Nothing about Mike Caringello’s Illinois State Normal University experience was anticipated. He never planned on attending, or expect to find his soul mate on campus. This month he celebrates 71 years of marriage to his love, Norma (Donnan), and their romance that started with a blind date.
That magical moment happened in the spring of 1946. Norma was in her first year of education classes. Mike was a nontraditional freshman who served in WWII as a Marine. “I had no interest in going to college because I didn’t have the money,” he said.
The GI Bill removed the financial obstacle. Mike headed to the University on a high school counselor’s recommendation, and because of rail service to campus from his home near Chicago. The family did not own a car.
The roommate Mike shared an off-campus apartment with was dating a lady who was friends with Norma. The duo arranged the blind date that consisted of a movie.
“We hit it off pretty good,” Mike said. “I was attracted to her good looks and personality.” There were additional movie dates, time spent with Norma’s family in their Bloomington home, and an occasional dance in McCormick’s gymnasium.
“There was always hired staff there to supervise. If you danced too close, they were there to say back off,” Mike said with a laugh.
The dating led to a wedding on August 16, 1947. Mike was 21 and Norma 19. She left her studies to work at State Farm Insurance Company. Mike graduated with a business education major in 1949, and a master’s and specialist certification in educational administration in 1955 and 1965, respectively. He had a career as a teacher, coach and educational administrator.
Now in their 90s, the couple lives in their Pekin home. They have a daughter, Linda Cooper ’73, and two grandchildren. While campus visits are no longer frequent, the two enjoy reminiscing about their days at Illinois State.
“It was the right decision as it turned out,” Mike said. “In some ways, it still seems like it was only yesterday.”