This article can be found in the Alumni Magazine.

January 31, 2022

Their love story feels like a romantic comedy movie, with all the essentials lined up: Fun flirtation. An escalating connection. A marriage proposal in Florence! Love, laughs, kids, happily ever after. Best of all, it’s a true story.

Jeremy McFarren (BA ’98) couldn’t take his eyes off Erin Patton (BA ’99) when he saw her on stage at a punk rock show in the 1990s.

“She got invited up on stage and was watching the show from the stage,” Jeremy said. “I’m in the middle of the pit just looking at her, thinking ‘Man, she’s so cute.’”

He saw her after the show and struck up a conversation in the parking lot. “I’m awkward, a goofball, I didn’t have any game,” Jeremy said. “I’d never asked a girl for her number. I said, ‘Can I give you a call?’ She said, ‘Sure.’ I asked for her number and she said, ‘I’m in the book,’ and walked away.”

These were pre-cellphone days. Jeremy looked up “Patton” in the phone book, took a guess on which one might be her family, but ended up dialing her uncle’s number. Her uncle was happy to help a guy out. One thing led to another, and Erin invited Jeremy to go to another concert. When he arrived at her house, another young man was also there. “She invited him as a friend; he thought it was a date,” Jeremy said. “So, I’m in the backseat and my whole mission was to keep her entertained enough to not forget about me.”

She didn’t forget, and Jeremy’s sense of humor and fun-loving personality took hold of her. They dated throughout their time at USF.

“We always had such a solid friendship and a creative friendship too,” Erin said. “We are each other’s strongest collaborator. We knew we wanted similar things and a future together.”

The two signed up for a trip to Europe with other creative arts students and professor Rick Cartwright. “We were the first group to go to Europe to study,” Erin said.

They had dated for almost three years leading up to the trip. Jeremy visited a goldsmith’s shop in Florence and bought a ring with the Florentine symbol (the fleur de lis). He invited Erin to go to a cheese shop. That was the ruse, not the romantic gesture. “I bought a giant chunk of parmesan,” he said. They walked around the city, chunk of parmesan in tow, until they were in front of the Basilica of Santa Croce.

Jeremy turned and quoted a song by the band Jawbreaker.

“I’m asking you on a date…’’ he began to say. Before he could finish with “for the rest of your life,” Erin threw her arms around him.

The couple married in 1999—walking each other down the aisle at St. Jude Catholic Church as a symbol of equality—and embarked on their life together.

Those early days of marriage proved challenging, as early days often do. Sometimes they substitute taught, since both have a gift for teaching art. Sometimes, as in Jeremy’s case, they worked mind-numbing jobs to support their passion. Sometimes that passion paid off—as when Jeremy landed the marketing of the Mario Lemieux Celebrity Auction.

Ultimately, the dust settled. Erin earned a degree in library science in graduate school, and then started working as a school librarian and art educator, always pursuing art on the side. When they had their first child, Olivia, Jeremy ended up assuming Erin’s teaching role for the remainder of the year. Although teaching wasn’t originally on his agenda, he returned to USF for the Transition to Teaching program.

They faced common roadblocks for young couples, including the downsizing loss of jobs. “We had a new house, new car and newborn, and I got pink-slipped,” Jeremy said.

They persisted. Jeremy taught at Memorial Park Elementary School, South Side High School and Perry Hill Elementary. His license was for high school and, fortunately, a position was created at Carroll High School, where he has been for 16 years.

With two children in the family—Nigel arrived two years after Olivia—Erin landed a position she enjoys with Whitney Young Early Childhood Program. “My mentor was a Saint Francis graduate, Jenny Sanders, and I had done my student teaching with her at South Side,” Erin said. “She started the program at Whitney Young and kept telling me when she retired, she wanted me to take over for her, and that’s what I was able to do.”

The two art teachers never allowed their day jobs to overtake their love for the arts—although they use their talents in widely different ways. Jeremy works heavily in cartoons and comics, along with screen writing and other forms of storytelling. While Erin explores various media, she concentrates extensively on experimental cyanotypes in the waterways and lakes of northern Indiana.

No matter how different their art, they share a need to create. Examples of Jeremy’s art can be found at jeremyjmcfarren.com  and Erin’s art at erinpattonmcfarren.com.

“My passion is to find different ways to tell different kinds of stories,” Jeremy said. “I’ve developed a couple of different pitches the past two years, one for an animated series and one for a graphic novel. I’m also developing one for an animated feature. It helps, too, that we teach. We get to play in the areas that are important to us and we get to teach, too.”

Erin recently switched from creating collage images with giant transparencies to exploring water waves and making cyanotypes in conjunction with sunlight and currents. “It’s become a very calming meditation practice for me, and a beautiful collection of time and space,” she said. Erin was honored by Artlink as Solo Exhibition Winner with her art slated for further exhibition in May 2022.

Their daughter, Olivia, is a high school senior and son, Nigel, a high school sophomore, so the demands of parenthood are different than when they were juggling working, creating and shepherding young children.

“We’ve always stayed busy making something creative on the side, especially when the kids were little,” Erin said. “We love the creative aspect of having a family. Our children have gotten to the point where they’re more independent and we are able to do the projects we are excited about. We’re just going to do what we want to do and make it our own—our family motto has been ‘Art Nerds!’”

Jeremy and Erin inspire young people to pursue art, even if those students’ eventual careers reside outside the art realm.

“I tell my students that art is safe risk taking,” Erin said. “Challenge yourself.”

Jeremy agrees.

“When you walk around with your heart on your sleeve, it’s going to get broken, but sometimes that’s the best way to experience emotion,” he said. “If art becomes your career, great, but you can always pursue art. Put that heart on your sleeve and create your art.”