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Rob and Kim Lesniak said they still recognize the welcoming atmosphere on campus when they visit their children.

Rob (’90) and Kim Lesniak (’91) met in a summer religion class on campus in 1989. This was only the beginning for one family that’d continue a legacy of five JMU Dukes. 

“We kept running into each other on campus,” Rob said. 

They saw each other on the Quad where they spent most of their days studying and attending class. Kim could be seen studying on the Quad when the weather was nice and Rob would play pickup basketball and racquetball. Kim was an accounting major and Rob was deep in political thought.

“It was really bizarre,” Kim said. “It was a lot of impromptu meetings.” 

Just over 30 years ago, JMU’s population was around 10,000 students — half of what it is now. 

“You would run into almost everybody, even if you lived on campus, either at D-hall, PC Dukes or on the Quad,” Rob said. 

Soon, the Lesniaks began talking and realized they had more in common than they thought. Talking turned into becoming friends, which then turned into hanging out. They soon realized they had mutual friends and started to hit it off at parties and gatherings. 

Rob asked Kim to be his girlfriend during a night out on the town at JM’s, most recently known as Brickhouse Tavern. But, Rob was getting ready to set off in a new direction to law school in San Antonio, Texas, after graduation and Kim was still a junior. Rob and Kim shared their plans for the next few years and Kim said her family was important to her. 

The Lesniak’s continued dating the summer before they went long distance for nine months. They saw each other on Thanksgiving, Christmas and their spring breaks. 

“I knew it was going to be a long year, but knew I was going to be very busy because my senior year I was taking 20 and 21 credit hours,” Kim said. “It was kind of a good thing we had that little bit of freedom, and I knew his first year of law school was going to be very trying as well.” 

They also surprised each other on visits to and from Texas. Other than conversing in person, they were able to stay in touch through phone calls and writing letters. 

“Back in that day there was no texting or FaceTime,” Rob said. “She would call me after 11 o’clock on evenings because the rates were cheaper.” 

Rob said the highlight of his day was talking to her and planning the next time they saw each other. 

As time went on, Kim graduated and moved out to San Antonio to be with Rob. Kim found an accountant and office manager position for a year and a half.   

“We lived out there for two years together,” Kim said. “Then, when we moved back to Richmond after he graduated in ’93, we decided to go ahead and get married because both of us weren’t truly employed at that point.”

The Lesniaks chose to get married at no other place than where they met: JMU. Their destination was the Edith J. Carrier Arboretum, which Rob said wasn’t a popular wedding venue at the time.

“I called and asked how much it would be to rent out the arboretum and do a wedding because we didn’t have much money,” Rob said. “The guy said it’ll be $100 to set up the chairs and take them away.” 

The purpose behind this decision ran in the family. 

“My brother, who’s eight years older, got married a few years before that at the arboretum,” Kim said. “It’s my favorite time of year in the fall and I knew it would be gorgeous.”

Their reception was at the notorious JM’s, where they first started dating. During the week, the restaurant was a place to meet up with friends, dance and party. When students weren’t hanging out in the dorms, they were out on the town.

“JMU’s gotten bigger and if you’re wearing something with JMU on it, you’ll hear somebody yell ‘Go Dukes!’” Rob said. 

As East Campus continued to grow, the Lesniaks’ family did, too. They settled in Richmond and raised their three children there. 

“We stayed close to JMU when we would go to football games, and [we’ll] probably go to more football games now that we have kids there,” Kim said. 

The Lesniaks introduced their children to JMU through their love of football.

“We tend to sit in the student section, because of the atmosphere and the energy that you get when you’re sitting around all of the students and we’ve really missed that this year,” Rob said. 

When the family comes back to campus, they said the same welcoming atmosphere is still present. They have lunch with their children, celebrate birthdays and attend homecoming football games. JMU is a home-away-from-home or a vacation that always has a certain feeling. 

“The 18 to 20 year olds that go there are still saying hello, holding doors and basically being just kind people,” Rob said. 

After having children, Kim went back to school and enrolled in the nursing program at JMU alongside her daughter, Hannah. They’re both expected to walk at graduation together in 2022. 

“Service has definitely been something that we as a family have been really interested in,” Hannah, one of the Lesniaks’ daughters and a junior nursing major, said. “I think this was a positive way for me to follow in their footsteps, but also do my own thing.” 

She sees her parents spirit when walking past the old dorms that they lived in or when she remembers having picnics on the Quad as a child. JMU is also a frequent topic of conversation at home and among family friends. 

“Anytime people say JMU, it means something to me,” Hannah said. “All the people that I meet in these organizations are so nice and so supportive.” 

The Lesniaks continue to donate money toward academic scholarships and are engaged with alumni relations in Richmond, Rob’s hometown. 

“When I think of JMU, I think of a family,” Hannah said. “The people that I meet here at JMU are my family.” 

Contact Lorena Best at best2le@dukes.jmu.edu. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Instagram and Twitter @Breeze_Culture.