Jerry Hazelbauer and Lin Randall share a love of food, one that is strengthen by their expansive restaurant-quality kitchen.
“Everyone is coming from all parts of the country and everyone’s saying ‘Oh yeah, I don’t want to be together with somebody in science because you don’t want to talk about it all the time’,” says Peck, who is a professor of biochemistry.
Then he recalls how much coupling actually took place within his group of friends – including his own experience meeting a visiting scholar from Germany.
“Part of it is the understanding of the weird hours or commitment that one has and part of it is just where you meet people,” he says.
It’s not always easy to identify marriages between faculty members as they don’t often share the same last name. In academia, changing one’s last name upon marriage doesn’t often happen – at the risk of losing the connections to previously published research.
Although couples abound in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, the Division of Biochemistry – albeit unofficially – may have the most married faculty member couples of the six academic divisions with a total of six.
With Valentine’s Day just days away, we sat down and talked with three of them to get a glimpse into how they met and what it takes to make a relationship like theirs work both on and off campus.
It turns out that Jerry Hazelbauer and Lin Randall were “foodies” even before that was pop-culture term. Perhaps it was just a form of scientific analysis, but shortly after they began dating as doctoral students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the two were determined to find the best hamburger in the entire city.
Such a pursuit seemed logical given that they had first met at a local hamburger joint in 1969 following a game played by a soccer team composed of molecular biology students. Lin’s boyfriend at the time was the captain, “and he made the mistake of asking me to play,” Jerry says with a laugh.
The two would later strike up their first conversation at the student union. Lin happened to be there after being mandated to take a week to relax given that she had not taken a day off from the laboratory since arriving on campus a year and a half ago.
“We ended up going to dinner together and the rest was history,” Jerry says. “A year later we were married.”
The couple have been with MU Biochemistry since 2000, with Jerry serving as the chair of the department, as well as a Curators Distinguished Professor of Biochemistry, and Lin serving as the Wurdack Chair of Biochemical Sciences and a professor. The two have a combined 67 continuous years of funding through the National Health of Institute (NIH). Yet any talk of scientific research stops at the dinner table.
“She hates talking about science or work-related things during dinners because you should concentrate on the food,” Jerry says.
As a girl growing up in Las Cruces, New Mexico, and later the Denver area, Lin and her sister would ride their bicycles around in search of the best grilled cheese sandwich. Food had always been important to Lin. It gained a higher status after being diagnosed as a diabetic.
“From the time I was 18 I had to think about how many grams of carbohydrates and fat I could eat therefore anything that went into my mouth had to be good,” Lin says. “That’s how I became so aware of food.”
Their combined love of food blossomed in 1971 after the two headed for Paris to start postdoctoral fellowships at the Pasteur Institute, named for one of its co-founders, French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur. Before they arrived, they found a book written by an American food critic and journalist, Waverly Root, that covered 300 Parisian restaurants from neighborhood bistros to three-star fine dining.
“I don’t know to what degree we were simply receptive to his tastes or to what degree his tastes shaped us, but it worked extremely well,” Jerry says.
Their time in the City of Lights was not without its challenges.
Arriving in Paris, Jerry had a postdoctoral position and a fellowship; Lin had a postdoctoral position but no salary. Only after some weeks did her advisor find funds for a salary. Nine months later, Jerry received a letter saying that the program sponsored by the National Science Foundation (NSF) that was providing his salary was being cancelled. As Jerry began to apply for “everything I could find,” they received notice a week later that their landlord had sold their apartment – forcing them to settle on an apartment that was close to the institute but ate all of Lin’s salary.
Eventually, Jerry obtained a postdoctoral fellowship from the Muscular Dystrophy Association. After two years in Paris, the couple decided to head to Uppsala, Sweden, accepting an invitation from Lin’s thesis advisor who had become a professor there. Before they left, though, they made sure that they revisited all of their favorite places, expending all that was left of Jerry’s fellowship.
“Thus, when we left Paris for Sweden we had essentially no extra money,” Jerry says. “We had eaten all of it in Parisian food and it was one of the best investments we ever made.”
During some of those visits to eateries, when the night was winding down and the owners had brought out the house cognac, the scene would unfurl like that out of a movie, with conversation topics shifting to classic French interests: “life, love of the fate of the universe,” Jerry says.
“And during these times, to several owners, Lin would say ‘Some day when I have my science under control, I’m going to have a restaurant.’”
That time would come 25 years later in Pullman, Washington. Lin and Jerry were established at Washington State University and Lin, after taking classes at the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont, was ready to have her own restaurant.
In 1997, Lin, Jerry and a partner opened up Combray, named after the fictional French town in Marcel Proust’s famed novel, “Remembrances of Things Past.” On that same day, as fate would have it, Lin found out that she had been elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Although the restaurant, with its motto of “fine dining in a casual atmosphere,” closed when the couple moved to Columbia in 2000, they look back on the years it was open with fond memories. Lin was there every night, waiting tables and talking to guests on the weekdays and serving as a sous chef on the weekends. Meals would feature four courses: appetizer, entrée, salad and choice of either dessert or a French-inspired cheese course. The menu would change every week.
When they moved east, kitchen equipment from the restaurant would make the trip with them. They would later be installed in their restaurant-quality kitchen, which has the capacity to feed a large number of people at one time.
Jerry says that his experiences since he began his journey with Lin 47 years ago have created an invaluable platform when it comes to talking to new faculty candidates and their spouses.
“I can say, ‘I’ve been there,’” he says, “‘Nothing is guaranteed, but if you do well, something will happen.’”
When it comes to the recipe of making a relationship like theirs work, Lin says the ingredients are very simple.
“Compromise and passion,” she says. “Passion for what you do and for your spouse. It’s no secret.”
Gretchen, who was a research associate at the time, had just co-published an academic paper, “Rat liver DNA-dependent RNA polymerase I is inhibited by cycloheximide.” Tom, then working on his doctorate degree in the lab next door, had read the paper.
“I remember him coming in and saying ‘Are you the Hagen of Timberlake, Hagen and Griffin?’” Gretchen recalls, thinking she was in trouble based on the tone of his voice. “And he didn’t like the paper to begin with.”
“It was a way of introducing myself and starting a conversation,” Tom says with a smile.
“He wasn’t socially smooth,” Gretchen replies.
That was the start of a working and living relationship that has been going strong for 44 years, although it would be another eight years until they would marry. Tom left for the University of Georgia for a postdoctoral fellowship and then later for the University of Minnesota Twin Cities in 1976 for his first faculty position. Gretchen earned her Ph.D. at Georgia before following him up north after getting a postdoctoral fellowship in 1978.
Two years later they first began working together professionally after Gretchen was awarded an NIH fellowship to work on their combined research interest: the molecular biology behind a plant hormone called auxin and how it plays a role in how the plant grows and develops from seed to flower.
In 1986, they arrived at MU after being recruited by Doug Randall, the founder of the Interdisciplinary Plant Group (IPG) and professor emeritus of biochemistry, through funding from the Food for the 21st Century program.
“It was really on the upswing for plant biology,” Tom says.
In 2009, the couple both received the Charles Reid Barnes Life Membership Award by the American Society of Plant Biologists. In doing so they became the second and third members of MU Biochemistry to receive the award, with Doug being the first.
Outside of Schweitzer Hall, Tom and Gretchen are avid jazz enthusiasts, having subscribed to the We Always Swing Jazz Series since its founding in 1995. On Sunday concert nights, you can find them at Murry’s in Columbia.
The duo officially retired – Tom as a professor ; Gretchen as a research professor – on Oct. 1, but still show up to their laboratory every day, including parts of weekends, to conduct research and discuss academic papers in their field.
“It really hasn’t felt like we’re retired, except maybe we get in a half hour later, leave a half an hour earlier,” Gretchen says.
“We still follow the science and probably will for quite a while,” Tom adds.
When Antje Heese arrived at Michigan State University in August of 1989 as a Fulbright Scholar from Germany, one of the first people she met was Scott Peck, who had just started the second year of his doctorate degree in botany and plant pathology.
“I know it sounds hokey, but it was love at first sight, definitely,” says Antje (pronounced AUNT-y-ah), who is an associate professor of biochemistry.
“It just took a while to work out the logistics,” Scott adds.
The two started out with same advisor, Hans Kende, at MSU’s Plant Research Laboratory, before Antje eventually switched to Natasha Raikhel, who worked in East Lansing for 15 years before becoming the director of the Center for Plant Cell Biology at the University of California, Riverside.
When Antje had to return to Germany to complete her master’s degree at Ruhr University in Bochum at the end of 1990, the two began to rack up tremendous phone bills before Scott worked three months in Basel, Switzerland, for Hans, who was there on a sabbatical. Eventually Natasha offered Antje an opportunity to come back to MSU to work on her doctoral degree.
“Our mentors were both very supportive,” says Antje of Hans and Natasha, both of whom attended Antje and Scott’s wedding.
That day in September of 1993 was one that came about from an unusual proposal. Although Antje had thought that Scott would propose earlier during the holiday season the year before, she did not realize that he had a surprise planned for her during one of her favorite holidays that was not celebrated in Germany: Halloween.
The two had started a tradition of carving several pumpkins, so Scott had inserted a note into one of the pumpkins. She saw her name on the note, but did not reach in and grab it. The note read: “Antje, will you marry me?”
“I just read Antje and I thought he had played a trick on me because it’s trick or treat,” Antje says, who then proceeded to throw the pumpkin away.
Eventually she opened the note, following Scott’s encouragement, and happily accepted.
After Antje finished her Ph.D. in 1997, the two were able to find postdoctoral fellowships in Basel at two different institutes and two different fields. Scott worked with his current pursuit, signal transduction as a way to look at plant pathogen interactions, while Antje studied cellular biology in yeast.
“She wanted to go to Europe not only to spend time there, but also so that I would understand what’s it like to be a foreigner,” Scott says.
The couple left in 2000 for The Sainsbury Laboratory at the Norwich Research Park in England, after Scott had accepted a position there — but not before the birth of their now 16-year-old son, Liam. Although they arrived without knowing what longer-term opportunity was available for Antje and a newborn, Antje started with a postdoctoral fellowship in another lab at the same institute.
In May of 2004, Scott arrived at MU to attend the IPG’s annual symposium to give a talk on his research, which at the time was a hot scientific focus area. At the end of the day, Scott had planned to just briefly stop by Doug Randall’s home for a reception for the speakers after being exhausted from the flight from England.
Doug asked him to stay a little longer to talk about the idea of him and Antje coming to MU and joining the IPG team. The idea for Scott, who is from the Chicago area, to return to the U.S. – and to the Midwest in particular – had great appeal.
Eventually Scott and Antje arrived as part of the surge of new researchers who entered the Bond Life Sciences Center upon its opening in 2004.
“There was a lot of energy, and it was a bit like being graduate students again because you’re all showing up in the same place, but you don’t know anybody,” Scott recalls.
When it comes to advice for the next Scott and Antje, the two scientists say a relationship such as theirs is built on honesty.
“I think be honest with yourself and be honest with your partner,” Antje says.
“There’s no sense in trying to say, ‘Well, I can probably make that work. I don’t want to, but…,” Scott adds. “After that eight years in Europe, there were some ups and downs, but I have to say that in moving here it was ‘OK, deep breath. Now we’re going into this together.’”
“And,” Antje adds, “it made the relationship stronger.”
This article was originally publised on CAFNR News on Feb. 10, 2017.