FAITHFUL SPARTANS: Alumni Celebrate 70th Wedding Anniversary

Aug 17, 2016 | Stacey Ortman, University Relations


A love story kicks off University of Dubuque’s monthly features on alumni. We are honored to share the stories of our Faithful Spartans.

Their love blossomed on the University of Dubuque’s campus.

Today VanNess and Dorothy (Biasi) Simmons will celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. The couple was married in a quaint ceremony in the University Chapel on Aug. 17, 1946.

“We’re very good for each other in lots of ways,” Dorothy said, lovingly adding. “We still appreciate each other tremendously.”


It was the summer of 1942. Dorothy (C’46) had graduated from Dubuque Senior High School with music scholarships to two different institutions. VanNess (C’47) was taking summer courses at UD to obtain as many credits as possible before he enlisted. Their lives intersected at a community theater production.

Dorothy jumped at the opportunity to perform in the production. Dorothy said VanNess, on the other hand, begrudgingly agreed to join a few friends to the production’s auditions.

“We wound up being the little couple in the play,” Dorothy said, laughing.

Dorothy and VanNess almost immediately felt a bond.

“Needless to say, I chose to go to the U of D and became a Gamma and Van was a Phi-O,” Dorothy said.


VanNess enlisted in the Navy before the summer of 1943. When he returned to campus Christmas 1945, he proposed to Dorothy and they started planning for a wedding.

The couple’s church was in the midst of an enhancement, so they needed to find another place to hold their ceremony. Dorothy said they couldn’t think of a better place than the University of Dubuque.

They had an evening wedding. The chapel was packed with their family members. The reception, held in Jacob Conzett Lounge on campus, was a simple one.

“It worked out very well,” Dorothy said, adding. “It just meant a lot to us to be able to do that.”

UD was not far from their thoughts during their Michigan honeymoon. VanNess, who was the student council president, practiced the speech he would give to incoming first-year students days later.

“We were down on the beach. He had his little five-by-seven cards with notes on them,” Dorothy said.


Dorothy, 91, and VanNess, 93, live in Harbert, Michigan. They ran a floral business together for 25 years and raised four children. Both are involved in their community, and Dorothy continues to play the piano.

 “We’re so fortunate, both Van and I,” Dorothy said.

Their advice to UD couples is simple: Whatever you do with each other, always remember to be who you are. Always be yourself.

Dorothy and VanNess are proud of their Spartan roots. They’ve had multiple family members graduate from UD including their third child, Nancy, who graduated in 1977.

“We love telling our friends about how we met and the fantastic development of our alma mater – the University of Dubuque,” Dorothy said.