Ready for the ride of their lives


Karen Hoffman And Mike O'connell

April 18, 1999|By Joanne E. Morvay | By Joanne E. Morvay,Special to the Sun

As a couple of longtime roller-coaster riders, Karen Hoffman and Mike O'Connell have experienced a lot of ups and downs and twists and turns. And now they are ready to experience a thrill ride of a different kind -- marriage.

They know that the amusement-park ride they love so much cannot be compared with the rocky course that marriage can sometimes be, but they believe they are well-prepared for what lies ahead.

After all, they each have their parents' long marriages to look to as an example. Mike's parents were married 39 years before his mother died last year. And this year, Karen's parents will mark their 40th wedding anniversary.

"Mike and I are really good buddies," says Karen. "We can be pals and we can be best friends and we can also be intimate. I think that's what marriage is -- not some storybook romance."

"Marriage has its ups and downs, but you expect that," Karen continues. And Mike agrees.

The couple met in the summer of 1995 at the Catholic University of America in Washington, when they were both working in the school's Engineering and Math Library. At the time, each was pursuing a master's degree in library sciences.

Though they saw each other frequently at work, in class and around campus, it took a year for Karen and Mike's friendship to grow into a more meaningful relationship.

They were ultimately brought together by their love of roller coasters, they say.

Karen, a Fallston native, and Mike, who was raised in Bethesda, each had taken childhood trips to the mid-Atlantic region's amusement parks. There they rode the roller coasters over and over. After countless conversations sharing these memories, Karen and Mike decided to visit an amusement park together.

It was while they were riding the roller coasters -- careening through the loops and turns, breathless from laughing and screaming at the same time -- that Karen and Mike realized their friendly outing had become a date.

They kept dating, and by the end of the summer had been introduced to one another's families. Mike's mother, Marion, saw right away how much affection Karen had for her only son. "She told me, 'Boy, you've got a big fan in Karen,' " Mike recalls.

In the spring of 1997, Mike graduated and began taking temporary assignments as he tried to decide exactly how he wanted to apply his degree. Karen earned her master's that fall and landed a job at a Washington trade association.

In January 1998, Mike was hired to fill a temporary position as a reference librarian at the World Bank in Washington. In May, his position was made permanent. In late August, Karen was offered a job as a reference librarian at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American Art.

Buoyed by their career successes, the couple decided to celebrate with a weekend of roller-coaster riding. They arrived in Williamsburg, Va., on a Friday night. When they got back from dinner, Mike asked Karen a question that made her far more giddy and gleeful than any roller coaster ever had. No longer able to conceal his true purpose for the trip, Mike got down on one knee and proposed. Of course, Karen said yes.

And so on April 10, Karen, 29, and Mike, 31, were married at St. Margaret's Church in Bel Air. In Hoffman family tradition, the full Roman Catholic Mass was celebrated by Karen's uncle, the Rev. Leo Murray.

As the service began, Karen's parents, Albert and Ann Hoffman of Bel Air, walked alongside Mike's father, James O'Connell of Bethesda, to light the family tapers that were paired with the unity candle. (Mike's mother passed away last June. Mike told her before she died that he loved Karen and planned to marry her. His mother was very happy for both of them, he says.)

Karen and Mike said their vows clearly and strongly, each one finishing with a tender smile at the other. As the 140 guests applauded, the newlyweds shared a quick kiss and then walked to the unity candle.

"Grow old along with me," sang the cantor, as Karen and Mike each used the slender, white tapers their parents had lighted to light two long matches.

"The best is yet to be. When our time has come, we will be as one. God bless our love," she sang.

As the music faded, the tiny flames from the two matches became a single flame on the unity candle. It, in turn, became the highest and the brightest light in the church.

Pub Date: 04/18/99

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