How did Iowan native Matt Bachus, who claims Iowans rarely share hugs, marry Coloradoan Jennai Howe Bachus, whose family embraces strangers, family, and friends with unforgettable bear hugs? It’s because destiny prevailed the exact moment they met.
Jennai, possessing an uncanny memory for retaining dates, reveals, “Matt and I met on June 8, 1990, at CedarS Camps in Lebanon, Missouri. He was the camps’ program director for the high school leadership program. I arrived one day before the campers. The other staff members, including Matt, arrived a week earlier to help clean up the grounds and cabins.”
Matt reveals, “I wasn’t happy Jennai arrived late. Having never been to CedarS before, she missed out on the pre-camp staff training and set-up. Knowing she was the daughter of Bob and Margie Howe, former directors of Adventure Unlimited (A/U), a competing camp in Buena Vista, CO, I predetermined she’d be the stereotypical boss’s daughter and compare how we did things differently from her parents’.”
Jennai adds, “Warren Huff, CedarS Camps’ executive director, permitted me to arrive late because of my finals’ schedule at CSU. It was my first summer away from working at the guest ranch my parents managed, A Bar A Ranch in Encampment, WY. My dad and Warren knew each other through their camp connections, and somehow my dad had heard about Matt as well. I later learned he was secretly pondering, ‘I wonder if Jennai will meet Matt?’”
Cupid carefully aimed two of his love-at-first-sight arrows at Matt and Jennai. Matt remembers, “I gave Jennai’s hand a firm shake when she arrived and instantly heard an inaudible voice proclaim, ‘This is the woman you’re going to spend the rest of your life with.’ I was dating another camp counselor at the time and tried to shake the voice and message out of my head. Days after meeting Jennai, I asked to borrow her car to take my girlfriend out.”
Jennai’s feelings for Matt were instant. “The moment I met Matt I knew I wanted to marry him, so it didn’t bother me that he asked for my car. I knew she wouldn’t last very long.”
Matt confesses Jennai’s work ethic and knowledge immediately surfaced. “Assigning numerous tasks to Jennai, I wanted her to figure out how we did things, assuming she’d fail and need my help. When I checked in to see how things were going, her answer was always the same. ‘I already finished those tasks!’ I immediately issued more tasks. She responded, ‘I’ve also taken care of those.’”
Within days, Matt and Jennai were fast friends. Jennai says, “I remember we laughed a lot and I was also impressed how easygoing Matt was, but more importantly, I loved how the kids loved him and he loved them. I told Matt, ‘I like you,’ when the girlfriend left on August 1st. He replied, ‘I have to think about that.’ Two days later, on August 3rd, my 21st birthday, a group of counselor friends, including Matt, spent the day water skiing. That night, we went to a local bar so I could show my ID for the first time. I ordered a Coke. Later that night when we were alone, Matt confessed, ‘I like you too.’”
When did Matt first kiss Jennai? “It was August 6th, the day we picnicked at Ha-Ha Tonka State Park on the shores of Lake of the Ozarks. Walking back to camp, we reached a point where one path went toward the boys’ cabin and another toward the girls’. Matt and I talked until the early morning hours, and that is the point where he finally kissed me.”
Returning to CSU, Jennai knew Matt was serious about their relationship when she received a mixtape (in the dark ages of the ’90s, mixtapes were a way to show your affection by recording a compilation of songs, usually love songs, from records onto cassette tapes or CDs). Realizing she no longer wanted to be at CSU, and attracted to the smaller student body at Principia in Elsah, Illinois where Matt was pursuing a double major in communications and theatre, Jannai transferred.
Panic gripped Matt’s heart when Jennai arrived. “Things were happening too fast. I didn’t know how I could make time to be with Jennai and my friends. I didn’t want to be done with dating or playing the field, but I was also serious about Jennai. When I tried to express my jumbled emotions, she replied, ‘I know what we have is real, but if you’re not ready, I’m not going to wait until you are. I won’t be put on the back burner.’ We didn’t speak for two weeks following her declaration. I came to my senses when someone else asked her out. We dated exclusively from then on.”
During their 1990 holiday break, Matt instigated the ultimate surprise gift for Jannai. “Because our Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks were consecutive, it was a long time to be apart. Matt and I called each other at least once a day. I ended every call telling him to ‘get out here,’” Jennai describes.
Matt divulges, “I secretly planned with Jennai’s parents to fly into Denver Christmas morning. Their longtime friends, the Evans, picked me up at the airport and drove me to Evergreen to surprise her.”
Picking up the convo, Jennai adds, “My mom wanted me to get out of my PJs, do my makeup and hair and put on nice clothes, claiming she wanted me to look nice for family photos. While opening our stockings, Matt called. I was unaware my brother Justin had gone into the basement to let Matt and the Evans family in. Matt used a business line in our house to call our home number. Having no clue he was downstairs, we ended our call with me saying, ‘get out here!’ Matt asked me to ‘hang on for a second.’ Suddenly, he was before me. I was confused, happy and crying at the same time.”
It was when Matt and Jennai drove to South Padre Island to camp on the beach that he was finally going to pop the question. “We were enjoying a dinner cruise ship the last night of our trip, and the moment I wanted to propose, the ship hit heavy waves. Passengers were instantly seasick with many vomiting over the rails. Once again, I decided to postpone the proposal,” Matt explains.
Months later, with a loan from his parents to buy an engagement ring, Matt popped the question while studying with Jennai at his college house. His house brothers, obviously clued in, implemented the tradition of carrying the newly engaged couple around campus that culminated within the girls’ quad. Girls from Jennai’s house and other houses gathered. Matt’s house brothers encircled him, while an inner core removed his shirt and pants, then ran a bicycle chain and lock through his boxer shorts and locked him to a lamp post. With his posse surrounding him, Matt hurriedly stepped out of his shorts and ran in the opposite direction toward the boys’ side of campus. “Everyone watched his little white butt shrink into the distance,” Jennai laughs, and adds, “it was April 7, 1991.”
Matt and Jennai married at the A Bar A Ranch on May 24, 1992. Their most amazing achievement, of which there are many, is when daughters Jorie and Julia were born. Love, kindness and compassion are top priorities for the Bachus family, and both Matt and Jennai agree “we have never compromised how we love one another.” And never have they failed to celebrate June 8th, the day they met in 1990.