Wednesday, September 26, 2007


Fourteen years ago a random group of 52 Santa Clara University students signed up to be resident assistants. Among them were people I now consider lifelong friends: Michelle Pietrosilli (now Etter,) Tom Burns, Tony Phipps, Dina Francomano (now Knouse,) Ernie Kwan, Jennifer Keilen, and a pretty girl I had my eye on named Megan Piazza. My dorm's resident ministers were Tom and Rosemary O'Brien-Wilson, and whether it was from their sage advice or the fact they were a family and we were all a little homesick, we gravitated toward them, and in many ways they were the glue that bound us together. In a very short time many of us went from strangers to joined at the hip.

September 11, 1993, only a week after arriving at school, was a day memorable enough to now lend some joy to that otherwise joyless anniversary. On a park bench next to a stream in the Santa Cruz mountains I gathered enough courage to kiss Megan for the first time. Some time that same day, Tom and Rosemary welcomed their first child, Annarose, into the world. For the rest of that school year the O'Brien-Wilson "apartment" became a second home for many of us, and we all adopted Annarose. This lucky little girl's world consisted of a home with a door that opened to hundreds of friends who were all too willing to hold her and play with her. We all have funny stories and cherished memories of the cherub down the hall.

Megan and Dina weighed Annarose in a fruit scale:

We spent holidays together:

Annarose and I took naps together:

My favorite picture of Annarose from that year, with Dina:

The Dunne crew:
Back row: Tom Burns, Jennifer Keilen, Mike Erickson, Mike BC, Tom O'Brien-Wilson
Middle row: Darien Ching, Lara Courtice, Dina Francomano, Thomas Tannert, Rosemary O'Brien-Wilson, Megan Piazza
Front Row: Tony Phipps, Chris Hite, Joel Bittle, Annarose O'Brien-Wilson

The year ended and nine month old Annarose had to watch as all of her friends packed up and moved out, and I won't deny that I felt her pain at watching everyone go. Within two weeks I missed Santa Clara so much I made a return visit, and when Tom Burns and I walked through her door Annarose stood up on her knees and began to shake uncontrollably, her eyes wide at seeing us again. I just picked her up and said, "I know. I feel it too."

Some time the next semester the O'Brien-Wilsons moved to Washington, where they have stayed. In 1996, the year after we graduated, Dina, Megan, and I made a trip up to Washington to visit them.

You can tell Annarose and I were buds:

Megan and I each had this picture on our desks at work:

In 1997, when Megan and I decided to get married, it was clear that Annarose had to be one of our flower girls. After all, she was exactly as old as we as a couple were. She was a perfect choice, guiding one-year-old Alex down the aisle with her and asking Rosemary afterwards, "there's another wedding - do you think they need a flower girl?"

At the reception Annarose was glued to the dance floor, and loved to spin:

Annarose and her sister Maryclare:

After our wedding it was years between visits, with occasional correspondence interspersed. They were at Dina and Todd's wedding, where Maryclare got her chance to be flower girl and we got a chance to see new sister Lauralyn. I saw them again when I drove across country with John Regalia in 2002 - nine year old Annarose was already writing her own plays. She was clearly very bright, but it was the gentle kindness of her parents that I saw most in her, and I was very proud to have known her since her birth. Even after so much time apart, she couldn't sit close enough to me at dinner.

Since 2002, we have unfortunately fallen out of touch with the O'Brien-Wilsons. Three weeks ago, a woman named Mary Farrell referenced this blog in a syndicated column that Tom and Rosemary read in one of their local newspapers. They looked it up, Annarose left a comment for me on the post titled Dancing with Myself, and we have been in email contact since. Check out that post for comments from both Annarose and Rosemary.

And now I present to you the beautiful O'Brien-Wilson girls :

From top to bottom: Maryclare, Annarose, Lauralyn (with baby cousin Brenna Mae)

If you knew Annarose or the O'Brien-Wilsons, please leave a little story or a quick hello for them, as they will be reading the comments below.


Ernie said...

Great post Joel! Over a decade later and you still remember the details like it was last year...I didn't even realize there were 52 of us signed up to be RA's!


Anonymous said...

I love it! You brought back memories for my parents, too. This it so cool...I'm actually on the web! I can't wait to hear from other friends that knew me when I was little! I also can't wait to brag about this to all my friends(lol)!


P.S. Ernie, I wish I could say I remembered parents do very fondly, however! I guess that's understandable when you're only a year old!

Anonymous said...

Hi Annarose,
It's Dina. You probably don't remember this, but ask your parents about the trip you all took to Albuquerque to visit me. See if they remember what happened the night after we ate a dish made with chick peas. I'll spare your father from posting the details on the web. The Annarose story only brings back the best of memories for me. I miss you all. By the way, I've moved back to Albuquerque with my family (Anthony -6, Juliet - 3, Todd, and baby #3 on the way near Thanksgiving). Here is my email: Love to hear from you and your family.

Michelle Etter said...

Hi Annarose,

You definitely won't remember me because I didn't live in the same building with the other RA's and your family when you were a baby. I was in the building next to you (Swig), with ANOTHER baby your age. (The Bonini Baby girl was competing with you for all of your well-deserved attention - but don't worry, you had a loyal following.) Joel & Megan are my closest friends, and were back then too... so we spent a lot of time with you watching you grow. I remember when you discovered your ears. Your mom & dad thought you had an ear infection because you kept pulling on them all of a sudden. But really, you just realized that they were there one day, and thought they were pretty neat! Glad to see you are all doing well!

Anonymous said...

Joel and I were so very excited to hear from you. I loved looking at the pictures of you and your sisters. You are all so beautiful! Your parents have done a wonderful job raising you -we knew they would.

Your parents were a huge influence on all of us and provided a much needed home when I was so far away from my own. But they also taught Joel and I what a loving and strong marriage was all about.

You wouldn't believe how tiny their apartment was when you were born. But they always opened their door to us. That little living room would be packed with friends until midnight! You're sleeping schedule wasn't that of a typical baby.

Since their front door was always open you would crawl down the hall - no worries, someone would eventually bring you back. If you were fussy you're dad would load you in the backpack while doing dishes or cleaning. You loved it! Of course, you've heard the "fruit scale" story many times.

But mostly I remember how much we loved you and your parents. You are very lucky to have such wonderfully loving and wise parents. And they are just as lucky to have three bright and beautiful daughters.


Anonymous said...

Hi Dina, Michelle, and Megan! I miss you. When I heard the story of the chick peas, I cracked up and couldn't stop laughing! Your stories give me some actual facts to tell about living in California,and I am definitely going to be telling all my friends the crazy ones!

Anonymous said...

Dear Friends,

Thanks for reminding us of what we had! Throughout the past few weeks our lives have been punctuated with bright memories that pop suddenly to mind, sparked by Joel’s blog and the comments of so many others. It is such a pleasure to remember the many joys of our time in Santa Clara! Thank you for your kind words about our ministry at SCU. Our SCU memories continue to be a source of life for us. The community of faith we shared with you there has left an enduring mark on our hearts. It was a time in our lives that we remember as very blessed.

These memories have also led us to think about the future with fresh eyes. We wonder if our girls might some day be the "New Freshman" or the "Enthusiastic RA" at SCU. (Though this mother would rather they would stay closer to home!) We pray that wherever they land, they will be surrounded by people as life-giving as yourselves.

We hope we soon have an opportunity to get together and make some new memories with you. We have three wonderful babysitters so us “old folks” can talk while they play! -- although it may be hard for these two old folks to pry themselves away from your babies! Anyone have time to plan a reunion? - We just need time to lose the extra pounds we have gained since we last saw you all!!!

Love and Prayers
Rosemary & Tom

Dana said...

Great photos!

Rachael said...

Hello from the O'B-W girl's Aunt Rachael. It's fun to see them on your blog.

hi art i soo cute! nice to see it all especially me!
-maryclare the one with all the curls

I'm on the web!!!CCCCOOOOOOOOLLLL!its awsome.Hey Annarose your lucky you are pictured alot more than me,lucky!
PSnow I can brag!

Anna said...

HI!!! Nice pics you got and your very lucky.. WELL The reason im leaving you this comment is cause my names also Annarose all my life i was looking for someone with that name...urm im from seychelles i dont think uve heard of it but its some islands in the indian ocean near mauritius or madagascar..I was born on the 25th september 1993 so clearly we must be the same age.Im 14 and i got a sister with the name Synpherose lol .. jus roses in the family oh and if you like you can check my profile on hi5 my url is hope we keep in touch cause i want us to be good friends...cya
Luv ya Annarose