A love of bones – along with a fatefully timed date to see "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" – sparked a match for one of UT Knoxville’s best-known couples.
In the years since Lee Meadows Jantz signed up for her first anthropology class and Richard Jantz helped establish the university’s department, the team has become internationally recognized in forensic anthropology, a field in which the campus has become an unquestioned global leader.
Richard came to UT in 1971, joining the faculty with Bill Bass, who took charge of a department with just four faculty members. The two laid the groundwork for the department’s expansion – but not without effort.
Strange as it may seem now, the early years of the anthropology program required a salesman’s touch to attract students.
"Apart from us old guys," said Richard, "no one would believe we had to beat the bushes to get students to come here."
In spite of the work to draw top students from around the country, it was a homegrown student and Knoxville native named Lee Meadows who would have the most impact on Richard in the years to come.
Lee, who started at UT Knoxville in 1982, entered as a business major but was tripped up by the vagaries of an accounting class.
"It became very clear that I was not going to be a fit for the business world," she said.
When a friend signed up for a course in the anthropology department – osteology, to be exact – Lee decided to try it, too. Within days, she knew that anthropology and the study of bones would be her calling.
After completing her bachelor’s degree, Lee stayed on in the graduate program, earning an assistantship, and over the course of her studies building friendships with faculty members.
When Richard’s first wife died in 1988, it was only natural that Lee and a classmate tried to help the professor – who had been spending most of his time at home – move past his grief. They took him out often, even to a showing of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show."
As they spent more time together, their relationship grew. In 1990, the two were married at the Faculty Club. Shortly after, they left for a year in Germany while Richard was on a Humboldt Fellowship.
"Spending a year traveling together was a great thing for us," said Lee. "The chance to share that experience meant a lot."
In the time since, the two have overseen the growth of the Forensic Anthropology Center into a globally respected research group.
Together, Richard and Lee have two children, Lexi, 15, and Mariana, 13. The Jantz family includes a total of seven children.
Lee reports that Lexi and Mariana have asked to visit the "Body Farm." "But not until they’re older," Lee said. "I did take them on a forensic case this New Years eve, though. They helped me find and recover skeletal remains."
The future continues to look bright for the pair, and they plan to call Knoxville home for a long time to come. "I may eventually acquire enough sense to retire," said Richard. Lee added, "After this many years in Knoxville, it’s obvious that I like it here."
Both Richard and Lee Jantz plan to follow through on their lives’ work when they die. They plan to donate their bodies to UT to continue the work of the Forensic Anthropology Center.