When Meredith Colias-Pete and Joseph Pete found themselves sitting on a particular blue couch at a family gathering a couple years ago, they kind of knew that they might end up together forever. They may have been in denial a bit, but deep down, I bet they knew. Meredith’s family only half-jokingly calls it the Engagement Couch, because it’s where several of her family members had asked parental permission to marry their significant others.
But let’s back up. The two local journalists – Joseph at The Times of Northwest Indiana, and Meredith at competing Post-Tribune – may have had fate on their side very early on.
When he was a kid, Joseph used to go to his best friend’s house in Highland all the time. He would do cannon balls into the pool to try to impress the girls playing next door. Little did he know, one of them would be his wife decades later.
Joseph and Meredith in many ways lead parallel lives as children and teens in Highland, and even as students at Indiana University Bloomington. Their best friends lived next door to each other, their families patronized the same community hangouts in the Region (Miner Dunn restaurant and the Dunes to name a couple), Meredith knew Joseph’s younger brother in high school, and Meredith and Joseph even worked at the Indiana Daily Student college newspaper at the same time. But they never remember meeting.
It wasn’t until they became best friends – sparked by a Twitter conversation from hundreds of miles apart – that they realized how frequently they almost met when they were younger.
“I was in South Dakota for about a year and I was feeling homesick. For some reason, someone retweeted a smartass tweet about CVS getting rid of cigarettes and I was like ‘giggle giggle giggle,’ so I started following him on Twitter,” Meredith said.
“I remember that moment,” Joseph said.” I was parked in a parking lot looking at Twitter and saw that she followed me. I thought, ‘she looks kind of cute, I’ll follow her back.’ Now I’m thinking: ‘Thank you, Jack Dorsey [Twitter CEO]. It’s the one good thing you’ve done,’” Joseph laughed.
The two talked a lot over Twitter and phone after that, both trying to convince themselves that even with the sparks flying, it was simply a networking/journalist kind of connection. Meredith was living in South Dakota working her first journalism job at the Rapid City Journal. Joseph was here in Northwest Indiana working at The Times.
They first met up in person at Three Floyds when Meredith came home for a visit.
“I didn’t even want to be friends with you,” she admitted during the interview, albeit looking lovingly at her now husband. “At that point in my life I was ready to come home, and I didn’t need some dude trying to hit on me. I walked up to him and he’s reading a book and he looks up at me, and it’s pretty clear that he thought I was cute, but he tried to cover it up,” Meredith said.
Joseph sheepishly admitted so. “But I was also really impressed with her at the time because she ordered the octopus and I knew she was very adventurous.”
Despite the awkward moment, Meredith said she was grateful for making the personal connection. “He treated me as a total professional and that meant so much to me. It really did. I was so impressed by that.” Before she moved on from South Dakota to work at the Mason City Globe Gazette in Iowa, Meredith had some work downtime and Joseph helped her get some remote freelance work at The Times.
They met up again when she visited Northwest Indiana from Iowa, this time for breakfast in Schererville.
“It was funny because I had ordered a vegetarian omelet with a side order of bacon and she asked if I was a vegetarian as I was putting a piece of bacon in my mouth,” Joseph said.
But that was exactly their friendship – moment after moment of funny, witty, hilarious encounters in person, on Twitter, and over the phone. Things got real when Meredith’s mentor in South Dakota passed away from cancer, and she needed support.
“He spent 2 to 3 hours a night on the phone consoling me every night before I came home,” Meredith recalled.
That provided sort of the backdrop for what could have been their first date. (Although I’d argue their first date started with that first mutual Twitter following).
Meredith was home for the weekend after the funeral. The two were supposed to go to the beach but ended up at Bull Dog Brewery instead.
“I was a little too tipsy to drive. My mom was having a retirement party at home, so I invited him to drive us back to my house and meet my family,” Meredith said. “My mom loved him immediately, and I’ve never seen evidence of this with any of my friends. My dad was showing him all the White Sox stuff in the basement. It went so well that I invited him over for Easter the next day. I didn’t think he would come,” she said.
“I actually showed up,” Joseph said. “I had a really good feeling about it. It just felt like good chemistry.”
The story brings us back to the blue couch, where they sat among Meredith’s family that weekend, just like all the others who have basically gotten engaged on those very cushions. From there, Meredith and Joseph stayed in touch, she visited Indiana from Iowa a couple more times, and at one point their visits just became dates.
The couple were engaged at the top of a dune at the Indiana Dunes State Park. Meredith moved back to Northwest Indiana and obtained her job at the Post-Tribune as an education reporter, putting her undergrad degree in political science and master’s degree in public affairs to good use.
Joseph also puts his college degree to good use as the business and culture reporter for The Times. He took a four-year break between his first year in college and his graduation to serve a stint in the military shortly after 9-11, and says that while the experience affected him profoundly, it mostly made him realize that military life isn’t for him.
Meredith and Joseph are both active in the communities where they live and work. Joseph – an award-winning journalist – enjoys supporting the arts and shares his poetry and writings at various open mic and reading events at local museums.
“Journalism is my day job. But I’m a writer by day and by night,” he said. Joseph has contributed poetry and short stories to more than 100 literary journals. He’s been commissioned to write a book called Lost Hammond and is looking forward to that publishing.
Meredith- who had a nice mention, by the way, in an April New Yorker story on the local Bernie Sanders rally - particularly enjoys cooking – something that has brought them close as they seek time to spend with each other outside of work.
While they work for competing papers, the journalist couple says they don’t necessarily compete for stories.
“Our beats are different, they don’t overlap. So, we actually help each other. Our careers are stressful, so we are grateful to have each other because we understand. And, we’re happy to see the success of each other’s newspapers. When media does well in the Region, the Region does well as a whole,” Meredith said.
Both described themselves as region born-and bred, with no plans any time soon to leave.
“We do tough love stories, community features, investigative pieces – our job is to get the information out there. I’m a Region native. I care about Northwest Indiana. That’s why I’m here,” Joseph said. He volunteers locally at Union Station in Gary, with the Decay Devils, and has planted trees at IUN, and worked the Pack-a-palooza every year.
“There’s so much here that people don’t appreciate,” he added. “We have the Arboretum, the Dunes, a vibrant craft beer scene, art galleries. A lot of creative people are doing worthwhile things that get overlooked because we are in the orbit of Chicago sometimes. I like to help bring them out,” Joseph said.
On one of their pre-marriage dates, Joseph took Meredith to the museum of contemporary art in Chicago – a place where he had taken a former date as well. His former date couldn’t get out of there fast enough. But Meredith – when music started to play inside the museum, she got up and grabbed him to share a dance in the middle of the hall. Which pretty much explains their entire relationship well.
“Hey man, if there’s a sweet moment you gotta go for it,” Meredith said.