Love stories Tilburg University

“I was 18 and pregnant. The university was in shock.”

Love story 4 min. Swaans Communicatie

Many loves have their origins on campus, though not all of them last. Some campus couples are still together to this day. Towards the university's 100th anniversary, we collect their love stories. For example, the story of Wil Maas and Isje Maas-Villanueva.

She is standing with friends on the balcony of student association Olof’s club house. Looking up from the ground floor, he makes her out. That night only their eyes meet, but it’s not long before Wil Maas and Isje Maas-Villanueva run into each other on the same floor. That is the beginning of their love story. In early 2023 they celebrate their 55th anniversary.

In 1966, the female and male membership of Olof celebrated the traditional Dutch festival of St Nicholas on separate stories. “To protect the ladies from dissolute behaviour,” Isje explains. “This was no idle measure, because it was the kind of festival where things tended to get out of hand. Most other parties were mixed, and it was at one of these that we eventually met. At the end of April 1967, we were each other’s partner at a ball in Sonnevanck castle in Oirschot, hosted by the Ancient Mariners fraternity. That’s how things began for us.”

Tough start

For these two to even just meet no betting shop would have offered great odds. Wil and Isje both had to make sacrifices to go to university. Wil had had a troubled childhood: his father had been a civilian casualty of the bombing of Nijmegen in the Second World War, and his disabled mother had had to raise three children in trying circumstances.

Young Wil grew up in a disadvantaged district in Vught. “People looked down on me for that, even to the point of segregating me,” Wil relates. “I was not even allowed to play with other children.” He survived secondary school, but his mother couldn’t afford to send him to university. At the age of 21, he applied for a scholarship and went to Tilburg to study business economics. Wil has always had to work hard, even as a student, to support himself.

“And he of all people ends up marrying a princess,” Isje laughs. And that is not a figure of speech. Isje’s grandfather is the 17th raja (a royal prince or ruler in parts of Asia) of the Sangihe Islands in North Sulawesi, Indonesia. Her mother is therefore a princess, but because Isje and her sister are not Indonesian nationals, they are not officially princesses. Even so, Isje’s life has been largely determined by Indonesian norms and values. For example, Isje had no intention of going to university. “In fact, I remember thinking on my very first day: no, this is not it, I think I’ll be leaving here soon,” she recalls. “What I had really wanted to do was study art or teach at a primary school. But as a princess I simply had to go to university. I settled on sociology.”

Wil en Isje

It was a direct hit: I was 18 and pregnant. The university was in shock.”

True love

In the spring of 1967, the couple spent six weeks in each other’s company, and then Wil left for Bern, Switzerland, to do a three-month internship. “We were madly in love, and when he came back we got carried away by our love – and our hormones. It was a direct hit: I was 18 and pregnant. The university was in shock.”

They had to get married. “That’s how things were in those days,” Isje reflects. “The catholic tradition was still very strong at that time. No one believed the marriage would last: we hadn’t known each other very long and the cultural and age differences were considerable. And around us, we witnessed many relationships end as a result of economic developments and Marxist ideologies. A classmate of mine with a knack for statistics told me we had a 10% chance of staying married for one year. That was nearly 55 years ago. I know many girls like me were forced to give up their babies in those days. Every time I read or hear about it, I become emotional. Nini, our daughter, was our love child. I shudder to think I might have had to give her up. She is 54, has been married for 31 years, and has four children. And our 1968 love baby recently became a grandmother herself!”

My studies, my network, and the Olof connection always proved very useful.

A first

Fourteen months after Nini’s birth – in August of 1969 – Wil and Isje were blessed with another child, a boy this time: Willem. He studied econometrics at university in Tilburg. “We are the first married couple to have both graduated in Tilburg and whose son also graduated in Tilburg. And with a bit of luck, our granddaughter Ines will do a Master’s in Tilburg.”

Wil graduated in 1969 and had a career at NS (Dutch Railways), where he became Head of Treasury. Having had two children at an early age, Isje took longer to complete her studies, eventually graduating in 1983, with Professor De Moor, the leading sociologist in Tilburg at the time, acting as her supervisor. Following stints at Van Lanschot and Indover Bank, she became a manager with the INA, the bilateral Indonesia-Netherlands Chamber of Commerce, helping 200 businesses set up shop in Indonesia. “I had meetings with ministers, presidents, and ambassadors. My studies, my network, and the Olof connection always proved very useful. As did my husband! Wil was always there, in the background: I gave the presentations, but he helped me with the input. That’s how we worked together amazingly well for twelve years. It was a wonderful time.”

gezinsfoto Wil en Isje

This January will see us married 55 years, but we are living life to the full, enjoying it and each other’s company, as we have done from the very first day of our marriage!”

It all goes back to Tilburg

Over the years, the couple traveled the globe, but it all goes back to Tilburg, to the university. “We greatly enjoyed our time at the university. We learned a great deal as persons, about how things work at the university and in the world, and we built up a network. To this day, we keep in touch with many people we met at uni. And one way or the other, the university has a place in our lives. For many years, we were members of the Friends of Cobbenhagen alumni association. And we visited this year’s edition of Alumni Day.”

Never a dull moment

Wil is 81, Isje 74, and as they see it life has yet to become dull. Isje: “To name but one thing, we’ve been following our eldest grandson Jordi’s professional soccer career very closely. He played in the Spanish Primera Division and the English Premier League, and we watched him play Ronaldo, Messi, and Van der Vaart. The past four years he played for Kas Eupen in Belgium, and he’d occasionally visit his grandparents to join us for a traditional Indonesian meal. He’s been invited to the Indonesian national team, to take the game to a higher level, and he’s raring to go. He’s always taken a keen interest in all things Indonesian. I’m coaching him, because when he becomes an Indonesian national, he’ll be a prince. His official inauguration will be an emotional moment for us all.”

Are they proud of their story? “Well, you know, life just sort of happens and we don’t really think about it all that much,” Isje says. “We’re far too busy for that. We are grateful though that at 74 and 81 we remain energetic and that our children and grandchildren are healthy. This January will see us married 55 years, but we are living life to the full, enjoying it and each other’s company, as we have done from the very first day of our marriage!”

Do you have a Tilburg University love story too?

Did you meet the love of your life at Tilburg University? Did sparks fly immediately? Or did it take a little longer for your feelings to grow? 

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Date of publication: 12 December 2022