Alexander “Lex” Samaras grew up in the Illinois agricultural town of Hoopeston. He transferred to Illinois State Normal University in 1941 with a love for music and a passion for music education.

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His second day on campus, he headed to the University’s Co-Op. “You got everything you needed at the Co-Op—books, soda fountain, and sandwiches,” he said.

For Samaras, there was one thing more. “I walked in and saw four girls in a booth. I told my roommate: ‘I want to meet that girl.’”

The one who caught his eye was freshman Carolyn Jean Brown from Virden, the same hometown as Samaras’ roommate, who would introduce the two. Samaras knew instantly that he had met his wife.

In those days, poor college kids met for a soda, Samaras recalled. “It was a cheap date, but money was scarce,” he said. “You’d spend a nickel on a coke. It was the style then.”

They set up a coke date, and it went pretty well. They married on Dec. 26, 1943 and were together until Carolyn’s death in July 2014 at age 91. He described her “as the same beautiful girl I met at the Co-Op 72 1/2 years before.”

Serving in the Navy during World War II, he landed at Normandy on D-Day. Later, aboard a landing craft support ship at Okinawa, he witnessed the terror of kamikazes.

“I felt so sorry for Carolyn,” he said of that time. “During the war and after D-Day, everyone else was hearing from their spouses. She didn’t hear anything until August. All those months she thought I was dead.”

When the mail finally caught up, her P.O. Box was filled with 56 letters from her very-much-alive husband.

Lex taught music for more than 20 years and owned a confectionary/restaurant business. He and Carolyn had four children. Now 94, just to speak her name turns the corners of his eyes soft and watery.

ISNU, as he still calls his alma mater, “meant my life,” he said.