A Valentine's Day celebration of Louie Love

Phyllis and David Coburn and their three sons all met their mates on campus

From left, Seth Coburn ’10, Marnina Cowan ’10, Avi Coburn ’04, Shayna Skelley Coburn ’06, Lindsey Saunders Coburn ’07, Brian Coburn ’07, Phyllis Brenner Coburn ’75, and David Coburn ’73. Photographed at Lindsey and Brian's wedding, Sept. 2, 2012.

When prospective students consider colleges, they check out the median SATs and GPAs, the student body’s gender balance, the relative proximity to a big city and the US News & World Report rankings.

What those conventional measuring sticks make no mention of is the large number of Brandeis students who marry their college sweethearts. More than 10 percent of Brandeis’ undergraduate alumni – 3,830 of 37,278 – are married to fellow alums.

In honor of Valentine’s Day, consider the Coburn family: mother, father and three sons, all of whom found Louie Love, as it is widely known among the alumni, on the Brandeis campus.

“The truth is, it’s easier to find your soul mate where the social life isn’t driven by sports or frats,” says Phyllis Brenner Coburn ’75, wife of David Coburn ’73 and mother of Avi ’04, Brian ’07 and Seth ’10. “Brandeis is the kind of warm and accepting place that allows people to blossom and feel comfortable just being themselves.”

It’s an environment “where you can take a chance, whether it’s academically or socially, without fear of being shot down,” Phyllis adds. “You can find your best friends for life there.”

For David and Phyllis, love began as an ember ignited on the third floor of Rosenthal North one autumn night in 1972. They met at a party and spent the entire evening talking to each other.

“My first impression was of a kind and intelligent man, and my first impression turned out to be so right,” Phyllis says more than four decades later. David’s initial thoughts? “Even at first, we had a lot to talk and laugh about, and I decided that she was someone I wanted to get to know better.”

Although they were “friends at first sight,” the relationship didn’t get serious until after graduation. David, a student at Georgetown Law, would come home to New York on break and see Phyllis, who was pursuing a graduate degree at Columbia.

Photo from 1970s includes David Coburn ’73 and Phyllis Brenner Coburn ’75 at right, with friends (from left) Susan Thau ’75, Mitchell Lindauer ’73, Marilyn Leeds ’75 and Anne Frankel ’75.

Their children all followed a similar path.

First to arrive was Avi ’04, who spotted Shayna Skelley ’06 during the first week of his junior year at a new student ice cream social. “I saw her talking with my friend Julia and immediately thought ‘she looks nice.’ ” So nice, in fact, that he was soon dropping by the future Mrs. Coburn’s dorm, North Quad’s Cable Hall, on a frequent basis.

Then came Brian ’07. Destiny caught up with him when Lindsey Saunders ’07 tagged along with a friend to meet one of Brian’s floor-mates in North Quad’s Gordon Hall. Brian and Lindsey were both fans of the band Coldplay, but their first date was all about other kinds of stars – at a campus open telescope night. Cloud cover that October night canceled the viewing, but not before the two hung out together during the wait.

For Seth ’10, romance actually ignited with Marnina Cowan ’10 at the New Student Send-Off  at the Coburns’ home in Potomac, Md., a week before school started. His remark to his brother Brian that August day – “Did you notice the girl with the sparkly eyes?” – has now gone down in Coburn family history.

Once on campus, he began asking her to meet him at a picnic table near the Shapiro Campus Center, ostensibly to learn a few Israeli dance steps. For Marnina and Seth, who cheerfully admits he’s still not much good at Israeli dance, the ’Deis charm is holding; the young couple has announced their engagement and a 2014 wedding is planned.

Marnina’s father, Eliot, attended Williams College with President Fred Lawrence (they were co-presidents of the Williams College Jewish Association) and asked Brandeis’ future president to sign the ketubah (marriage contract) at his 1983 wedding.

“We’d certainly love to have the president attend,” says Phyllis. “It would be a fitting end to all our family’s amazing Brandeis love stories.”

Deborah Fineblum, a communications specialist in the Office of Development and Alumni Relations, is a three-time Brandeis parent (’98, ’03 and ’07). One of her children married a Brandeis graduate.


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