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How We Met: Sergio Mercado and Holly Engstrom

Sergio Mercado ’03, M.A. ’05, and Holly Engstrom ’01 seemed destined to cross paths. Both are from the Quad Cities, and both came to Illinois State in the fall of 1997. Their roommates, Gloria and Lance, dated that school year and Sergio had been in Holly’s dorm room a couple of times. Yet they didn’t meet until 2001, when they both held temporary jobs at John Deere in Moline.

Sergio was going back to Illinois State that fall, but was not looking for a serious relationship. That changed when he met Holly on June 25. He asked her out the next day.

“My plans didn’t include getting involved, but I still had to get to know her,” Sergio said.

When Sergio went to Holly’s apartment, he recognized the comforter on her bed. He asked about it and realized that it was the same one he had seen in college at his roommate’s girlfriend’s dorm.

Sergio said if they had met during their freshman year their relationship would not have been as strong. Sergio found he wasn’t prepared for his plan of study, and therefore questioned his commitment to remaining another year at ISU. Holly was more focused, and knew exactly what she needed to do to finish her coursework, graduate, and begin teaching.

“We were completely different people” in college, said Sergio, who initially felt lukewarm about the collegiate experience. He left Illinois State after the spring semester of 1998 and finished an associate’s degree before returning to ISU in the fall 2001 semester with a new dedication to his studies.

“By the time I had matured some, we were both in the same mindset,” Sergio said. “I came back as an older student just as Holly was graduating. I really enjoyed working with the faculty in the Political Science Department, and am still in communication with a few people who are still teaching in Normal.”

Just as he was entering, Holly was leaving to teach in Frankfurt. The two maintained a long distance relationship, even as Sergio completed an internship in Peru and a graduate degree in political science.

Sergio knew Holly always wanted to take a horse carriage ride through Chicago. On Valentine’s Day of 2004 he surprised her with one she would never forget. As the carriage was heading toward Navy Pier on Lake Shore Drive, Sergio reached into his pocket to grab his “cell phone.” To Holly’s surprise, he pulled out an engagement ring. They married at Holly’s parents’ church in Coal Valley on July 2, 2005.

The couple now resides in La Grange. Holly teaches fifth grade in Western Springs, while Sergio is a marketing analyst with a small children’s nonfiction press, Heinemann-Raintree. Both remain in touch with friends made during their days at Illinois State, which still holds special place in their lives.

“Our individual ISU experiences really shaped us as the people we are now, both professionally and personally,” Sergio said.