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TOLONO — Chris and Jennifer Humer can't even remember their first date. Not exactly the makings of a Valentine's romance.
The first time she saw him, "he looked really dorky."
"He was this skinny, scrawny kid in his big bunker gear and he had his glasses on because he got woke up in the middle of the night to go on this call. So he didn't look that appealing to me," Jennifer said.
The feeling wasn't mutual.
"I was interested," Chris said. "She was very nice and cordial. It wasn't like we had a long drawn-out conversation," he said.
That was 10 years ago, when she was working as a dispatcher for Carle Arrow Ambulance and he was a volunteer Tolono firefighter. A couple months later, he also began work at Arrow as an ambulance dispatcher.
Despite her best efforts not to date a co-worker, it happened.
Today, the Humers are obviously in love, perhaps in part because they were both married to their work before each other and understand the demands of the profession.
Since meeting, they've both become paramedics, and Jennifer has gone on to teaching classes in the emergency services field for Carle Regional Emergency Medical Services.
"I understand bad calls or patients that didn't have the greatest outcome," she said.
"She understands I have to go to work tonight," he said of a mandatory callback.
Two of a kind
"As a kid, I spent a lot of time at the firehouse and around Arrow," said Chris, whose father, Mick Humer, was at one time the Tolono fire chief and an administrator at the ambulance company.
Jennifer said she "always knew" she wanted to go into the medical field. When nursing didn't click for her, she began training as an emergency medical technician.
Chris had a similar plan. He started as a volunteer Tolono firefighter right out of high school in 2004. Two years later, he got the job as an Arrow ambulance dispatcher.
Jennifer was already on her way to being a paramedic.
"I actually fell in love with being an EMT," she said. "At first, it's the adrenaline rush. But overall, it's meeting people. I love talking to people. Even if it's just a hospital transfer, you get to talk to people and find out about their lives."
'Why can't we date?'
As Jennifer and Chris got to know each other at work, she made it her mission to find the nice kid a woman. She is 10 years older than Chris.
"I tried setting him up with a girl here at work. They went on one date and it ended up not being a love connection. I said, 'Sorry. She just doesn't like you like that but we'll find you somebody else. He asked me, 'Why can't we date?' I said, 'No, I don't date people I work with and you're younger than me.'"
"I tried my hardest not to date him," she said, adding he's shorter than she, as well.
While she was trying to find him another woman, they were going to movies and dinner and out with groups of co-workers. Chris left Arrow to try another job but when it didn't work out, he returned.
"By the time he came back to Arrow, our relationship had grown. My rule of not dating anyone I work with had to go out the window," she said.
After seven months of dating, the couple decided it was OK to marry your best friend.
It was August 2008, and Jennifer had gone home to visit family for the weekend. She was talking to Chris by phone on the way back but to her annoyance, he was trying to get off the phone.
Little did she know that Chris was on his way to her house to pop the question.
He had it all planned out, even the little details — the living room lighted just right and a heart-shaped bowl filled with water, a red rose and a ring floating in it.
"She was driving from Champaign to Urbana, so time was of the essence. I was able to get everything set up and she came home and I could tell she was mad but she got over it pretty quick," Chris said.
"I immediately started crying. I said yes not even realizing what he had said. I asked him, 'Can you please say it again because I didn't hear you,'" Jennifer said.
The couple wed in November 2009 at Holy Cross Church in Champaign.
Within months, they decided to try to start a family.
Plans on hold
When pregnancy didn't happen in what the Humers thought was a reasonable amount of time, Jennifer subjected herself to fertility treatments in the form of daily shots and pills for a couple of years.
And when those didn't produce a child, they took a break from trying.
Meanwhile, as their wedding anniversary rolled around, they took trips to Mexico, Jamaica and Florida — the kind that couples with children long for.
Not entirely sure of why the couple wasn't conceiving, their doctor suggested she lose weight. Eleven months ago, Jennifer underwent bariatric surgery and has since lost 85 pounds.
In December, they learned she was pregnant.
Gift's on the way
So far, Jennifer says pregnancy, even at the medically dubbed "advanced maternal age" of 39, has been a breeze.
"Things have been going really great. No morning sickness. I'm just tired," she said.
With their child due in August, the couple has started shopping for furniture and trying to imagine fitting a baby into their lives.
Jennifer now works Monday through Friday during the day as an educator, a schedule she plans to maintain after the baby arrives.
Chris works 24 hours on and 48 off as a paramedic and is looking forward to "a lot of alone time" with their child. He hopes one day to become a career firefighter.
As for their Valentine's celebration today, Chris said they may share a nice meal out. They already got each other what they wanted most.
"For Christmas, I said I only want a baby," Jennifer said. "I told him I don't need anything else for Valentine's.
Photo by: Rick Danzl/The News-Gazette
Jennifer and Chris Humer, at Babyland in Savoy Monday Feb. 9, 2015.