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Two Sisters Sharing a Dream

Spring/Summer 2015

Siblings traditionally have been known to quarrel, cause general chaos, and compete for the title of the reigning offspring. From Jan and Marcia Brady to Raymond and Robert Barone, sibling rivalry can strike a feud between any set of relatives. Tiffin University alumnae TONYA COUTURE-GRUBB and TINA COUTURE SCHANK were not exceptions to this phenomenon.

“As children, we didn’t like each other. There was a lot of competition,” said Tina. As adults, however, they compete as a team.

Together, they have opened two restaurants in Port Clinton and Tiffin. The online menus for the restaurants describe the women as “two sisters sharing childhood memories and grown-up dreams.”

Their “grown-up dreams” took flight when JT’s Catawba Café opened in April 2013. The restaurant serves a variety of breakfast and lunch specials, and it has gained a reputation for delectable donuts. After the success of the Port Clinton location, the duo decided to bring their specialties to Tiffin, where they opened JT’s Bagel Bar in February. The Sycamore Street restaurant offers their famous donuts and bagels, as well as a modified selection of sandwiches and breakfast items.

“It was just the perfect spot,” said Tonya. With two universities and two high schools, Tiffin’s demographic was promising for the small business owners. So far, the students have been essential clientele.

“Tiffin University has been so supportive,” Tonya continued. Tina noted a large number of customers from the University’s music department, in particular.

Tina, TU class of 1998 and 2001, and Tonya, TU class of 1999 and 2012, each earned associate and bachelor’s degrees from TU. Tina earned her degrees in business, while Tonya’s degrees are in criminal justice. Outside of the restaurants, Tonya uses her degrees as a truancy mediator for the Ottawa County Juvenile Court.

Neither of them fit the mold of a traditional college student by the time they reached Tiffin. Both women originally attended large public universities and disliked them, but continued at TU after they had started families. They praised the University’s close-knit environment that larger campuses lack, including personal connections with faculty and pressure to attend class.

“I don’t think I would have fit in or been as successful, say, had I gone to a larger university at the point I was in my life,” Tina said.

“TU professors know you by name. Everybody wants to be acknowledged,” said Tonya. “And part of you is like, ‘Oh my gosh, if I’m not there, they’re going to know.’ You didn’t have that at a bigger university. [At TU], if you’re not there, it is noticed.”

Only one class stood between Tonya and her bachelor’s degree for over a decade, and she finally pushed herself to complete that course in 2012 so she wouldn’t be in college at the same time as her son, who hopes to follow his mother’s footsteps in the criminal justice program at TU soon. She used her time away from the class- room to her advantage, though.

“When I did go back, I had real-life work experience. I was older, and I was sitting next to the young, typical college-age student, but then, when we would have conversations, I had something to contribute,” she said. “It can be a little intimidating. […] Some of these kids could have been my kids, but I was extremely comfortable. Never once did I feel out of place.”

Both women appreciated the University’s concern for adult learners with busy personal lives.

“[Professors] know everybody has real life outside of the classroom. People have real life issues and things that go beyond what it says you need to do on that syllabus. […] I was a mom. When I left that classroom, I had a kid to get to pre-school, I had diapers to change, I had to go the grocery store,” said Tonya. “They make it very possible for somebody with a family to go back and complete their education.” Her sister agreed.

“I actually gave birth on the day of one of my finals,” said Tina. She also noted that her professors, especially the one who made other exam arrangements after she went into labor, made the transition back to school comfortable. Overall, both sisters agreed that the personal atmosphere and professional faculty of TU were vital to their academic success.

“It took some time, but I did it. It was worth it,” said Tonya. “If I could do it over again, I’d go to Tiffin [University] right out of high school.”