Reporters’ Note: This is the final installment of a four-part series about individuals who have found love on the grounds of Chautauqua Institution. The idyllic setting of Chautauqua Lake and the quaint streets with generations of tradition paints the perfect background for love, young and old. We aimed to bring together stories of love that were fostered by nights spent in the College Club, performances in the Amphitheater, evenings on porches and walks on the dock — love fostered by the mix and magic of Chautauqua.
Robin McDonald knew she would marry Eric Martin well before he proposed to her at the Girls’ Club last summer in what would be a nostalgic return to the area they once roamed as Boys’ and Girls’ Club counselors.
“We talked about getting married for a very long time,” Robin said. “Even a couple of months into the relationship, we were like, ‘When we get married,’ or, ‘When we have kids, we’ll do this.’ ”
There weren’t many secrets they kept from each other.
Robin knew Eric had been shopping around for engagement rings before he proposed, and the couple had already booked the Hall of Philosophy last summer — long before their upcoming wedding on Sept. 6.
Last year, when Eric created an elaborate plan to propose at the end of season — which involved Robin following him to the sailing docks to “check on” a boat and detour to Club — Robin already knew what Eric was planning to do.
“He got down on one knee, and he didn’t even get a chance to ask me,” Robin said. “I said, ‘Are you proposing?’ And he didn’t even get to say, ‘Will you marry me?’ I was so embarrassed because I was so nervous and excited, and I just blurted that out and he stood back up and handed over the ring.”
Robin, a schoolteacher in Sherman, New York, also works in youth services at the Institution during the summer. Eric, a substitute teacher at the same school and an employee of the Central Boat Dock, met her when they were counselors at Club.
Robin was in charge of Group 2 Boys, and Eric was the leader of Group 4 Boys. Their groups would gather at morning meetings, and Robin would hesitate when she saw Eric because of a budding crush.
“He actually sat behind me in Boys’ and Girls’ Club, and every time I would walk in in the morning, even before we started talking, I was like, ‘Don’t look at him, don’t look at him,’ ” Robin said. “I’d kind of look at him — like try to find excuses to look over at him — but I could never fully turn around and stare him.”
Though Robin thought the apprehension was one-sided, Eric was equally hesitant.
“I wanted to pursue her,” he said. “I didn’t want to get my hopes up or anything because she’s out of my league, but it was worth a shot.”
Their first date was in 2013. Eric asked her out to dinner after an early evening softball game on Sharpe Field when Robin came out to watch him play.
“Our first date was at the Casino, and we were both so nervous that we ordered appetizers, artichoke dip and pizza logs, and neither of us ate,” Robin said.
The date had its highlights, though.
“It was very easy and fun, and we had our own table,” Eric said. “It went by quick.”
Eric moved in with Robin and her grandparents later that summer as he finished up classes at the University of Buffalo.
“It was awesome,” he said. “Her grandpa would always watch TV and sports with me. I had told her grandpa a few months after [Robin and I] started dating that I had intentions of marrying her. And he said, ‘Good — I’ve never seen her this happy.’ It was unconditional love from the start.”
Their happiness would momentarily subside when Robin’s grandfather passed away later that year. Tragedy, however, brought Eric and Robin closer together.
“We’ve been through a lot together,” Robin said. “We started dating, we moved in together right away, but it wasn’t really just us — it was more of a family thing. Going through the death together, we really got to know each other on a deep level, so that helped.”
They continued to routinely attend evening performances and events at the Institution, which was a change of pace for Eric, who, before meeting Robin, had never explored the grounds outside of work.
“When we met, we started spending more time here because my family would come in out of town,” Robin said. “Now, certain parts of the Institution have certain memories for us, and I think [Eric’s] bond with the Institution has become more because we met,” Robin said.
With just a week until their wedding, Eric and Robin expressed no hesitation in their relationship — quite a different scene from their first date.
“When people say, ‘When you know, you know,’ it doesn’t mean much until you feel it,” Robin said. “I’m not saying our whole relationship is a fairytale. We have our ups and downs, but nothing that will ever break us. We are really good team, and that’s what makes it amazing.”