Although COVID-19 continues to keep families, and even strangers, physically distant – it is also creating unlikely connections. The unprecedented pandemic helped connect three people that happen to be from the same town in Oregon, now living in Albuquerque.

Barbara Kurts
Barbara Kurts in 1952

Barbara Kurts, 92, said she was reading a local newspaper, a few weeks back when she came across an article about Carver Dyck and Kieran Kentley. The two UNM freshmen were moving into the dorms on campus, mid-pandemic, more than 1,200 miles away from their home in Bend, Ore.

“I saw the article about the young men in the paper and wanted to talk with them — one Oregonian to another — about what’s happening in Oregon while welcoming them to New Mexico,” Kurts said.

Kurts, a mother of five and grandmother of six, said she was determined to meet the two-college freshman. So, she called The University of New Mexico Student Affairs Office to try and find them.

Dorene DiNaro, Student Affairs program planning manager, helped connect Kurts with the boys and the three met virtually, via Zoom, last weekend.

“It’s been a great experience getting to know these three — all because of a phone call,” DiNaro said. “I’m so glad I could serve as the go-between to get them all connected.”

The trio discussed their individual reasons for moving to New Mexico, the challenges of attending school in the middle of a pandemic and the devastating wildfires ravaging the West Coast and their home state of Oregon.

“I think they’re working hard on the fires and so hopefully they will have things under control soon enough,” Kentley said. 

As for their relocation to the Land of Enchantment, Dyck said his uncle lives in New Mexico and attended UNM. 

“I like New Mexico. It’s a beautiful state, and Albuquerque is a beautiful city; I figured if I wasn’t looking anywhere else, I would come here,” he said.

The two boys are staring down a future of limitless possibilities; while Kurts is reflecting on more than nine decades of history. She shared about her experiences serving in the U.S. Navy and her time with the Department of Defense working with the Nuclear Weapons Stockpile, as well as her many years working with the Department of Energy. 

“Funnily enough, I’m studying to become a nuclear engineer,” Kentley said.

The trio is planning to meet face-to-face in the future, once it’s safe. 

“It was so nice to finally meet the guys,” Kurts said. “As an old lady, I’m not up for much company because of COVID-19, but I would love to hug them both and I wish them the best in school.”