Who’s Next

Young power couples in Pittsburgh share their love stories

They’re rising stars in Pittsburgh education, health, politics and tech.

WN couples
Photos provided
MJ Slaby

A friendship from Chatham University that turned into more. Asking a mutual friend for an introduction at the August Wilson Center. A shared love of local history turned into a date at the Carnegie Museum of Art.

The Incline’s Who’s Next series, presented by S&T Bank, has honored nearly 250 young Pittsburghers making a difference in their fields. While some know each other through work and other connections, three couples are also among the Who’s Next ranks.

For these six young leaders, Pittsburgh is not only where they are working to make a difference, it’s also the place where they fell in love.

We caught up with three Who’s Next couples to hear their love stories — and how they navigate being busy power couples. Here are their stories.

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Austin and Blayre Holmes Davis' engagement photo

Photo courtesy of Blayre Holmes Davis

A proposal in row 18

Austin Davis, Who’s Next: Politics
Blayre Holmes Davis, Who’s Next: Health

Status: Married

Austin Davis, state rep for the 35th District, sums up meeting his now-wife Blayre Holmes Davis in 2012 in one sentence: “She saw me, and it was over.”

“That’s Austin’s version,” Blayre, director of community partnerships for Adagio Health, replied with a laugh.

The full story includes a few more steps. Blayre, then a senior at California University of Pennsylvania was interning at the August Wilson Center and was there for the National Society of Black Engineers conference reception in 2012. Austin, a senior at the University of Pittsburgh, also attended the reception, with a date, but saw Blayre and asked a mutual friend for an introduction. He gave her his business card with his cell phone on the back, and she later called. They met for drinks, and the couple said they were “together from there.”

In early 2016, Austin started planning a proposal. To ask Blayre’s dad, but not cause suspicion, he told her he was going to a Democratic Committee dinner — aka something she would believe and not care if he went to without her. With her dad’s permission and the ring, Austin was ready. That September, the pair went to Gervasi Vineyard in Canton, Ohio — a spot that Blayre, a wine lover, had wanted to try. They walked through the vineyard, and in row 18, Austin proposed.

A year later, in September 2017, they got married in Pittsburgh. And even though Austin will now commute to the General Assembly in Harrisburg, the couple said they’re staying put.

“Pittsburgh will always be home,” Austin said.

When it comes to work: The couple bounces ideas off of each other, and Blayre helped during Austin’s campaign, but the pair said it’s important to them to try to not let work over take their relationship. So when they’re together, they try to do things that don’t involve work — watch movies, see family, travel and see live music.

Allie Reznik and Jenn Van Dam on the day they got engaged in Amsterdam

Allie Reznik and Jenn Van Dam on the day they got engaged in Amsterdam

Nicole Olwagen

Relationship status change at the Highland Reservoir

Allie Reznik, Who’s Next: Education
Jenn Van Dam, Who’s Next: Technology

Status: Engaged

Although they’d met the school year before, it wasn’t until RA training in summer 2009 that Allie Reznik and Jenn Van Dam got to know each other. They went to Starbucks during the training and quickly became best friends.

After graduating from Chatham University, Jenn moved to New York, while Allie stayed in Pittsburgh for graduate school at Duquesne. They still saw each other almost weekly, taking turns with weekend visits. So when Jenn decided to move back to Pittsburgh in 2014, it just seemed logical to move in with Allie and her roommates in Highland Park. Going to the Highland Park Reservoir became the pair’s habit for serious talks, and one day, they both went there with the same topic — each wanted to be more than friends.

“For two people who work in communications, not a lot was said,” Allie said, adding that both already knew what the other wanted to say. Allie is a Ph.D. candidate and the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies coordinator at Duquesne University. Jenn is the digital and community engagement manager at Innovation Works.

This August, Allie proposed during a trip to Amsterdam. She’d told Jenn that they were going to the park, but when the train stalled, she started handing Jenn postcards written by family and friends. That’s when Jenn knew what was happening. Or at least that it was the start of it.

After the proposal in the park — complete with a photographer — Jenn said she started thinking of ways she could propose, knowing that “I can’t top what Allie did because it was magical.” So she focused on the sentimental, taking Allie back to their spot in Highland Park. They sat on a bench, and Jenn was on her phone — not unusual Allie pointed out — but the texts were full of messages for her, a tech twist on the postcards before she proposed.

Now, the couple is planning their wedding, which will be in Pittsburgh.

When it comes to work: Working in different areas of communications, the couple said they are constantly talking about big ideas. And they’re there for each other as editors on a blog post or a paper and to make sure the voice and tone is correct, they said. Plus, Allie said she often invites Jenn to come to speak to her students about pitching everything from papers to research projects or business ideas.

Jackie and Justin

Jackie Shimshoni and Justin Reese at Pirates spring training in 2015

courtesy of Jackie Shimshoni

A love from the history books

Justin Reese, Who’s Next: Technology
Jackie Shimshoni, Who’s Next: Education

Status: Dating

For Justin Reese and Jackie Shimshoni, their romance started online with a book about Pittsburgh.

The pair met on Match and started talking when Justin saw the last book that Jackie read, “Out of This Furnace.” Their first date was to the Carnegie Museum of Art in October 2014. From there, the pair kept dating, quickly cancelling dates with other people and pulling their online dating profiles.

Sharing a love of history, Justin, founding director of of Code & Supply, and Jackie, marketing and education associate at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, spend their dates going to museums, local archives and antique shopping. He’s the expert in local Pittsburgh history and how the city has grown. She’s more of a generalist, but also collects old books, especially etiquette books and those about domestic topics.

Jackie, who moved to Pittsburgh from Florida in 2013, said she was already falling in love with the history and culture of the city when she met Justin, but to fall in love with someone from Pittsburgh who also loves the city is a real testament to the city.

For Justin, who grew up in McKeesport, showing the city to Jackie is a way to appreciate the things that aren’t in other cities, like fish fry dinners.

“It’s fun to show off Pittsburgh,” he said.

When it comes to work: The key is keeping each other calm, they said.

Of the two, Justin has spent more time in the workforce since he didn’t go to graduate school and said he’s able to talk with Jackie about what to expect at work and to point out opportunities that will help her flourish in her career.

For Jackie, it’s about providing moral support and other support to Justin as he runs his own business. Helping each other keep our heads is a good way to sum it up, she said.

Want some more? Explore other Who’s Next stories.