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RIGHT TIME RIGHT PLACE: She looked familiar as she walked across the Arkadelphia campus

by Kimberly Dishongh | May 14, 2023 at 3:44 a.m.
Penni and Dick Jacobs on their wedding day, May 20, 1973

Dick Jacobs didn't meet the girl working at the desk when he went to pick up his date in her dorm, but he didn't forget her either.

"I showed up to pick up my date in the freshman girls' dorm and there was this incredibly cute girl working behind the desk. Her job was to call students when they had visitors so they could come down to meet visitors," says Dick, a freshman at then-Henderson State College in Arkadelphia in 1970.

He flirted in hopes of getting her attention, but she called up for his date, and that was that.

He was a sophomore by the time he saw her again the following year, as he gazed out at the campus quad from his seat in the student union.

"Walking across the quad there was this gorgeous girl," he says. "I thought, 'Boy, she looks familiar.'"

He asked around to find out her name -- Penni Pennington.

"She had on hot pants with boots, and she was walking pretty fast because I guess she was trying to get to class on time," he says. "My jaw dropped. People were talking to me but I couldn't listen because I was just looking at her. She really got my attention."

He didn't have a chance to talk with her then, but once he knew her name he called to ask her for a date.

Penni was on a work-study program at Henderson and she worked as much as she could to pay her way through school. She had a new position as resident assistant that year, and it afforded her more flexibility than the one requiring she sit at a desk.

Penni says Dick had dated several of her sorority sisters.

"But it was actually my cousin that had a little something to do with our first date," she says. "He got my cousin to ask me if I would go out with him because he didn't want to ask me if the answer was no."

Penni said yes.

"I invited her to a fraternity party," says Dick, a Sigma Phi Epsilon. Penni was an Alpha Xi Delta.

Dick was going to pick up drinks for the party and he asked if she liked to drink beer or wine. She told him she liked to drink Mr. Pibb.

"I went out and bought a case of Mr. Pibb and put it in this big ice chest, and I pulled this ice chest out when we got to the party," Dick says. "It was a party where you play music and have a campfire outdoors and people put blankets on the ground."

Mr. Pibb was certainly not the norm in that setting and Dick wondered if her drink choice was indicative of how much fun she might be -- or might not be -- on a date.

"I will tell you this, though. The kiss I got that night was probably the best kiss I ever got in my life" he says.

Over the next couple of years, they danced through a string of parties like the one where they had their first date.

Dick proposed to Penni in his car after one such event.

"I remembered that I had left the engagement ring sitting in my dorm room," he says. "So I asked her to marry me and then I go, 'Can you sit here for just a minute? I'll be right back.'"

They were married on May 20, 1973, the Saturday after final exams were done, at a Methodist church in Arkadelphia.

"She still blames me that all her grades dropped a letter grade that last semester because she was busy planning a wedding," he says. "We had both just turned 21."

Dick had been accepted into medical school during his third year at Henderson. While he was studying medicine at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, Penni finished her degree at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, while also working at UAMS to support them.

"Penni has been through four years of medical school, three years of residency, two years of fellowship and then we came back in 1982," says Dick, who retired in 2017 after 35 years at Arkansas Children's Hospital. "She's been through all the wars, the long hours studying and being on-call through an entire career."

Dick and Penni live in Hot Springs.

For their 25th anniversary, Dick surprised Penni with a vow renewal at St. James United Methodist Church in Little Rock, officiated by the same pastor who had married them in 1973.

"We were supposed to go out to dinner for our anniversary, so I pulled into St. James and said, 'Let's get out here for a minute,'" he says. "We walked down the aisle with all of our friends there."

Dick, a self-professed incurable romantic, commissioned a Barry Thomas mother and child painting for her for Christmas 1995, and is constantly considering new ways to surprise her.

"She's just such a pleasure to live with, such a pleasure to be around," he says. "It's just been one great experience after another. She's just a dream to have shared life with."

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The first time I saw my future spouse:

She says: "I always thought he was funny. He was always very nice and polite."

He says: "She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen."

On our wedding day:

She says: "I remember standing at the altar and looking at him and [I] followed his eyes down to my flowers. I was shaking and he said later he was surprised there were any petals left."

He says: "After we were married I think I kissed her longer than Brother John liked, so he kicked me in the shins. Thats something we still laugh about."

My advice for a long happy marriage:

She says: "Communication is key. You need to talk things out, and you need to laugh about things. Dont lose your sense of humor."

He says: "Never lose the romance. Be imaginative. Always think of your significant other, your life partner first."


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