Matt & Dena Burkhart stand with their children, Cole, Ava and Logan, above Don Thomas Stadium at the Exeter Township Senior High school.
Matt & Dena Burkhart stand by the lockers where they initially met at the Junior High.
In the fall of 1995 at Exeter Township Junior High, seventh graders Matthew Burkhart and Dena Caldwell met on the first day of school when their alphabetically-ordered last names caused their lockers to be placed opportunely next to each other. Over the course of the next few days, a young Matt and Dena became friends. And soon afterwards, a couple. And despite the lack of longevity in young romances, Matt and Dena defied all odds as they continued to date through junior high, and then high school. By the time they reached their senior year, they were selected to be on prom court together, and their classmates bestowed the adorable title of “cutest couple” to them in their yearbook (incidentally, it’s a title that we’re sure they’d still earn today).
After their 2001 graduation from Exeter, Matt chose to pursue a baseball scholarship at Tusculum University in Tennessee. Dena stayed closer to home to study at Lebanon Valley College. After a year, Matt decided to move closer to home to study education and play baseball at DeSales University. As Dena was finishing up her post-baccalaureate work and student teaching, Matt proposed, presenting Dena with a ring and a desk plaque that said “Mrs. Burkhart” that still sits on the corner of her desk today. They married a year and a half later.
Today, 28 years after the day they met in the hallway of Exeter Township Junior High, it seems no accident that Matt and Dena both love to teach history. After all, they share so much of it together in the same buildings and the same classrooms where they now inspire the next generation of Eagles. The Exeter community is so much a part of their love story, too: Despite initially getting teaching jobs in other districts, both Matt and Dena jumped on teaching opportunities to return to Exeter where they once met and dated. And despite buying their “forever” home in Douglassville, Dena says that when it came time for her three kids–Ava (grade 6), Logan (grade 4) and Cole (kindergarten)–to attend school, she couldn’t envision them not attending the same schools where their young relationship first began. “Matt looked at me one night in our old house and was like, ‘We can stay in Daniel Boone, or you can put a for sale sign out.’ So we put our house on the market and sold it in six days and moved to Exeter.”
Dena continues, “There are just so many opportunities here in Exeter that we couldn’t imagine not raising our kids here. The teachers that are here–yes, we know them since we work with them–but we see that dedication and the special connections they have with students and we know they'll go that extra distance for students here. It’s the extracurricular clubs, the sports, the educational opportunities such as AP and Honors programs… What we have here and what opportunities we had ourselves as kids was a huge reason we decided we wanted to raise our family here,” she says. “We love Exeter–we really do.”