Tom and Mary Conti with their children, Nick and Josie

A Penn State Wilkes‑Barre love story

Tom and Mary Conti met and fell in love at Penn State Wilkes-Barre. Today, they have been married for 11 years, have two children, and are active members of the Penn State Wilkes-Barre Alumni Society.
By: Goldie Van Horn

A sporty red car…

A homework assignment mix-up…

His grandmother’s engagement ring…

All milestones on the way to 11 years of marriage and two children for Penn State Wilkes‑Barre alumni Mary and Tom Conti.

One of her first days on campus, Mary Conti noticed a red Trans Am in the parking lot.

“I was admiring its physique,” she joked.

A few weeks later, she met the owner of the car — her now-husband, Tom Conti — before a political science class they were both taking.

“I was standing with a group of my friends in the gym lobby before class began and we started chatting. I found out he was the owner of the red Trans Am,” Mary said.

One day after class, Tom asked Mary to confirm the homework assignment: was it a two-page paper or a paragraph? She told him it was a paragraph, but her memory — and the homework Tom submitted — was wrong.

“Later that night, I was on AOL Instant Messenger and got a request from an outside screen name. All it said was, ‘If it weren’t for you, I would have had the right homework,’” Mary remembered.

Tom forgave Mary’s mistake, and the connection between the two began to build.

“We got along pretty well,” he said. “We had a lot of fun talking to each other and had some of the same classes. We seemed to really click.”

Although Mary was seeing someone else when she first met Tom, that relationship soon ended and Mary and Tom’s relationship took off during their first year of college.

Mary and Tom Conti at Holiday at Hayfield

Mary and Tom Conti at Holiday at Hayfield, December 2003

Credit: Mary and Tom Conti

Paths to college

Mary grew up as a self-described “military brat” who was born in Jacksonville, North Carolina and moved several times growing up. When she was in seventh grade, her family moved to Kingston and she graduated from Wyoming Valley West. Tom was born and raised in Wilkes‑Barre and graduated from GAR High School.

Familiar with Penn State Wilkes‑Barre from his participation in Science Olympiad and other events, Tom chose the campus because it was close to home and affordable. Mary followed in the footsteps of several of her older cousins who had attended the local campus.

Tom was initially unsure if he wanted to stay at Penn State Wilkes‑Barre for four years, but ultimately decided to complete his degree there. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Information Sciences and Technology in 2006.

Mary was an English major, a program that wasn’t yet offered as a four-year degree at Penn State Wilkes‑Barre. She went to University Park for the fall semester of her junior year and returned to Wilkes‑Barre the next semester when the campus began offering the English program, completing her degree in 2006.

“My parents went back to North Carolina and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. A week after graduation, my parents moved me to North Carolina. That was a pretty terrible two months (without Tom),” she said. “I started looking for job opportunities in the Wilkes‑Barre area right away because I knew I’d be moving back.”

Mary and Tom quickly realized their separation wasn’t ideal and after two months, Tom drove to North Carolina “to rescue me,” Mary joked.

Engagement and wedding

The couple got engaged in 2007 on a trip to Philadelphia, where Tom presented Mary with his grandmother’s engagement ring, still in its original box from Frank Clark, a former jewelry store in downtown Wilkes‑Barre.

They married on June 13, 2009, at the Best Western in Bear Creek, with numerous friends from Penn State Wilkes‑Barre in attendance, including Student Activities Coordinator Jackie Warnick-Piatt, who served as matron of honor.

“I chose Jackie as my matron of honor because Tom and I grew close with her from the day we started at Penn State Wilkes‑Barre,” Mary said. “She was there from the beginning to see our relationship bloom and we became fast friends. And on our wedding day, Jackie was there when I had to use the restroom, when I needed help with my shoes, or anything else I needed.”

Warnick-Piatt said, “I first got to know Tom through his involvement with our Student Government Association and Haunted Forest fundraisers, then got to know Mary also through SGA, so I really got to know them as individuals first. Then one day I saw them sitting together in the Student Commons. It was great getting to know them as a couple. They always supported each other, were kind to each other and shared so much in common. They are a Penn State Wilkes‑Barre couple through and through.”

“Being asked to be Mary’s matron of honor for their wedding was by far one of my most honored moments in my 23 years at Penn State Wilkes‑Barre. And now I’ve added being asked to babysit their children to that list,” she said.

Mary said, “With the arrival of Nick, our oldest, she became Aunt Jackie to our children.”

Life today

Today, Tom works as a solutions consultant for Canon Business Process Services and Mary is a client service manager for Prudential Financial, where she has been employed since shortly after graduation.

The Contis live in South Wilkes‑Barre with their children Nicholas, 7, and Josephine, 3, who attend Wilkes‑Barre Academy. They enjoy their neighborhood and spending time with friends who live locally.

“We appreciate the close access to recreation around here,” Mary said. “Nick and Josie have friends nearby and we like being close to the city.”

As a family, the Contis enjoy skiing, camping, biking and trips to the beach. Mary and Tom are also instilling their Penn State pride in their children, taking them to alumni events such as tailgates and to the Wilkes‑Barre and University Park campuses.

“That was always something really important to us,” Mary said. “We were really involved with clubs before we graduated and it’s important to us to bring them into that fold and include them.”

Nick has been to several Penn State football games, and he always makes sure a trip to the Berkey Creamery is on the agenda. And while Tom and Mary will support Nick and Josie wherever life takes them, they’d be extremely happy to see them as Penn Staters.

Mary and Tom Conti at the Penn State Wilkes-Barre centennial gala

Mary and Tom Conti at the Penn State Wilkes-Barre centennial gala

Credit: Mary and Tom Conti

Connection to Penn State Wilkes‑Barre

The Contis remain involved with Penn State Wilkes‑Barre as a way to give back. Tom served two terms as president of the Penn State Wilkes‑Barre Alumni Society and chaired the campus golf tournament several times, while Mary served as treasurer and a volunteer at several events.

“We didn’t have the means to fund a scholarship but we could still volunteer,” Tom said. “It was a way for us to stay involved and share our story. With so many colleges in the area, we always felt it was important to make sure Penn State Wilkes‑Barre was part of the conversation.”

The Contis have attended holiday alumni gatherings at Hayfield House, which Mary said was like reliving the “Holiday at Hayfield” dances the couple went to as students.

“Mary and Tom epitomize the Penn State spirit in all they do, including their dedication to our campus,” Director of Campus Development and Alumni Relations Cara Green said. “They both are extremely active volunteers who lead by example. We are so grateful to both of them and enjoy getting a firsthand seat to their epic love story.”

Advice for current and future students

Both Mary and Tom were first-generation college students who received assistance through Student Success Services.

“That’s one thing I would say to students: definitely take advantage of the opportunities you have and the help you can get. Four years seems so long, but it goes so fast. Your network begins then and you don’t even realize it,” Mary advised.

Tom agreed, saying, “Take time to enjoy college and get to know yourself as best as you can. Enjoy the time you have there while you have it.”