Rekindle your relationship with Murray State

Murray State University shoe treeDuring the month of love, our Racer SoleMates series digs into the most beloved memories of Murray State. Perhaps you found your significant other on campus, married a fellow Racer long after you graduated or formed a lifelong friendship thanks to the blue and gold.

You can show the love for your alma mater by joining the Murray State University Alumni Association family. Becoming a member of the Association is just one of the many ways to give back to the University and help Racer traditions thrive. Whether it’s funding the Century Club Alumni Legacy Scholarship and Distinguished Faculty Awards or providing support for Homecoming and other alumni reunions, you can make an impact on our University.

Be sure to check out fellow Racer’s stories below, or share your own favorite memory of love or friendship at Murray State using #RacerSoleMates.


Click the couple's name for their story

Logan and Stevie Stout

Couple had the time of their lives at Murray State

Logan and Stevie

Logan and Stevie Stout met on their very first day of class as freshman at Murray State. They were taking math with Dr. Scott Lewis, and they walked together to Hart Hall after class, talking the entire way.

The two remained "just friends" for the next three years, until Logan was nominated for the Mr. MSU pageant. Logan called on Stevie to be his dance partner for the talent portion of the competition, and they chose to recreate the iconic scene in "Dirty Dancing" that was set to "(I've Had) The Time of My Life." Parking lots, the Carr Health racquetball court and the Lambda Chi Alpha sand volleyball court became their practice spaces, and they dedicated themselves to mastering the choreography.

Their commitment paid off when Logan was crowned as 2010's Mr. MSU. But their rehearsals came to mean more than just winning the competition.

"I realized I wanted to date (and eventually marry) Stevie when our dance practices were over and I missed the time with her so much," Logan said.Logan and Stevie

The couple eventually did get married in May 2012, and they put their shoes on the Shoe Tree a few weeks before the wedding. They said the tree reminds them that they wouldn't have found each other without Murray State, and they see it as an opportunity to be a part of one of the University's greatest traditions.

Logan added that they don't believe in luck, but they do have a wonderful life together. "We have the greatest 2-year-old in the world for a son and we're as happily married as any couple can be."

Amanda and DJ Story

Sole Mates: An interview with Murray State "Sole Mates"

Amanda and DJ

Amanda and DJ Story met more than ten years ago, shortly after starting school at Murray State University. When asked how they met and fell in love and why the Shoe Tree tradition is important to them, they each shared their own unique perspective. Read their answers below.

How did you meet?

Amanda: DJ and I met at Summer Orientation in 2004. I was a Junior and Summer Orientation Counselor and he was an incoming freshman, who happened to be in my Summer O group. I had a boyfriend at the time so I wasn't really interested in him. Plus he was just a freshman and I thought he was too young for me. We did become friends through college though and always stayed in touch even when we were dating other people.

DJ: Amanda was my Summer O counselor, and I instantly had a crush on her.

Where did you hang out on campus and go on dates?

Amanda: We started dating after I had graduated, but we were both very involved in Greek Life at Murray State so we enjoyed participating in sorority and fraternity events together.

DJ: We didn't date when we were both in school, but when we did start to date we frequented the Apple.
How did you know your spouse was "the one"?

Amanda: DJ is the funniest person I know, and every time I was around him, he would always make me laugh. When I finally came to my senses and gave him a chance, we've been inseparable ever since!

DJ: When I realized she was a smart, funny, independent person. I realized that she didn't need me to be happy, but chose to love me all the same. I felt the same way. I feel like saying "the one" takes away the choice and the work that two people put into making a relationship work. I love Amanda more every day because we try to put each other first.

What are your favorite Murray State memories together?

Amanda: Going to Murray State basketball games, and participating in Murray State Greek Life.

DJ: Going to away basketball games and OVC tournaments.

What does the Shoe Tree mean to you?Amanda and DJ

Amanda: We are Racers through and through, and are carrying on the Murray State tradition started by our families. I hope to one day see my children attend Murray State and hang their shoes in the Shoe Tree as well.

DJ: Murray state means so much to us, for many reasons, and the fact that we can belong to another great Racer tradition means a lot.

Legend has it that the Shoe Tree brings good luck to couples. Do you think it will help bring good luck to your marriage?

Amanda: Absolutely! DJ and I met on campus, nailed our shoes on the tree, and got married in Lovett Auditorium. Murray State has been and will always be a huge part of our lives, and I know sharing these traditions has set a positive foundation for our future.

DJ: I hope so, like I said I think marriages take work, but I'll take whatever help we can get.

Blake and Christina Darnall

Sole Mates: Best friends fell in love as Racers

Christina and Blake

The Darnalls met at Murray State University in 2011. Christina was from Memphis, Tenn. and said she came to the school for its Pre-Veterinary Medicine program. Blake was born and raised in Murray and majored in Occupational Safety and Health at the University. The first friend Christina made at Murray State was another student named Sydney, who happened to be friends with Blake while they were growing up. At Sydney’s birthday party during the spring semester of 2012, Christina and Blake met.

That night, Blake had a hard time focusing on anything other than Christina, and he wanted to make sure he would be able to see her again. “I truly found Christina beautiful inside and out and I did everything I could to make sure that she felt the same about me,” he said.

According to Christina, she and Blake were both shy. “We credit our friend Sydney for informing me that Blake had a crush on me and starting the beginning of our love story,” she said.

Before they fell in love, they took their time getting to know each other better and, over time, became best friends. Christina learned that Blake was a kind man with an old soul like hers. Christina went to Nashville over the summer for an internship at the zoo, and when she returned for the fall semester, Blake finally asked her out on a date.

“I told him after a few attempts of getting our schedules to work that I just simply did not have the time,” she said. But that night, while Christina was working on her microbiology research, Blake showed up and surprised her with Sour Patch Kids and Sprite, and they had a spontaneous first date at Waterfield Library.

She knew he was going to be her husband someday. “We were both so different yet so alike in so many ways that it just worked. I knew pretty quickly God had him in mind when he made me,” she asserted. Blake said he a certain feeling in his stomach whenever she was around, and the connection he had with her was unlike anything he had ever had before.

The pair dated for two years, spending time at The Big Apple on Friday nights, dancing at The Keg and walking “the loop” around campus. Together, they made a lifetime of memories at Murray State. On graduation day, Blake proposed marriage, and the couple got married at Hardin Baptist Church in October 2014. They moved to the mountains of North Carolina but say they will always consider Murray home.

After their one-year wedding anniversary, Blake and Christina came back to campus to place their shoes on the Shoe Tree. “We hope that our marriage grows just as strongly and lives on along with the Shoe Tree!” The decades-long tradition is important to them because it is a part of history.

And, of course, it is a part of what makes their alma mater special. “Murray State has so much to offer academically, but what you take with you personally is what makes being a Racer so rewarding.”

Will and Marilyn Aubrey

Couple commemorates 39 years of love on Shoe Tree

Will and Marilyn

Will and Marilyn Aubrey met at Murray State University in fall 1976. Marilyn came to Hart Hall to play Spades, and Will chose to sit in on the game. Their connection was instantaneous. “We went to The Palace after playing cards and when I went to bed that night I asked God to let me marry her,” said Will.

On their first date, the couple went to see King Kong at the Cine' Theater. The movie was of particular interest to Will, who wrote movie reviews for Murray State News. As the two continued dating, they enjoyed going to basketball games together at Racer Arena. “It seemed like whenever we left a game early because the Racers were behind, they would make a miraculous comeback to win the game,” Will added. He remembers a particular moment when the two were listening to the game in the car. It was a close game when John Randall tipped in the ball to win against Western Kentucky.

And, of course, the couple continued to play cards at Hart Hall. “We played Hearts late one night in the Blackburn Science Building. Marilyn ran them five times in a row,” Will boasted.

As time went on, Will and Marilyn enjoyed many lakeside picnics. Will looks back fondly on a day when they went swimming, even though the outside temperature was only in the 40s. “I was always doing crazy things like that, and she was usually up for whatever I could think of.” In fact, that’s how he knew she was “the one.”

The pair tied the knot in 1977 and moved into a house that they rented on Olive Street in Murray. Will said they had a lot of fun there, but they also had an enthusiasm for one another that was unmistakable. He remembers a day when he came home from a trip with the debate team; the second he opened the door, she ran down the stairs to greet him.Will and marilyn
On the day of their anniversary a few years after they got married, they honored their love on the Shoe Tree. Will said the tree serves as a reminder of the couple’s history together. “[It] connects us to our past, when our love was new and our whole lives were ahead of us.”

39 years later, the couple continues to be active on campus. “Murray State has been, and always will be, a big part of our lives.”

Kenton and Hayley Henderson

Murray State couple bands together in love and tradition

Kenton and Hayley

Former Murray State University students Kenton and Hayley Henderson have Racer Band to thank for bringing them together. He played trombone; she was a vocalist and did flag and rifle in color guard. "We were both vocal music majors, doing band as a way to stay connected to something we loved in high school," explained Hayley.

They met as freshman in 2006. Kenton was shy but talented, and Hayley admired this about him. Throughout their time at Murray State, they took part in classes and recitals together, but it wasn't until March of 2011 that they began to know each other better.

In fact, it was a specific day that stands out in Hayley's mind. They were scheduled to perform at the annual Junior/Senior Voice Recital and happened to sit next to each other. Hayley said she was surprised by how funny he was. "He cracked jokes while we should have been watching our peers perform, and it struck (sic) me that I never realized how hilarious he was."

Afterward, she couldn't stop thinking about him. Deciding to make a bold move, she messaged Kenton on Facebook. He hadn't logged onto the social media site in months, but he quickly responded to Hayley's message. Their conversation continued and spilled over into text messages. Just a few nights later, they went on a date to a favorite Murray institution — Dairy Queen —which was just the beginning of their three-year dating relationship. Kenton and Hayley

"Three years, one tiny kitten, and one big move to Nashville later, we tied the knot." They got married on Oct. 26, 2013 — a little more than seven years after they first met in band.

"I will always be grateful to Dr. Chris Mitchell for reworking that recital lineup in our favor, and Murray State for bringing me my sweet Kenton," Hayley said.

About seven months after the couple was married, they hung their shoes on the Shoe Tree. To them, the tradition represents a community of people who found love at Murray State. "People joke about going to college to find a spouse, but that wasn't what either of us expected. We just set out to enjoy Murray State and happened to find the person we wanted to spend our lives with," said Hayley.

When asked if they think the Shoe Tree plays a hand in their marital success, Hayley said that God, not luck, is what makes their marriage work. "I will say, however, that I don't know many couples who have nailed shoes on that tree and divorced."

Sheila and Daniel Moss

Former Murray State students waltzed into each other's hearts

Sheila and Daniel

The night before Daniel Moss graduated from Murray State University and was commissioned to the United States Army, he and his wife, Sheila, got married. It was July 29, 1982, about a year after they began dating.

Throughout their 33 years of marriage, the couple often shared the story of how they met at Murray State. During their senior year, both Sheila and Dan needed physical education credits in order to graduate. Sheila and her best friend, Debbie, thought a dance class sounded fun; Dan wanted to prepare for upcoming military balls. They all wound up in the same class.

On the first day, the teacher asked the students to choose a dance partner. Debbie, who was very outgoing, raced up to Dan and told him they would be partners. Sheila was reserved and chose a partner who was equally so.

Both Debbie and Sheila became friends with Dan outside of class, eating lunch together and going on walks around campus. About a month into the course, Debbie came down with mononucleosis and would be out the rest of the semester. Meanwhile, Sheila's dance partner broke his leg and would be out as well. With both of their partners absent, the teacher asked if Sheila and Dan would pair up, and Sheila said they both replied with "a very quick and emphatic 'YES!'"

As time went on, their friendship grew deeper. Sheila hadn't been able to grasp the waltz with her previous partner, so Dan would assist her by sweetly whispering "one, two, three, one, two, three" in her ear.

She recalls a day in mid-October when she told Dan that her birthday was the following Monday. He smirked and asked how old she would be. "When I told him I would be 21, his beautiful smile lit up his face as he told me that Monday was his birthday and he would also be 21!" exclaimed Sheila. She was surprised to learn that they were born on the exact same day. That's when they knew a relationship was meant to be. The two began dating and got married the following year. Sheila and Daniel

"Through the years Dan and I often said we should go back and put our shoes on the tree but we never found the time," Sheila shared. A few months after Dan passed away, she was able to return to campus to finally participate in the Murray State tradition.

"The quad looked as it always has in my memory, with students hanging out there, studying, talking, laughing, and playing Frisbee," she recalled. Her two daughters, Heather and Megan, joined her in hanging a pair of shoes to memorialize the love Sheila and Dan shared.

The Moss family"He loved Murray State so very much, always interested in what was going on and proud to be an alumni from Murray State," Sheila said of her late husband. "Even though placing those shoes on the tree was a difficult thing to do without him, we shared more laughter than tears as we remembered and honored him in this special way."

Jenelle and Adam Cummings

Students fell head over heels in love at Murray StateJenelle and AdamIt was the fall of 2007 in the Clark College residential hall at Murray State University. Jenelle Cummings was a junior, and Adam Cummings was a freshman. Jenelle, who lived in "Old Clark" during her first two years at the University, had just been grandfathered into the new building. Jenelle said Adam was "one of the lucky freshman to get in their first year" since Clark College is considered one of the best places to live on campus."I asked one of my roommates about him during the first few weeks of school because I had never seen him before and was very surprised to find out he was a freshmen," she added. She invited him to join her and her friends in her suite for their weekly Grey's Anatomy viewing parties. However, it was during intramural softball that he really got her attention. While she was on the bases, Adam acted as coach and would tell her what to do — which made her very angry. He apparently got in her head, though; she couldn't stop thinking about him. The feelings proved to be mutual when Adam asked her out on their first date on Nov. 15, 2007. She joined him for the Dierks Bentley concert in the Regional Special Events Center (RSEC) in Murray, and they began dating that December. The couple worked together in Clark, and they were very dedicated to the residential college. He was an RA while she was the Assistant to the College Head and RCC Secretary; she worked the desk, and he became the desk supervisor. Adam moved to College Courts in spring 2008, and Jenelle graduated with her bachelor's degree in elementary education in spring 2009 and moved off campus while working toward her master's. Even after moving out, they both continued their involvement in the hall.Cummings family"Murray State and Clark College hold a special place in both our hearts and had Adam not been assigned to Clark his freshmen year I don't know that our paths would have crossed," said Jenelle. The couple's love of Clark College was greatly rewarded when they were named the hall's Homecoming King and Queen. Shortly before that in September 2010, they honored their love of each other by getting engaged on Kentucky Lake. They spent the following spring going to class and planning their wedding, and Adam received his bachelor's degree in nursing in May 2011. In June, they moved to Louisville and got married. The Cummings returned to campus on Aug. 7, 2011 to hang their shoes on the Shoe Tree. Every summer since then, they've gone on a family vacation to Kentucky Lake and made sure to include a visit to Murray while they're on the western side of the state. Last summer, they brought their son Lukah to the Quad so he could add his shoe to the couple's pair on the Shoe Tree. With a 19-month-old son and another son on the way, the Cummings certainly have been blessed with good fortune. No one can say whether or not the Shoe Tree has had a hand in that — but it certainly hasn't hurt.

Dana and Marshall Smith

Murray State alumni couldn't help falling for each other

Dana and Marshall

Dana Smith and her husband, Marshall, were friends for two and a half years before they dated. Eventually, they realized the feelings they had toward each other were not platonic, but Dana was nervous to act on them. "My friends had to push me into dating him because I didn't want to ruin a friendship and I knew he was special," she said.

Her friends' encouragement worked, and Dana and Marshall went on their first date at Jasmine in Murray. Although Marshall was particular about what he ate, he gave sushi and sake a try, which impressed Dana.

As they continued dating, Marshall would walk Dana to her classes, and the two would frequently meet for lunch at campus staples like Winslow Dining Hall, Thoroughbred Room and Dunker's Deli. Dana was getting her degree in exercise science while Marshall was getting his in engineering graphics and design, so they often met in the buildings of each other's majors.

She recalls one day in particular when Marshall planned a surprise date. He arrived at her dorm room with a dozen roses and whisked her away to Patti's 1880's Settlement in Grand Rivers, Ky. There, they enjoyed a nice dinner (they both love the pork chops) followed by a stroll around the settlement, where Marshall first told Dana he loved her.

"Patti's became a special spot for us!" Dana exclaimed. The place was made even more special when Marshall proposed in the settlement's gazebo after dinner one New Year's Day.Dana and Marshall

The couple had their engagement photos taken in another location that is near and dear to their hearts: the Murray State campus. After they got married, they attended the Homecoming celebration and added their shoes to the Shoe Tree. Dana hung a rain boot since she remembers it raining frequently on campus; Marshall chose a tennis shoe.

The two now live in Maryville, Tenn. —Dana is a registered nurse in an emergency room, and Marshall is an engineer for Yamaha — but they both "love being Murray State alumni."

Meaghan and Justin Brewer

A picture-perfect love story on Murray State's campus

Meaghan and Justin

Over the years, many proud Racers have taken photos around campus to commemorate life events. Justin and Meaghan Brewer, for instance, had their engagement photos taken on campus and proceeded to use one of them for their Save the Dates. A few years later, they announced their pregnancy using a photo they took at the Arboretum at Murray State.

It makes sense, since the University is so intricately woven throughout the couple's love story. The two met on campus in fall 2008, thanks to Meaghan being friends with Justin's roommate. Their friend groups hung out often, so it wasn't long before they started dating.

Meaghan was the student manager at Hart Café, and Justin was an education major at Alexander Hall, so they often met at both places. They often enjoyed walks around campus, and in their senior year, they organized intramural kickball games with friends. During the 2009 ice storm, the active couple decided to try ice-skating in the parking lot of the residence halls, and it became one of their favorite Murray State memories.

Meaghan said it was the little things Justin did that made her fall in love with him. He always knew how to make her laugh, even when she wasn't in a good mood. But the biggest reason she knew he was "the one" was that her dad liked him.

"He had never liked any of my previous boyfriends, so I knew Justin had to be special," Meaghan said.

After Justin proposed in Feb. 2012, the couple decided that campus was the "obvious setting" for their engagement photos since they had so much history together at Murray State. During the photo shoot, they nailed their shoes to the Shoe Tree and made sure the photographer captured it.Meghan and Justin

"The Shoe Tree was something that to me, meant that we were a part of Murray State's history," explained Meaghan. "We got to participate in a tradition that was crazy and odd to outsiders but had a special meaning to anyone that has attended Murray."

Meaghan added that she and Justin enjoy telling people about the unique campus tradition and why it's so important to them. "We now have twins, a boy and girl that are three months old, and hope to someday show them their mommy and daddy's shoes on the Shoe Tree at Murray State University!"

Steven Taylor and James Beauvais

Love triumphs over time for Murray State University alumni

Steven and James

For Steven Taylor and his husband, James Beauvais, love and politics have always come hand in hand. The two met at Murray State University's Regents College in fall 2004 and became involved in Murray State Alliance, the campus group for LGBT students and allies. Jamie held secretary and vice president roles; Steven was sergeant-at-arms and treasurer.

"Anyone who attended a drag show from 2006 to 2008 knows my face, because they paid me the money at the door," said Steven. But he and Jamie were part of a much larger mission: working to add LGBT protections to Murray State's non-discrimination policy. In 2008, after the University updated the policy to include sexual orientation, Alliance named Steven and Jamie officers emeriti to honor their efforts.

Meanwhile, Steven and Jamie had become friends, but it wasn't until 2006 that their relationship began. '[I]t was more or less a thing that simply happened. No grand gestures, some drama, but mostly just friends becoming something more," said Steven.

They both graduated in December 2008. On Valentine's Day in 2009, Steven proposed "over a plate of homemade tacos, in the middle of one of our frequent and enjoyable socio-political discussions." However, at the time, marriage equality was legal in only a few states. Before the couple said their vows, Steven wanted to wait until the commonwealth recognized same-sex marriage.

Over the next six years, the couple remained active in fighting for LGBT rights, paying attention to the relevant court cases that were happening all over the country.

"Every Valentine's Day I would propose to Jamie again, knowing that some day the relationship we formed at Murray State, that bond we already knew in our hearts to be deep and unbreakable, would be recognized by the law," Steven stated.

He and Jamie had to leave Murray for family reasons and thus moved to Lexington, Ky. Eventually, in October 2014, marriage equality became legal in nearby West Virginia, and Steven said they decided the time was right. "We grabbed my Mom as a witness and semi-eloped to [West Virginia] on a day trip, leaving some dollars lighter and one legal bond more."

He is saddened by the fact that their marriage license wasn't issued in his home state, but he has no regrets — especially since their union was recognized in Kentucky as of June 26, 2015.

In May 2015, Steven returned to campus to commemorate the couple's love on the Shoe Tree, and it was a "powerful moment" for him to finally participate in his alma mater's tradition. He chose to hang up Crocs, since they were the shoes he and Jamie often wore around campus.

Steven didn't say whether or not the couple believes the Shoe Tree will bring them good luck, but they do believe that each of us is a part of the greater Murray State legacy.

"May Murray State be a place of honesty, integrity, education, equality, and an incubator for the nascent lives built there," James said. "May those values stand in our hearts, in our halls, in our practices as citizens and as institutions. And may the shoe tree in front of Pogue Library … be a constant testament to this blessing and responsibility we all share."

Kelly and Ken Conklin

Murray State alumnus met his perfect match on campus

The Conklin family

Some couples date for years before thinking about marriage. Others, however, instantly know they found the person they're meant to be with. Ken Conklin was one of the latter; he proposed to his girlfriend, Kelly, just three months after he met her.

He knew early on that she was the one for him, because their dates were unlike anything he had ever experienced before. "I didn't have to 'try' to get to know her or get along with her," he said. "We just worked."

After meeting through mutual friends, Kelly challenged Ken to a tennis match. From there, Ken said their relationship grew over a mutual love of sports, spending time playing basketball and walking around the track at the RSEC. They also put in plenty of time supporting the Racer basketball and football teams.

Quick lunches at the Thoroughbred Room salad bar became their most frequent dates. "I couldn't tell you how many times we met in the Thoroughbred Room for lunch in between classes. I would actually run across campus to be able to make it to a lunch date with Kelly, so that our schedules would work out," said Ken. Their favorite time on campus was during the fall when they could enjoy the changing color of the leaves in the Quad.

As their relationship progressed, they started going on picnics in the park and the Quad. Ken recalls a night when they brought a blanket to the Quad and laid underneath the stars near the Shoe Tree. It wasn't until years later that they would become a part of the Shoe Tree tradition.

After Ken and Kelly got engaged, they waited to get married until they had two more years together and two Murray State degrees under their belts. They chose to put their shoes on the tree as a way to thank the University for bringing them together.

Patty and Russell Grimes

Love lives on through Murray State’s Shoe Tree

Patty and Russell Grimes pose for an engagement photo taken in 1981 at Carter Studios in Murray, Ky.
brittney and matthew ray

As Murray State University’s Shoe Tree tradition continues to grow, many alumni look back on it fondly. Patty Grimes graduated in 1981 and met her husband, Russell, while attending the University. Although Russell has since passed away, the Shoe Tree serves as a great remembrance of the love they found on campus. Here is Patty’s story, in her own words:

“I came to Murray State in the fall of 1977 as a freshman. In the spring semester of 1979, I met the man I would marry in a Field Biology class in Blackburn Hall. He proposed in what used to be the Dakota Feed and Grain Restaurant at the corner of the campus, which has long since closed. We were the first couple married in the newly opened Wesley United Methodist Campus Fellowship House after we graduated in 1981. So Murray traditions have long held a place in our lives and memories.

When we were students on campus, the Shoe Tree had just a few odd shoes here and there that looked like they were walking up the tree. It was assumed to be an art project. Years later, we came back to visit campus and found the old tree had a new significance — a memorial to campus loves found. We didn't have shoes to leave at that time but hoped we would come back again and remember to bring them, even though the poor tree was in very sad shape by then.

Patty hung the couple’s white sneakers on the Shoe Tree on Nov. 28, 2008
Patty and Russell Grimes's shoes

It wasn't until November 2008 that I returned with our shoes. My husband (and campus love) had just passed away after a long battle with cancer. The actual day I visited would have been his 50th birthday. It was the Thanksgiving holiday, so I had the campus pretty much to myself. I visited all our old familiar places — even though many have changed — and made a new memory honoring him. I added our shoes to the tree and had a good cry. I will always remember that visit, and I will always remember the Shoe Tree.”

Brittney and Matthew Ray

Murray State memories continue to grow for Texas couple

Brittney and Matthew Ray commemorated their love via the Shoe Tree on June 25, 2015
brittney and matthew ray

Matthew and Brittney Ray met at Murray State University. She received her bachelor’s degree in agriculture; he got his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Organizational Communication. The two began dating in 2010. Five years later, and they were married and living in Texas. But before they left, they made sure to join in on the long-standing Shoe Tree tradition.

“On July 13, we moved 700 miles away from home so that I could pursue my doctorate at Texas A&M University. Our trip to the Shoe Tree was the last major thing we did before moving,” Matthew said.

As students, the two spent a great deal of time together as a part of the same circle of friends and members of the same club and organizations. Their connections were so intertwined that, when looking back, it’s hard for them to remember what was a social outing and what was a date. They frequented places like Mr. J’s, Mary’s Kitchen and Gloria’s, where they could get good food for a good price. They were both runners, and they look back fondly on the miles they spent together jogging around campus when it was nice outside — and occasionally when it wasn't.

As commuters, they became very familiar with University parking lots. The two often grabbed food to go between classes and ate in the front seats of one of their cars. However, a specific meal stands out in both of their minds: the day Brittney brought lunch to Matthew when he was working the front desk at New Richmond. This meal was unlike their usual lunches. As a fun and romantic gesture, Brittney put down the seats in the back of her SUV and surprised Matthew with a car picnic.

Matthew said it was Brittney’s strange sense of humor that first attracted him to her. As he got to know her more, he realized she was “the one.” “There was just something about her, and I knew shortly after getting to know her that she was someone that I wanted in my life for a long time,” he said.

Matthew’s father poses with Brittney and Matthew’s shoes after moving them to the new Shoe Tree
Brittney and Matthew Ray

When he decided to ask for her hand in marriage, he knew he had to do something special and wanted the proposal to somehow relate to animals. After all, Brittney was a Licensed Veterinary Technologist and an animal lover in general. Thus, he created a scavenger hunt and tied the first clue to Brittney’s cat’s collar. This led her on a trail of animal-themed questions that eventually brought her to the ring, which was hidden beneath a tank top bearing a dragon graphic. She said “yes,” of course, and kept the clues as a memento of the special proposal.

With such fond memories of their time spent at Murray State, they wanted their love to be represented on the Shoe Tree. When it was announced in November 2015 that the former tree was no longer sustainable and the shoes were moving to a new home, Matthew and Brittney wanted to be sure they could find their shoes on the new tree when they returned to campus. However, being in Texas, they weren't able to move the shoes themselves.

On December 17, Matthew received a phone call from his parents, who mentioned that they were on their way to Murray from Mayfield. Moments later, Matthew began receiving texts with photos from his mom. The pictures showed his parents taking the couple’s shoes down from the old tree and placing them on the current Shoe Tree.

“My wife and I were both so happy,” Matthew said. “Not only were our shoes, and thus our connection to Murray State and its traditions, maintained, but we know exactly where our shoes are when we go back to visit.”

Courtney and Corey Smith

Murray State newlyweds one of the first couples to hang their shoes on new Shoe Tree

Corey and Courtney proudly place their shoes on the new Shoe Tree
courtney and corey smith

Murray State University’s Shoe Tree tradition continues to grow, and the new tree has already begun honoring young Murray State couples. Corey and Courtney Smith are one of the first to hang their shoes on the new tree.

The former students met while living in Elizabeth College during their freshman year at Murray State. Corey worked there as an RA, and Courtney frequently passed him at the desk. She gives credit to her roommate at the time for pointing her attention in Corey’s direction. She began stopping to talk with him and got to know him a little more each time. “I learned that he was a kindhearted man who had all of the attributes I have ever looked for in a husband,” she explained.

She recalled a time when she visited home and found herself talking a lot about Corey. When she returned to school, Corey began asking Courtney for assistance in decorating the college, even though he didn't necessarily need the help. The two soon realized that what they had was more than friendship. Thus, their relationship began and blossomed on the Murray State campus.

“Since then we have fallen in love, gotten engaged, bought a puppy and planned our wedding,” said Courtney. The couple tied the knot on New Year’s Eve and said “I do” as the clock turned midnight, officially making them Mr. and Mrs. Smith on January 1, 2016. The celebration took place at the Julian Carroll Convention Center in Paducah, Ky.

The newlyweds were excited to put one of the first pairs on the new tree
Courtney and Corey Smith

Because the Smiths met and fell in love at Murray State, it was fitting that they wanted to be a part of the time-honored Shoe Tree tradition by nailing their shoes to the tree, which is said to bring good luck to married couples. The unique custom is firmly planted in the hearts of Murray State students and alumni and is believed to have started in the mid-1960s, though it didn't catch on until decades later. The shoes have moved to different trees over the years, but the tradition continues to thrive. Now, a new tree in the Quad carries on the legacy.

“I think this is a tradition that should be continued,” said Courtney. Her parents also met at Murray State, which is partly why the tradition means a lot to her. So much, in fact, that she and Corey had their engagement photos taken in front of the infamous tree.

The couple came to Murray from different parts of the state: Corey is from Shepherdsville, Ky., and Courtney grew up in Wingo, Ky. Courtney recognizes how special it is that “two people from such different worlds were brought together through Murray State.” She’s excited to be able to share the couple’s story, which she says is just the beginning. Their love will continue to grow, just like the Shoe Tree.

Solemates Series