Celebrating daily togetherness: Rick Truax & Anelia Dimitrova

SOFIA LEGASPI, Campus Life Editor

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Each day is Valentine’s Day for Rick Truax and Anelia Dimitrova.

This June, the two of them will celebrate 23 years — 8,400 days — of marriage. They have viewed each of those days together as a celebration.

“We don’t put hardly any emphasis on birthdays and celebrations; we don’t even put emphasis on Valentine’s Day,” Truax said. “It might not sound very romantic, but what we do is we emphasize every day.”

For the past two decades, many students in the communication studies department have studied under Dimitrova, Truax or both. Dimitrova, an associate professor, teaches classes such as journalism, law and ethics and advanced reporting. Truax is an instructor whose courses include photojournalism and editing and design.

Both hold other jobs outside of UNI. Truax works as a web developer and Dimitrova as an editor for several newspapers across northeast Iowa.

The two of them met in 1992 as journalism graduate students at the University of Missouri. They were in the same class: statistics with Professor Sanders.

“It was the most unromantic class you could possibly take,” Dimitrova said.

Truax lived down the street from Dimitrova. He would see her walking to school in the mornings, sometimes with her eight-year-old son in tow. She, her son and her mother had moved from Bulgaria to the United States a year ago and had no means of transportation. One day, Truax offered them a ride.

Dimitrova said it was this generosity that struck her.

“I thought Rick was very noble […] and was genuinely very generous,” she said. “At the time, he was almost 37, I believe, and had never had a family before and was so welcoming and literally had open arms.”

“And I would like to say that he cooked every Friday night,” Dimitrova added with a smile. “We had burgers.”

Truax became further acquainted with Dimitrova and her family after they agreed to be his subjects for a photojournalism project.

“It was truly a quintessential story of people in this country: an immigrant family moves, a woman with a child and grandmother tries to make it through graduate school with very little resources,” Dimitrova said.

Truax spent hours working in their home, returning to take photographs at various times of the day. What began as a professional favor between two students eventually developed into something more.

From the beginning, their relationship was an unconventional one.

“We have a little joke between the two of us that we never dated. And it’s a joke, but yet it’s actually true,” Truax said. “We were both in our 30’s. She had a child; her mother was here living with her. So, it wasn’t this sort of adolescent teenage romance in that way.”

They were married in June 1996. Like their courtship, their wedding  was unconventional.

By that time, Dimitrova had moved to Cedar Falls and begun teaching at UNI; Truax had stayed behind for a year in Missouri. Dimitrova’s son, Vesselin, mentioned his mother’s upcoming wedding to his middle-school English teacher, Ms. Zischke.

“And Mimi Zischke took the time to give me a call and say, ‘Hey, I hear from your son you’re getting married. I know you don’t have family here; you don’t have anybody here. Why don’t you come and get married in my house?’” Dimitrova recalled.

The couple was originally planning an outdoor wedding in Seerley Park, but it rained on the big day and they took Ms. Zischke up on her offer.

It was a simple ceremony. Truax’s parents traveled from San Diego; his father bought him an outfit from Von Maur the night before the wedding.

Truax’s colleague from the Columbia Daily Tribune drove up to photograph the event, catered by Hy-Vee.

The couple knew few people in the Cedar Falls area; their only wedding guests were a news anchor and a cameraman from KWWL. John Butler, UNI’s communication studies department head at the time, read a simple prayer and gave Dimitrova away.

“Just the likelihood of all of it coming together: the teacher listening, her having that opportunity and wanting to share, then inviting complete strangers literally in her home,” Dimitrova said. “She made it really special […] As modestly as we were dressed, and as few expectations as we had, it was absolutely a huge gift that we never forgot.”

It was a special way to jumpstart two decades of marriage and counting.

They’ve climbed some amazing mountains together — literally. Their family of three frequently embarks on hiking trips and has traveled across Europe on several occasions. In 2017, they completed the Haute Route: a 100-mile, 12-day trek across the Swiss Alps.

Despite their numerous adventures — the couple is currently collaborating on a book compiling their travel experiences — both maintain that one of the biggest highlights of their marriage is their daily togetherness.

“In my line of work as a journalist, I see a lot of people in their worst circumstances and their best circumstances,” Dimitrova said. “And I know that every moment should be treasured, and there is no one way or formula for happiness or success.”

After successfully navigating a marriage for so many years, both Truax and Dimitrova had some well-earned wisdom to share about making a relationship last.

“I think what makes a marriage work is being yourself, and not having to pretend to be someone else,” Dimitrova said.

“To me it’s pretty simple,” Truax said. “It’s empowering your partner.”

An example of this empowerment occurred several years ago, Truax said, when he unexpectedly announced a desire to learn the electric bass and Anelia responded with “absolute affirmation.” Truax now performs regularly with the Cedar Rapids-based classic rock band, Quarter Past Five and acoustic duo The Buskers.

At the same time, Truax has steadfastly supported Dimitrova’s career aspirations. He said that he jokingly, but also earnestly, encourages her to consider law school and pursue her growing interest in First Amendment law.

“Because as you get older, you really realize how quickly time goes by and the moment is now,” Truax said. “And if you don’t do it now, it’s passed.”

No matter what the future holds for them, for better or for worse, Truax and Dimitrova plan to experience it together.

“I think our biggest accomplishment has been empowering each other and really developing ourselves,” Dimitrova said. “And not thinking of ourselves as just one thing or one profession, but really evolving and collaborating as a couple […] and embrace the challenges around us as something that we thrive on rather than something we are afraid of.”