Separated by Chance, United by Fate: The Extraordinary Connection of Marianne, '81, M.A. '83, and Mitchell Hirsch, '82
By Lia Kizilbash Gillet
Double Huskies Marianne Hirsch (née Geller) and Mitchell Hirsch
Few love stories are as remarkable as those of Marianne Hirsch (née Geller), ’81, M.A. ’83, and Mitchell "Mitch" Hirsch, ’82. Their lives are intertwined with an inexplicable web of similar experiences and close encounters that seemed destined to intersect. One could argue nothing other than a twist of fate, and a little Huskie magic, could have brought these two together.
When Marianne and Mitch first started dating in May 2022, it became clear they shared many of the same memories—but had never met. Their pasts had such striking similarities, spanning from youth through college and beyond, that it deepened their connection.
Before they knew each other, they lived fewer than two miles apart, yet they attended different high schools—Marianne at New Trier West High School in Northfield, Illinois, and Mitch at Glenbrook North High School in Northbrook, Illinois. They had the same family physician, their brothers worked at Barnaby’s (a Northbrook pizzeria), and they shared an uncommon childhood experience, both working as child models gracing advertisements for companies like Ford, Carnation, Hertz, and Sears.
But it was their Huskie pride that served as the initial spark first connecting the two on a dating app for Jewish singles.
One night, after almost giving up entirely on dating, Marianne received a message from Mitch, who she called a veteran of the app. It said, “Nice dress. Too bad you live so far away. Go Huskies!”
Marianne was simultaneously intrigued and confused. Did “Too bad you live so far away.” mean she shouldn’t respond? She took a chance and decided to reply because of the “Go Huskies!” comment—after all, she had always been a loyal and enthusiastic Huskie fan. Mitch’s response revealed the shared connection that would bind them closer. As it turned out, he, too, was a proud NIU alumnus.
“We were hooked the moment we had our first conversation,” said Marianne, laughing because it was virtual over Zoom. “Our conversation was full of curiosity and punctuated with laughter, smiles, and shared experiences despite not ever running into each other.”
Marianne and Mitch quickly learned about the many times they could have met, but didn't. They shared 1978 to 1982 at NIU together, and many of their interests, hangouts, and activities intersected.
Both were students in the Department of Communication, spending many hours in Watson Hall. Marianne was a communication studies major, and Mitch journalism. Their residences mirrored each other, both living in Grant North and University Plaza at the same time. They shared memories of pool games at University Plaza, dining at The Junction Eating Place, and countless hours in the library’s microfiche room, delving into the archives of old newspapers. They attended the same campus film festivals and both worked at the student radio station, WKDI. Mitch was a copywriter and Marianne was the host of two radio programs—a Sunday show on public affairs where she interviewed local politicians and a Saturday morning show from 9 a.m. to noon called "Southern Comfort," which showcased Americana music by groups like The Band, Poco, The Flying Burrito Brothers, and John Hartford.
Despite all their shared NIU experiences, a curious twist of fate prevailed, and they never once crossed memorable paths at the station or any other cherished NIU setting.
Following their first Zoom call, Marianne and Mitch went on a traditional date in Milwaukee—each driving halfway from their homes—and spent hours on the phone and every weekend together since that first in-person date.
“We knew almost immediately there was something unique, familiar, and energizing about spending time together,” said Marianne. “In addition to our similar experiences before meeting, we both had Jewish upbringings and believe fate, destiny, and our faith, in particular, brought us together. Judaism has an expression that says, ‘I saw you at Sinai.’ The Midrashim (Jewish commentaries) teach that every Jewish soul stood at Mt. Sinai with his or her soulmate, or 'bashert,' at the giving of the Torah. We believe we saw each other at Sinai and reconnected when a power higher than ourselves felt it was time to reconnect.”
Marianne is the Executive Policy Initiatives Advisor for Wisconsin’s Division of Family and Economic Security. Prior to this, she spent 35 years in higher education as an assistant professor of communications at various colleges in Wisconsin and California. Fueled by her experiences with the NIU Forensics Team, Marianne also coached a championship forensics team during the last 10 years of her teaching career.
Mitch is a retired small business owner in the communications industry. He now enjoys purchasing and restoring cars—a passion of his since his first year at NIU when he purchased his first Corvette from an NIU professor and parked it at Grant North!
Marianne and Mitch also traveled to Europe during the same time before beginning their professional careers. They also have children from prior relationships that share the same birth years of 1986 and 1988 (Marianne has a third child born in 2000).
Their commitment to NIU is steadfast. Embracing the spirit of giving back, they are members of the NIU Foundation Cornerstone Society, which honors those who have made commitments of planned gifts or bequest intentions. They also established the Marianne and Mitchell Hirsch Scholarship, which provides financial support to communication students focusing on rhetoric and public address at NIU.
But their involvement goes beyond philanthropy. They often visit campus to attend events, like a recent event showcasing student research projects, and Marianne has generously volunteered her time to assist students with mock job interviews. Their connection to NIU remains strong as ever, with attendance at Chicago-area alumni events and their enthusiastic support for NIU football games.
“We remain Huskie proud because of our profound gratitude for the life-changing impact NIU had on our personal development and our professional lives,” said Marianne.
"While we may not have met at NIU, it was NIU that ultimately brought us together," Mitch remarked. "Our undergraduate experiences ignited our passion for our careers and helped us develop values like hard work, optimism, and giving back."
Marianne described her NIU experience as “powerful and extremely positive” after transferring from the University of Missouri in 1978.
“I immediately felt like I belonged,” she reminisced. “My communication studies instructors were passionate about their expertise—and that passion was nothing short of infectious. They lit a fire in me that sparked my decision to attend graduate school at NIU. There, I immersed myself in the study of rhetoric, paving the way for a fulfilling career as an educator and a dedicated forensics coach. What truly set my NIU experience apart was the belief my instructors had in me; they had faith in my potential. That belief was pivotal and life-altering.”
Mitch echoed the sentiments of an NIU journey that molded him into the person he is today.
“From the very first day of freshman orientation to the moment before graduation, NIU helped me learn about the world and the benefits of an education,” he said. “It was at NIU that I gained the confidence to explore new ideas, to see the world through others’ eyes, and to evolve into a more well-rounded individual,” Mitch explained. “I realized I could do anything if I wanted to. NIU had shown me the way.”
Photography by Rick and Rich
Marianne and Mitch’s shared history enriched the plot of their love story, but their journey together is just beginning. The two exchanged vows on a memorable Saturday, December 9, 2023, at North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois. The celebration continued with friends and family coming together for a reception at the Renaissance Chicago North Shore Hotel, a location that held yet another parallel in their histories when both of their high school reunions were there.
Marianne designed Mitch's wedding ring, a symbol that blended black and rose gold (the closest she could get to red). His ring, also engraved with “Go Huskies!” was a testament to their shared pride in their alma mater, their rooted connection, and the first words Mitch communicated to pique Marianne's interest.
Wearing Huskie colors Cardinal and Black, Marianne and Mitch walked proudly together as "Double Huskies" and as husband and wife. Their commitment to each other is as resolute as their devotion to NIU, a legacy that will undoubtedly continue to enrich their remarkable story.