by LaVern Lazzereschi
My husband, Jesse Figueroa, and I met and fell in love on campus. We met in 1984 over a tomato plant growing in Memorial Stadium.
My friend Karen Denton and I used to walk from our office in Sproul Hall up to Memorial Stadium at noon for exercise. One day we saw a tomato plant growing out of the seats in the stands. We stopped to admire it several days in a row. We guessed it had sprouted from seeds that had fallen from sandwiches eaten at Cal football games.
At the time, Jesse was working on campus as an assistant coach for the men's and women's soccer teams and the men's water polo team. He was in the stadium because the men's soccer team practiced there from noon to 3 p.m. During one of our walks on a day in late September, he came over and started a conversation with Karen and me. He told us that the groundskeepers watered the tomato plants and that we shouldn't touch them. He also let us know that he was an eligible bachelor. From then on whenever we saw each other we would wave or have a brief conversation.
About a week after our first meeting, he asked me if my son Ron, who was around 10 at the time, would like to be a water boy at an upcoming soccer game in San Jose, against San Jose State. I accepted the offer and the three of us attended the game. Cal won and we had a wonderful time together.
Our first official date took place in October when Cal played UCLA. We went to a party at the home of the legendary, now retired water polo coach, Pete Cutino. Jesse and I have been together ever since.
We married on March 1, 1987. As befit the circumstances of our meeting, our wedding was influenced by our association with Cal and its athletic teams. Our wedding colors were blue and gold. My matron of honor was Karen Denton. Jesse's best man was Dan Salvemini-four-time Cal All-American soccer player and a former member of the U.S. Olympic team on the Cal coaching staff-who had been with Jesse when we met in the stadium.
One of the candlelighters was Mary Harvey, goalie from the women's soccer team. (By the end of her career she was a member of the women's soccer team that won a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Atlanta.) The other candlelighter and ushers were members of the 1984 NCAA championship men's water polo team. Many current and former Cal coaches and athletes were there.
Because they remind us of our chance meeting, tomato plants and their fruit have a special significance for us. We have pictures, refrigerator magnets, and salt and pepper shakers in the shape of tomatoes. When our 10th anniversary rolled around, I racked my brain to think of the perfect gift. I gave Jesse a gold signet ring engraved with a tomato.
Jesse works in the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics and Recreational Sports and is responsible for the care and maintenance of the seven swimming pools on campus. I work in the Office of the Registrar as the campus classroom manager. We commute to work together and often have lunch together.
I think ours was a case of love, if not at first sight, almost first sight. I would never have guessed that I would find the love of my life because of a tomato plant in Memorial Stadium.
Thank God for tomatoes and Jesse!