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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, September 10, 2006

Football fever runs through their love

By Catherine E. Toth
Advertiser Staff Writer

Iolani graduate Steve Ritchie and Oregonian Stacie Keefer met at Oregon State University six years ago and were married Aug. 12.

Photo by Richard May

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Six years ago Steve Ritchie, a student at Oregon State University, needed a part-time job during the summer.

The Iolani School graduate was stuck on campus, taking organic chemistry in summer school. He got a job as a pool lifeguard at the athletics complex.

That's when he met Stacie Keefer, one of the student supervisors at the facility.

"I remember when we first met," said Keefer, now 25 and working on a doctorate in physical therapy at Chapman University. "It was really dead on campus and I was just doing my rounds ... Steve was really friendly."

But unavailable. And so was she.

For three years they worked together and never thought once about dating.

But in the summer of 2003 the year both graduated from OSU Ritchie and Keefer ran into each other at a nearby bar.

Somehow they got to talking about their mutual affinity for Pink Floyd. And with no ulterior motive, Ritchie invited Keefer over to his place to watch "The Wall."

"I totally wasn't hitting on her," said Ritchie, 25, a life-support technician at the Long Beach Aquarium of the Pacific.

Newly single, Keefer hesitated to hand over her phone number and took Ritchie's instead. She didn't call him for two months.

But it wasn't like Ritchie was sitting by the phone waiting. In fact, the night that Keefer did call she had nothing else to do he was going on a date.

So they made plans for that Friday to hang out.

"But it wasn't a date," Ritchie said.

It just turned into one.

Instead of watching the movie, they went to dinner at a seafood restaurant. They wound up talking for hours about everything from their childhoods to past relationships.

"It sounds cheesy to say this, but it was like an answered prayer," Keefer said. "There were so many things I had wanted in a guy and I was holding out for that. I totally found all of that in Steve."

The one thing they discovered they had in common that night was a rabid love for Beaver football.

"There was so much more to him than I ever thought after all those years running into him," Keefer said.

They started seeing each other every day, going to the movies or out to lunch. Two weeks into dating, they decided to become an official couple.

"From that first dinner, I knew she was the one I was going to marry," Ritchie said. "And the past three years have done nothing but strengthen that thought. I never had any doubts."

After about two months of dating, in October 2003, the couple went to visit Chapman University, where Keefer was planning to attend graduate school. Ritchie visited the aquarium in Long Beach he got his degree in environmental science and aquatic biology and thought seriously about moving to California with Keefer.

"The gears starting turning," he said, smiling.

A few months later, in February 2004, they used their leftover graduation money on a trip to Guam. Ritchie's parents, who live in Kailua, were also there, and Keefer got to meet his family.

That summer they drove to California together, taking only what they could fit in the car. Keefer began the two-year doctorate program; Ritchie started his job at the aquarium.

Living together was surprisingly easy, considering they had only been dating for about a year.

"What was awesome about the whole thing was how supportive Steve was," Keefer said. "I don't know if I would've been able to do this without him. He's taken care of me ever since."

Living together prompted the conversation about marriage. But they both decided they should save money before spending any on a ring and lavish wedding.

Of course, Ritchie had other plans.

On a trip to O'ahu in April 2005, Ritchie organized a surprise proposal. He even got Keefer's parents to fly down from Oregon.

"I had no clue," Keefer said, laughing.

On April 15, 2005, just as the moon was rising over the waters off Lanikai Beach, Ritchie pulled out a ring, dropped to his knees and asked for her hand in marriage.

"It was such a romantic night," Keefer said. "I was floored."

When they got back to his parents' home in Kailua, the living room was decked with roses, candles, strawberries and champagne. Then Keefer's parents emerged from the bedroom to surprise her.

"I was so surprised," she said. "I couldn't stop crying."

On Aug. 12 the couple married in a gazebo at the Beacon House in Junction City, Ore., Keefer's hometown. About 280 guests attended.

They honeymooned on the Big Island, where they spelled out "Go Beavs!" in white rocks on the side of Highway 11.

Married for a month now, they don't think life or their relationship has changed much.

They say they figured most of it out two years ago when they started living together.

"Honestly, I think it comes down to having an openness to listen and a willingness to communicate," Ritchie said. "We have a mutual respect for each other."

They choose their fights wisely and allow independence within the marriage. But there's one thing they continue to do together: cheer on OSU. They even have plans to hit the road with the team.

Other than moving into a new apartment and booking flights to follow the Beavers, the couple doesn't have any big plans coming up. And they like it that way for now.

"We're just looking forward to some downtime," Keefer said, "and just enjoying each other."

Reach Catherine E. Toth at ctoth@honoluluadvertiser.com.