Many college students are sad when the time comes to move out of the dorms where they have developed lasting friendships and community. But a group of alumni have taken their sense of community over to 16th street.
Trent and Hannah Ekblad, Matt and Lanae VanValin, Jordan and Kate Thompson, Joe and Steph Krause and Megan Toppins live on the same street.
The group of friends randomly met throughout their years at ORU, but their friendships grew stronger once they all graduated.
Trent, an associate pastor at Triumph Worship Center, and his wife Hannah were the first to graduate and move to 16th street three years ago. They have slowly convinced their friends to move there as well.
The dynamic of these friendships is what makes their time together so enjoyable. They are all different, but somehow, it works.
“Trent is definitely the funny guy. He is always cracking jokes whenever he can get the chance,” said Hannah Ekblad. “Together though, I feel like we are the parents of the group. Having our baby, Everleigh, might have automatically put us in that position, but whenever there is a decision to be made, it is usually Trent and I who make the first move.”
Her eyes light up as she begins to describe the characters in their real live ‘90s sitcom.
“Lanae and Matt [VanValin] are almost opposites. Matt is more cautious in certain situations. Lanae always says what is on her mind. They both make for great conversation.”
“Kate is very sentimental. If you’re having a bad day and Kate knows about it, next thing you know she has baked you a cake,” Hannah said with a smile.
Megan Toppins, who is a nurse at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, is seen as the little sister of the group. She is humorous, personable and fun-loving. Joe and Steph Krause, who are both engineers, are the quiet couple.
These friends, despite their busy lives, make time to be together every week. They faithfully spend time having dinner, Bible study and a movie at the Ekblad’s every Thursday. At random times, the group hangs out whenever there is time. Jordan Thompson is currently building a trailer, and the other guys longboard over to his house to help whenever they can.
“We aren’t very girly,” Hannah says about the girls. “Our favorite thing to do together is take walks around the neighborhood. We love the outdoors.”
The group sees similarities between living on the same street and being on campus during college. Lanae calls it “pure ORU without the rules.”
“Living on the same street made it easy to foster these relationships,” said Trent Ekblad. “I can just walk down to anyone’s house and ask them if they want to play darts for 20 minutes.”
Besides the easy access for social events, having friends a few seconds away comes in handy in more ways than one.
“Trent and I love hiking and Matt and Lanae don’t. So, when we want to go hiking at Turkey Mountain, I will just call up Lanae and see if they can watch Everleigh,” says Hannah. “Also, when one of us girls needs a baking item from the other, we usually have what the other needs and then we don’t have to go to the store. It’s awesome.”
Toppins is the Tulsa native of the group. They refer to her as the “gatekeeper” of the street because she takes care of the pets and plants when the others go out of town to visit their families. Toppins recalled accidentally giving chicken feed to the Ekblads’ dog resulting in dog poop all over the house. Trent and Hannah always give Toppins a hard time about it.
“I just gave him a nice bowel cleanse,” Toppins says with a laugh.
Along with Thursday nights, the 16th street crew has talent shows, movie nights, game nights, walks around the neighborhood and frequent brunches.
“I think we all just really like each other,” Jordan Thompson said about how they have maintained their friendship.
“No,” Lanae VanValin said chuckling. “I think we’re all really weird. We’re just super accepting of each other.”
The four couples are all from other parts of the United States, but their friendship is why they decided to stay in Tulsa.
“As you get older, you begin to learn how important people are,” Kate said. “Tulsa isn’t the most ideal place to live geographically, but it works because of the community and friendships we’ve cultivated here.”
ORU created a family for this group of friends. Here they found each other, learned together, fell in love and experienced life with one another. ORU gave them a starting point for the rest of their lives, but they have turned it into something lasting.
Story by Kelsey Luetjen, photos by Abri Summerer