Advertising pays: A Wildcat love story
On Oct. 3, 1975, Robert Skarda, a silversmith and self-proclaimed ‘mountain man,’ placed an advertisement in The Daily Wildcat, a campus newspaper at the University of Arizona, that would lead him to meet his future wife of 40 years.
Robert and Debbie Skarda married on Oct. 14, 1978, three years after they met in Tucson near the University of Arizona campus. Now residing in Atlanta, Georgia, the two decided to come back to Tucson in celebration of their 40th wedding anniversary.
In 1975, Robert, along with his roommate Chuck, was living on Mount Lemmon in Tucson and soon realized that there wasn’t much of a social life up on the mountain.
“We loved being up there, but we found out just how small the community was rather quickly,” Robert said. “So we figured there had to be a lot of bored, female students who liked to be outdoors and hike and such.”
The Daily Wildcat was located in the original Student Union Memorial Center back in 1975, which is where Robert and Chuck went to place the advertisement. Because they were too embarrassed to walk into the building, they convinced their friend to submit it for them.
“We had a friend who was from Palestine, and we knew he wouldn’t be socially embarrassed, so we said, ‘Eli, go turn this in. You’re going to be able to meet some girls,’” Robert said.
The two men watched from around the corner as their friend courageously entered the newspaper’s advertising office.
The advertisement read, “two reflective craftsman in mid-twenties living on Mt. Lemmon that are tired of superficial encounters at bars, are open to real communications with positive women into arts, music, hiking and wild hickory nuts.”
Robert boasted that, after all these years, he could still recite the advertisement from memory. When asked about the wild hickory nuts, he laughed that it was inspired by Euell Gibbons, a famous outdoorsman from the 60s and 70s who encouraged people to eat wild foods.
Robert also reminisced about receiving stacks of letters in response to the ad, saying that several of them even had a spritz of perfume on them.
“We didn’t even get through very many of them until we got to [Debbie’s] friend Merris,” he said.
Debbie grew up on the East Coast, went to high school in Houston, Texas and eventually started her undergrad at Washington State University as a fine arts major. She had her own pottery studio in Washington but became increasingly interested in anthropology and archeology.
It was then that she decided to transfer to the UA. Debbie was in her senior year at the UA studying liberal arts when she came across Robert’s ad with some of her friends.
“My three friends and I saw the ad at the same time,” Debbie said. “I just had intuition something was up, and I never, ever would have looked through the personals ads before. It just was meant to be.”
After finding the ad, Debbie and her friends decided to write a letter and invite Robert and Chuck to dinner.
“We all said, ‘hey, we have nothing to lose. Let’s have a dinner. What’s the worst that could happen?’” she said.
Robert received a letter from Debbie’s friend Merris just a few days later.
“I called Merris, and we talked for a long time. It seemed like we had a lot in common until I met [Debbie],” Robert said. “[Merris] invited her over to her house, and Debbie was there.”
According to the couple, the two started talking right away. Debbie and her friends prepared eggplant parmesan for dinner and everyone got to know each other.
“What kind of woman are you,” Robert joked. “Answering ads from strange mountain men.”
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The couple recalled that they had a hard time getting ahold of each other after that evening. After a visit to Mexico, Debbie was sick for quite some time, but Robert was eventually able to track her down.
“Our first date I still didn’t have a working car, so we took the bus to a little Chinese restaurant on Grant Road,” Robert said.
After Debbie’s graduation from UA in 1976, the couple decided to hit the road and rented a home in Florida.
“We put everything into my red Volkswagen bus and headed down to Florida, south of St. Augustine,” Robert said. “We rented a house about two blocks from the beach and did art shows.”
Between Robert’s silversmith work and Debbie’s background in fine arts, the two of them designed and created jewelry to present at several guild shows. They traveled up the east coast and were presenting at approximately 20 shows a year.
“We did a show in Dayton, Ohio, and there was a Tornado warning, and we were on this, what used to be an old airfield, and they let us camp there,” Robert said. “And I think it was the lightening nearby or the electromagnetic waves from the radio hitting my brain that caused me to propose to her.”
Robert and Debbie were married in Chicago later that year. Together they designed and created their own wedding rings.
The couple moved to Atlanta in 1983, where they began to settle down, find long-term work and have children. Bob worked as a field service technician after going through training at the Control Data Institute, and Debbie started working at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
The couple has two sons born in 1987 and 1988. The elder son has a Master's in Education from Georgia State University, and the younger has a degree in environmental engineering from Georgia Tech.
“They got the brains from her, I swear,” Robert said.
Robert is now retired but began writing books on southeastern U.S. archaeology and history in 2000. He has since published seven books with Old Oconee Books. Debbie has been with the VA for 34 years and said she is close to retirement.
The couple said they were excited to come back to Tucson for their anniversary because of the special connection they have with the area.
“We are blessed. I really say Debbie is my form of wealth,” Robert said.
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“We just feel so lucky,” Debbie said. “We try to tell our kids to not be so stressed, because life is just so good, and you’ve got to make the most of it.”
While they were in town, the couple visited the UA, stopped by the Daily Wildcat, caught up with some old friends and even made a trip up to Mount Lemmon.
In celebration of their anniversary, Robert placed another advertisement in the Daily Wildcat on Oct. 3, 2018 to thank the publication for helping to bring them together.
“We would never have met without this advertisement,” Debbie said. “Isn’t that amazing? I think everyone should have a story like that.”
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