North Dakota University System
UND alum sweethearts find love on campus, return the favor with a financial gift

Posted on 2/13/2018

Originally published at UND Today:

Cortland "Cort" Zimbrick didn't come to the University of North Dakota looking for love.

He enrolled in 1962 because UND was a quality school in his hometown - and at $100 a semester, he could afford it.

But Cupid made quick work of him.

"I saw Carol walking across campus the first semester of my freshman year, and I fell deeply, deeply in love," Zimbrick reminisced, his delivery heavy with romantic flair. "So then I thought, I'm going to have to figure out how to meet her."

His university dream girl was Carol Hilber, a fellow freshman and Fargo native who had gathered every penny of her high school savings to study history at UND. Zimbrick used all available intermediaries to learn more about Hilber, but he just couldn't find a way to fall onto her radar.

So he gave up.

"I fell on my face," Zimbrick said. "I didn't have much of a game in those days - according to my wife, I don't have one still," he continued with a laugh.

His wife? None other than Carol (Hilber) Zimbrick.

"I ended up a happily married man, and I'm just delighted because UND threw us together," he said.

Now, the Zimbricks have decided to thank the University by returning some of that love - in the form of a financial gift designated in their will.

"I think we owe that to UND for giving us the good start in life that we got, the start that really led to everything else," Cort said. "And it was a solid foundation. It wasn't just about falling in love that brings the memories back - it was about the happiest I've ever been learning."

Love story

So how did these two lovebirds, now enjoying the retired life together in Dalton, Georgia, finally find each other?

It was all a matter of biology.

"He tells the story so well," Carol said lovingly.

"My second semester, I was taking a biology lab. They seated everyone alphabetically, so, being a Zimbrick, I was all by myself, without a lab partner, at the last desk," Zimbrick recalled. "And about the third lab, who should come in, having transferred from another lab, with only one seat available, but my wife-to-be - the woman I was already in love with - Carol Hilber."

This chance connection gave Cort two hours, twice a week, to woo Carol over earthworm dissections and cell observations. After turning down his request for a date several times, she gave him a chance.

And then another…and another…a total of 16 consecutive dates. Carol still has her Macnie Hall dorm sign-out sheet as tangible proof of their whirlwind romance.

"After about a dozen dates I asked, ‘Why is it that you pay for everything in coins?' And he said, ‘Because I'm spending my coin collection,'" Carol said, sharing a laugh with her husband.

"I had no money," Cort said. "But I think that helped win her over. That sounds like a pretty sincere thing to do, to give up your coin collection."

Carol and Cort continued their UND years as a pair, embracing not only each other, but also their educational home.

Carol ultimately changed her major to English and came to adore her Spanish classes. After she graduated from UND in 1966, she attended other schools for her postgraduate studies and taught high school Spanish for 40 years.

Cort found a path to pre-dentistry, which in a few years' time brought him to another university for dental training.

But they both say no other school gave them the experience they had at UND.

"It was a smaller school, it was personal, and everybody that I had for a teacher - every single one of them - I remember their names today," Cort said. "I can picture [famed North Dakota historian] Elwyn B. Robinson standing in front of me today. He was so enthusiastic! I got a great education there. I was well prepared when I went to dental school."

"I was away from home, I felt like an adult, and of course fall at UND is just gorgeous. My classes were challenging, but I worked very hard, too," Carol added. "I would go home to Fargo during the summers and work, but I could never wait to get back. I was just happy the whole time I was there."

Sharing the love

Children weren't a chapter in the Zimbrick love story, so in planning their legacy, Carol and Cort looked back to their academic days in Grand Forks. They are currently working with the UND Alumni Association & Foundation on a plan to leave a percentage of their worth to UND in their will.

The specifics are yet to be cemented, but they have some ideas about how they would like to see the money used. Carol imagines a gift to the languages department, which had sparked an unexpected passion.

"That turned out to be the biggest, and greatest, surprise of my life. I enjoy teaching Spanish so much," she said. "And you loved the Chester Fritz Library," tossing to Cort.

"I did love the library," he agreed. "I spent so much time there. Since it was my hometown, I would go there over Christmas vacation when everyone went home. I would be the only one in the library some days, and I would think, ‘It's all mine.' I just loved being in that library."

Cort says that paying just $100 a semester was a great deal at the time, and now that he and his wife have a little more in the bank - and don't have to spend his coin collection - it's time to "set that bill" a little better.

"They were practically giving away an education," he said. "And I know it's been worth a whole lot to me."

-Kaylee Cusack



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