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An unusual love story

Vowels and his wife have visited more than 40 countries.
Photo: Melia Covington

Sometimes the best love stories have the strangest beginnings, according to Mark Vowels, the chair of the Division of Ministries.

Vowels came to Bob Jones University as a student with the intention of dating until he found the right woman to marry. “Back then, it had to be considered a date for you to be sitting with a girl,” Vowels said. “So I just started dating all these other freshmen girls. I went to everybody in my speech class, everybody in another small class, and by the start of second semester I had had dates with like 80 different girls.”

But each time, as he got to know them, Vowels would realize it wouldn’t work out between them. That was before he met Cary.

According to Vowels, BJU used to hold final exams after Christmas break. Because he attended BJU in the days before computers, he had to wait while someone manually recorded the grades, which took days.

One event students could attend during those intermediary days was a high school invitational basketball tournament. A couple of days before the tournament, Vowels saw a girl in the dining common. “She was always the salad girl, “Vowels said. “I wasn’t necessarily interested in salad, but I [joined the salad line] anyway. I’d say hi to her and see what she would do, and finally I got her name, and I asked her out to the basketball game.”

Vowels said he doesn’t remember anything about the game at all. “We talked, and I found everything about her fascinating and engaging,” he said.

By junior year, Vowels knew he was going to marry Cary. When they discussed the topic of foreign missions and realized that both wanted to be involved in overseas work, Vowels said he was so happy he almost kissed her. “And I would have gotten a whole pile of demerits if I had kissed her, but I was so happy, and I did ask her to marry me,” Vowels said.

At one point in sophomore year, however, Vowels was advised by a friend to date other people in order to be sure that she was the right girl for him. “One afternoon she goes to lunch with this guy named Tom, who I thought was a complete neanderthal, he said.

At the time, male and female students weren’t allowed to be together outside unless they had a reason, and the guy was walking her to her dorm. So couples would typically talk while walking slowly on the way to the dorm. As Vowels’ future wife and Tom walked, Vowels hid behind a bush near the Fine Arts building.

“Cary’s kind of laughing like she’s happy, and I’m like, how can you be happy? Look at that guy, he’s an idiot, he said. After Tom left, Vowels ran out from behind the bush to Cary, who, having seen him hide, was waiting for him to appear.

Vowels asked her to take him back, and she did. They’ve been married now for 38 years.