" at the Steelstacks in Bethlehem.

However, she hadn't yet found friends and community as she had back home in Phillipsburg, and she was feeling a bit lonely.

So after a late-night rehearsal all she wanted to do was to go home to her warm bed.

But Richie Warmkessel wasn't going to let her get away that easy.

"I saw her from across the table, and she stuck out like a sore thumb," Warmkessel said. "She had a full face of makeup and big, blond hair. I was absolutely asking her out."

Warmkessel called after her and asked if she'd like to hang out. Kosberg was hesitant at first; she had a knee-jerk reaction of turning down suitors' requests to "hang out."

But Warmkessel was different.

"Something — intuition — told me to say yes," Kosberg said.

He took her to Molly's in Bethlehem, and over a rum and coke, surrounded by Lehigh students singing karaoke, they bonded over a shared love of comedy, theatre and art.

"The next day, I ran into work and told my co-workers that I had met the perfect person for me," Kosberg said.

The couple was engaged after eight months of dating and married in 2019, in front of all of their theatre friends. They now reside in Germansville with Gilbert the old beagle and Bolt the cat who is "very, very mean."

Together, Kelcie and Richie challenge the notion that "opposites attract." They said they are "twin flames" with a unique "twin language."

"I never thought I would date, let alone marry, another performer," Kosberg said. "But we have a special thing that came together at the right time."

Warmkessel added, "We are so much stronger together than we ever could have been independently. She's my best friend."

Jennifer and Michael Roth: Much 'I Do' About Nothing

Jennifer and Michael Roth
Grace Oddo
Jennifer and Michael Roth of Allentown, Pa.

Much like the Warmkessels, the world of live theatre brought together Jennifer and Michael Roth.

It was the day of auditions for Moravian University's 1993 production of "Much Ado About Nothing," and Michael Roth was captivated not only by the talent, but by the beauty of Jennifer Meyer, who was sitting nearby.

She was a sophomore, pursuing degrees in English and Elementary Education.

"She had this little bob haircut and a little dark skirt," said Roth, who had returned to Moravian to pursue a graduate degree. "I was smitten. I got the vibe immediately that this was a genuine, positive person."

Be it fate or Cupid's arrow, director Dr. Jack Ramsey (a prolific icon in the Moravian theatre community who died in 2019) cast the pair as Benedick and Beatrice, the witty ex-lovers who eventually reconcile and marry at the end of the play.

"As we started rehearsing, that interest in Jennifer kept growing," Michael Roth said.

"Eventually, I got up the gumption to ask her, 'Hey, we play these ex-lovers who wind up getting into a relationship. Would you like to go out sometime?'"

Jennifer Roth laughed and smiled as he told the story.

The two, now educators in the Lehigh Valley, supported each other through the ups and downs of student teaching, job hunting and settling into new careers.

He proposed to her on the back deck of his home (she had been cleaning all day and was in sweatpants.) They said "I do" in 1997 and now live in Allentown with their two sons.

In January, they visited Moravian's Arena Theatre, where they met, for one last time as it will soon be torn down as part of a student union expansion.

The pair went not only to take a stroll down memory lane but to say one last "thank you" to Ramsey, whom they said they will always credit with bringing them together.

Sara Weidner and Shane Hansen: From 'freshman flamingoes' to blissful newlyweds

Sara and Shane Hansen
Grace Oddo
Sara Weidner and Shane Hansen with their pug, Sokka in Bethlehem, Pa.

Sara Weidner and Shane Hansen's story also started at Moravian University.

At first, Weidner, of Leesport, Berks County, said she swore off dating in college.

"I wanted to focus on my major and academics," she said. "I wasn't into the dating scene at all."

Both she and Hansen had arrived on campus early for marching band camp, and a mutual friend suggested they all sit together for lunch.

"We were a bunch of freshman flamingoes trying to stick together," Hansen said. "I thought she was so pretty. I wanted to learn more about her."

Although Weidner turned him down initially, after some inspirational Facebook quotes and a bit of soul-searching, she agreed to have him over for a movie night.

"He had a depth to him that no one else had," she said. "From the get-go, I fell in love with his intellect and that I could learn new things from him every day."

Unlike the Warmkessels, Weidner and Hansen said they could not be more different. Weidner, an avid reader and writer, got a degree in English, and Hansen a degree in physics and math.

Now, she spends her days in an office at Muhlenberg College as the assistant director of career coaching and education, and he spends his in a lab at Menarini Silicon Biosystems as an engineer.

"We have a total left-brain, right-brain relationship," Hansen said. "But we complement each other's differences."

The one thing unwavering between them, however, is their devotion and commitment to one another.

After being engaged for 2 1/2 years, they were married at the Glasbern Inn in October 2023, against a backdrop of stunning fall foliage.

Today, they reside in Bethlehem with their pug, Sokka, a recent addition who enjoys tearing up toys and finishing near-empty peanut butter jars.

He joined them on their recent honeymoon trip to the Finger Lakes, sitting contentedly in a backpack as they hiked through waterfalls and rolling hills.

Although traveling is exciting, they said they find the most joy when they stick close to home.

"We're always trying to go out and meet new friends," Weidner said. "Our goal is to keep things active and lively for ourselves."

4. Rain Black and Robin Gow: Writers, artists and advocates

Robin Gow and Rain Black
Grace Oddo
Robin Gow and Rain Black of Breinigsville, Pa.

Robin Gow is also a writer, and his favorite story is how he came to meet Rain Black, his partner of nearly a year.

What started as a work partnership at the Bradbury-Sullivan LGBT Community Center soon blossomed into a friendship after Gow invited Black to join his Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

"We invited Rain because he seemed cool, and I selfishly wanted to hang out with him more," said Gow, a writer, poet and eductor.

"He brought so much life into every space he was in; I could see that even before I knew him."

Black, a professional artist, had recently gotten out of a relationship and was seeking community. Soon, the pair started hanging out separately, going on "dates that weren't dates — 'not dates.'"

"We both did this very long yearning thing," Black said.

"We wanted to respect each other’s space, but someone eventually needed to say something," Gow said.

That day came at The Promenade Shops at Saucon Valley, when Black sheepishly asked Gow, "What if you really liked someone but didn't know how to tell them? ... And what if that person was you?"

Gow, overjoyed, told him the feeling was mutual, and they each bought a Squishmallow to celebrate.

In addition to being artists, Gow and Black are outspoken advocates for LGBTQ+ rights in the Lehigh Valley.

They recently started a mutual aid fund, "Queer and Trans Lehigh Valley," with hopes to educate and assist those groups in the area. They will hold a couponing workshop on Feb. 26.

When they're not doing advocacy work, artistic consulting or working on their young-adult book together, the couple lives in Breinigsville with their dogs, cats, quail and turtle.

"Life with Rain just feels so easy," Gow said. "I love him more and more each day."

"We just fill our time with laughter," Black said. "I think that's what makes our relationship really special."

5. Meghan and Paul Kita: 'I waited for 3 and a half years'

Meghan and Paul Kita
Grace Oddo
Meghan and Paul Kita in their home in Allentown, Pa.

It was a dreadfully hot summer night in Allentown, and all Meghan Loftus wanted to do was go to Philadelphia.

She recently had moved to Allentown to start an editorial internship at Rodale Inc., now Hearst Publishing Company, and her housemates were throwing a party in their two-story duplex house.

"The house had no air conditioning, and I had eaten way too much food," Meghan Kita said. "I had to leave."

She had arranged to stay with some friends in Philadelphia, and as she was rushing out the door in walked Paul Kita from Schnecksville, who had started a full-time job at Rodale as the food and nutrition editor as Loftus was beginning her internship.

"I would've liked to say that time itself stopped and 'Dreamweaver' started to play, but she had a look on her face that signified that she had to get out of there," Paul Kita said. "I know that look."

They reconnected at a barbecue a few days later when a friend introduced them. They said they instantly bonded over a shared love of music.

"Paul told me that there was this really cool record store in Allentown called Double Decker Records, and he offered to take me," Meghan Kita said. "We had a good time."

But then Paul Kita started seeing somebody else.

"I remember being like, 'Aw, OK. I guess they seem happy,'" Meghan Kita said.

Disappointed but resilient, she said she moved on herself. First, she got back with her ex from Syracuse University, where she majored in magazine journalism.

Then there was a guy she met on the Bieber Bus, who only talked about himself.

Something kept bringing her back to Kita, she said.

"When Paul and his ex broke up, I was like, 'Oh man, I still like this guy.'"

They soon found themselves in the taproom at Volpe's in Emmaus, sharing a beer and shouting over the hum of the bar's usual crowd.

Meghan Kita had hatched a plan to fabricate a story about the "Bieber Bus guy," telling Kita that "I couldn't date Bieber Bus guy because I liked someone else...Paul."

Thankfully, there was no need for fabricated stories. The feeling was mutual, and had been for a while. Their first official date was at the Tavern on Liberty in Allentown, close to where they now live.

They married in 2015 and now reside in the West End of Allentown with their two young children.

Their son, Theo, goes to kindergarten across the street from the duplex where they first met, on that hot August night in 2008.

6. Chelsea Kirtley and Amie James: A "second shot at love"

Chelsea Kirtley and Amie James
Chelsea Kirtley and Amie James
Chelsea Kirtley and Amie James of Bethlehem Pa. and their two dogs, Baxter and Mama.

Like most pet parents, Amie James is very protective of her dog, Baxter.

"I've met a lot of people who don't seem to care about him or don't understand what it's like being a pet owner," said James, a steelworker.

So when Chelsea Kirtley sent her a direct message on Facebook admiring how cute the Yorkie pup was, James said her interest was piqued.

Kirtley, a native of Washington state and a newcomer to the Lehigh Valley, saw James pop up on the Recommended Friends section of her Facebook account one day in 2022.

"It must have been 40 or so friends that we had in common," Kirtley said.

Having recently experienced a painful divorce, Kirtley herself had been longing for new connections. She said something about James's bright eyes and sweet smile drew her to her instantly.

On a whim, Kirtley decided to send James a message that read, “Hey, I know I don’t know you but I see that we have a bunch of mutual friends. I would’ve remembered you. By the way, your dog is really cute and so are you.”

"She got brownie points because she complimented my dog," James said.

On their first date, James did something that she does not allow other people to do: She handed Baxter off to Kirtley and watched them run around a dog park.

The pair said their relationship is built on trust, communication and a series of odd coincidences.

Aside from having mutual friends, in past years Kirtley had often frequented Eureka Plant Based Foods, James' family-owned vegan deli and grocery store, and had unknowingly met James' mother multiple times.

The store, which closed in 2020, was named after James' rescue dog.

Now, the two share two dogs of their own in their new apartment in Bethlehem, into which they are slowly moving.

The apartment is warm and full of life: plants, dog toys, and unfinished crafts take up nearly every square inch. It's cluttered, but they say it's "so them."

"Amie gave me the second shot at love that I didn't think I was ever going to get," Kirtley said. "When I met her, I knew this was everything I could have ever wanted."

7. Lauren McChesney and Matt McClanahan: 'Take that road trip!'

Matthew McClanahan and Lauren McChesney
Grace Oddo
Lauren McChesney, Matthew McClanahan and their kitten, Funnel Cake.

The idea to own Shankwieler's Drive-In Theatre blossomed in the middle of Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Lauren McChesney and Matt McClanahan were in the middle of two-week roadtrip along Route 66, making stops to explore the weird, quirky places that characterize the western United States.

Among them was an abandoned drive-in theater in the middle of the desert, dubbed "The TeePee."

"We totally trespassed onto it and explored it," said McClanahan, a native of Harleysville, Montgomery County. "We were like, 'I wanna own this.'"

Although not much of a film buff, McClanahan loves drive-ins, which originally led him to his first gig as the owner of the Mahoning Drive-In Movie Theater near Lehighton, Carbon County.

It also led him to McChesney, who often would stop by to catch a movie.

"There was this one night where [Mahoning] was showing this weird film, Suspiria, and none of my friends wanted to go with me," McChesney said.

She had recently moved to the Lehigh Valley from Washington D.C.

"I took a picture of the drive-in entrance to show my friends, and he was in that picture," she said.

That's not where their love story started, though. After a series of shared smiles and "Hellos!" at the drive-in, McClanahan eventually stumbled upon McChesney on Instagram and followed her.

After a few messaging exchanges, they went out for a beer.

"Instantly, I was like 'Uh-oh,'" said McChesney, who swore she would never date again. "I immediately made plans with him for a few days later."

A few months into dating, the two took a spontaneous road trip, which ended with the official onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

What started out as quarantining together became McClanahan moving into McChesney's Allentown home. The two share the home, and Funnel Cake the kitten, in the city's West End.

"If you want to vet somebody, take a road trip with them," McChesney said with a chuckle. "You can see exactly how they are."

"Only if it's in a 1990 Plymouth Horizon, though," McClanahan said. "That's what we did."

Not only are the two life partners, they're business partners, having purchased the Shankweiler's Drive-In Movie Theatre, the oldest still-running drive-in in the country, in 2022.

Although they spend every moment together, both of them said they wouldn't have it any other way.

"It has to be somebody special," McChesney said, eyeing nearby Funnel Cake who was about to pounce on a curtain. "I can’t imagine being around anyone else that much.

"It’s been a journey, but neither of us could do this alone."