When you get to college, you are always secretly hoping to meet the person you’re supposed to spend the rest of your life with. You want to accidentally bump into that mysterious stranger who ends up being your person. Two Montclair State University alumni and former Montclarion journalists were able to do just that.
In 2015, Kristen Bryfogle had just started her position as opinion editor for The Montclarion, after serving as an assistant for two years. That same year, Dan Falkenheim transferred to Montclair State and was looking to join clubs on campus, so he started at the school newspaper.
Falkenheim started as an opinion columnist, who would send his articles to Bryfogle for editing. That was the extent of the two’s relationship until they took Montclarion adviser and associate professor in the School of Communication and Media Tara George’s journalism class and began a friendship.
“We were in [George’s] class together, which was kind of like the first time that we actually hung out in person,” Bryfogle said. “And then we were just friends with each other because we both worked at The Montclarion.”
That friendship extended into the following school year when Falkenheim took on a role as assistant sports editor and Bryfogle returned as the new editor-in-chief, where the two spent many hours in The Montclarion office together.
Soon after Bryfogle’s 2016 graduation, the two struck up a friendship outside of school once again. At the time, Falkenheim was still in school and working as an intern for NJ.com covering sports and Bryfogle was a teacher at a charter school in Trenton, New Jersey. They would see each other when one or the other was in town.
“[One time,] I was covering a game in Philadelphia and so I came down to visit her and we went to a diner or something like that,” Falkenheim said. “Once she moved up to Montclair, we started hanging out more because [she was] only like a 25-minute drive from my house. We probably hung out once or twice a month.”
Fast forward three and half years and Falkenheim, currently a fact-checker at Sports Illustrated, was planning a proposal and thinking of special places to do it. Naturally, he was thinking of places in and around Montclair, New Jersey because the couple has such a connection to the town and its residents. The couple lives in Montclair and moved in together just before the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, almost on accident.
“In March 2020, I found out from one of my co-workers that she had COVID-19 and [said] I guess if she had [COVID-19] and I was in the same room as her, we need to isolate for 14 days and [Falkenheim] was with me,” Bryfogle said. “So it was like we have to stay together for 14 days and then he just never left.”
After talking to Bryfogle’s parents on Christmas Eve in 2021, Falkenheim began the search for the perfect ring and place. He finally settled on Belvedere Castle in Central Park. He asked his friend to plan a surprise engagement photo shoot to capture the moment and planned a special dinner for Bryfogle and himself.
Falkenheim was nervous, as anyone would be, and kept repeating phrases to Bryfogle which made her slightly suspicious.
“I think my brain malfunctioned and I kept telling [her] ‘You’re so special,’ like, ‘This day is so special,'” Falkenheim said. “So that I think gave her a little bit of the [idea] that something was [going to] happen.”
They walked around Central Park for a while until the sunset was in the right spot and Falkenheim could tell the photographer was in place. He got down on one knee right atop Belvedere Castle.
“One of the first things that we did when we were just friends, was going to see a show at Shakespeare In the Park,” Bryfogle said. “And that castle is right near the theater for Shakespeare In the Park. We were looking where we had gone [at the theatre], where we were sitting when we saw the show. It was really nice. It was, like, the perfect date.”
The couple is only recently engaged, so no wedding plans, dates or venues have been finalized. However, they do plan on inviting a few fellow Montclarion alumni to help celebrate the big day with them.
One thing is for sure, they both believe that they owe their relationship to their time at Montclair State. Bryfogle and Falkenheim both want students to take advantage of their time in college because it’s the only time in your life you can really follow your passions.
“I think for me, any good memories I have with journalism and writing articles have all been at Montclair State because it’s when you have completely free rein to just cover what you want,” Falkenheim said.
Bryfogle offered her own advice for making the best of a college experience.
“I really think the more stuff you can do when you’re in college, the better,” Bryfogle said. “All of those different things that I did helped me in some way, shape or form in the future and [in] my career. Get to know your professors and your co-workers and your friends and stuff like that well, because you never know.”
George, whose class the two hit it off in, was in her first year as a faculty adviser for The Montclarion when Bryfogle was the editor-in-chief. She knew the couple well before they began their romantic relationship.
“What I can tell you is that they are two of the smartest and most talented students I’ve had in two decades of teaching,” George said. “That they’ve found their way to each other is no surprise and provides me with tremendous joy. I’m so happy for them and wish them the very best in married life.”