Last year, as Mark and Michele Lerner (née Vodneck) awaited the arrival of their second grandchild, they also anticipated another milestone: 40 years since they first met on the 7th floor of Thurston Hall.
In 1977, Michele, ESIA BA ‘81, ESIA MA ‘82 was thrilled to be at GW, having set her heart on going to school in Washington. Two doors down, Mark, SMHS AA ’82, CCAS BA ‘83, was gearing up for his sophomore year.
“It was the day I moved in,” Michele remembers, “and everyone left their doors open to make introductions.”
Mark and Michele had their first date on November 12 of that year, and they were soon inseparable. By the end of Michele’s senior year, they were engaged.
Mark started his career at GW Hospital while Michele earned her master’s degree and went on to work at Meridian House International. The Lerners married in 1982, welcomed the first of two daughters a few years later, and relocated from D.C. to Reston, Virginia. Mark eventually became a director of radiology, and Michele grew a career as a freelance writer – today, she contributes to The Washington Post and other publications.
In 2007, a job opportunity brought Mark back to GW Hospital, and the Lerners have since moved back to D.C. proper.
“We both feel really fortunate that we’ve been able to stay in the same area,” Mark says “and return to the city where we met.”
The move has been impactful in other ways. Last summer, the Lerners decided to pinpoint the exact day they’d met years ago: August 25, 1977. They planned to celebrate with a night out on the town – but Mark had a few other ideas in mind. He asked Michele meet him on campus before dinner – outside Thurston Hall.
That evening, Mark greeted his wife on the corner of 19th and F Streets NW, but he wasn’t alone. He’d arranged for a street performer to serenade Michele…as well as the students who happened to be moving into Thurston.
“Mark had roses and a bottle of champagne, and then I realized there was someone singing Fran
k Sinatra songs,” Michele recalls. “I thought for a second it was an accident! It was very sweet.”
Meanwhile, “the students thought it was all to entertain them while they moved in,” the Lerners remember with a laugh.
It wasn’t the first time that GW became part of an important memory for Mark and Michele.
“On the first anniversary of our first date, we were students with not much money,” says Michele. “Mark was taking a poetry class at the time…and he suggested we exchange poems along with a card. That’s been a tradition ever since – we now have more than 80 cards [with] favorite poems. We find they’re really representative of different times in our lives.”
While Foggy Bottom isn’t far away, the Lerners also have a piece of GW at home. A few years ago, after saying goodbye to their beloved cat of 20 years, they brought home a new kitten. They were stumped on a name – until Mark picked up a few Colonials Weekend “I love Thurston” pins for Michele. Today, Thurston the cat proudly honors his namesake.
All these years later, the Lerners cherish their GW experience, past and present.
“What I tell people is that I’ve been in D.C. over 40 years and in those 40 years I’ve traveled four blocks,” Mark says, of working on campus again. “But I’m walking the blocks that Michele and I walked together in school. It’s very exciting – and we’re very lucky.”