Love at NOLS, A Valentine’s Day Story

By Anne McGowan

Feb 12, 2016


Outdoor Love Photo by Mayur Gala.


“I met my sweetheart/partner/love of my life at NOLS.”

As Valentine’s Day approaches, I began wondering how many people that statement is true for.

It’s not true for me, though I am a new-to-NOLS employee married to a long-time NOLS Rocky Mountain manager (we met in an almost-as-popular way: he was my best friend’s big brother). I had, however, noticed a pattern some time ago when I met my first NOLS friends. They met on a course. Or in the office. Or he worked in the office and she was an instructor. Or vice-versa.

That’s the case right here at NOLS Headquarters. It’s true in my very department, even. Of seven partnered employees in the NOLS Alumni and Development office, I am one of just a handful who did not meet my sweetheart on a NOLS course or while working for the school.

Former Alumni Relations Manager Diane Newbury Shoutis, for instance, met her husband, Skip, in NOLS’ infancy. He was a student in 1967, she in ’68, but they didn’t meet until June of 1970 when Diane, an instructor at the time, was asked to pick up a group of instructors returning from their course. She noticed Skip, “the cute guy with the goatee,” who liked bugs and the outdoors. Within days, though, he returned to the backcountry.

A month later, during a staff meeting at NOLS founder Paul Petzoldt’s home, Petzoldt assigned the pair to work the same course. They each planned to return to college afterward. Instead, after working the course together they changed their minds and hit the road in a 1957 Studebaker with two eight-track tapes—Kenny Rogers and the First Edition, and Creedence Clearwater Revival—and talked all the way across the country, on a mission to meet each others families.

“Something clicked,” Diane said. Four months after they met, they married. 

At Diane and Skip's Wedding Skip, Diane, and their best man, Diane's cousin Ken. Photo courtesy of Diane Shoutis.

“Paul always said don’t get married unless you’ve spent 30 days on a NOLS course together,” Diane said. “I’d add, or drive across the country together.”

More than four decades later, Stewardship Coordinator Mark Hamlin met his wife Sarah Lancaster Hamlin for the second time in 2012, when he returned to Lander to take a job in NOLS Custom Education. Sarah remembers they’d met earlier, at a conference in North Carolina they both attended while she worked for NOLS and he worked for Charleston County, South Carolina Parks and Rec, but that meeting is a little less clear in Mark’s memory.

Mark says he was just happy to be back in Lander, spending time with his community—his old friends—when he noticed a new person in their circle. Soon, he and Sarah, his new friend, were also working in the same department at NOLS.

“Her circle of friends mirrored mine,” Mark said. “That never happened before.”

Sea Kayaking Honeymoon Mark and Sarah on their honeymoon. Photo by Sarah Lancaster Hamlin.


Over the years, we’ve seen so many NOLSies marry NOLSies. What’s that really about?

While no one disputes Lander, Wyoming, is a small town—as are many of the towns where NOLS operates—there are enough people in most of them that finding a mate over the cubicle wall is not the only option.

Maybe these relationships point to something else. Maybe it’s a shared purpose, a kindred way of looking at the world, similar interests and values. Surely, bringing expedition behavior—working as a team, cooperating, being kind and open-hearted, sharing, being honest and accountable, admitting and correcting mistakes—to one’s personal relationship is only likely to make it better. What partnership wouldn’t benefit from those actions?

Add in skills learned on a NOLS course, like communication, conflict resolution, and judgment, and you have a potent combination that’ll go a long way to ensuring a successful partnership.

“It’s a great common denominator,” said Diane Shoutis, now married to Skip, her fellow instructor, for 45 years.

While it’s not likely NOLS will start marketing courses as pre-marital “couples therapy” any time soon, there seems to be no denying the strong evidence that Cupid may live, at least part-time, in the backcountry.

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Relive the memories or introduce your significant other to NOLS for the first time on an alumni trip.

Written By

Anne McGowan

Anne McGowan is the Communications Coordinator for NOLS Development.

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