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:: By Jenny Fisher, ’07

:: Photography by Dan Dry

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Chicago Journal ::

College Report

It’s a family affair

photo: Landback siblings Josie, Patrick, and Matt hang out in the Classics Café.
Landback siblings Josie, Patrick, and Matt hang out in the Classics Café.

Benjamin Landback is a bit of a rebel in his family. A freshman at Magdalen College in New Hampshire, he’s the only one of four siblings not to attend the U of C. When asked whether Benjamin ever considered Chicago, Patrick, ’07, Josie, ’07, and Matt, ’09, laugh. “Not even as a joke,” says Josie. Chicago just wasn’t right for him.

Matt is the tallest Landback, and he and Patrick share the same light brown hair. Josie has darker hair and the same smile as her brothers. Twins Patrick and Josie graduated from public high school in Wichita Falls, Texas. Matt finished up in Connecticut after parents Robert and Sally moved the family outside New Haven because Robert, an Episcopal priest, changed parishes. Sally works as a business lawyer downtown.

While they lived in Wichita Falls, Patrick received brochures from Chicago. After looking them over, even their parents—Robert went to Dartmouth, Sally to Mount Holyoke—thought, “Man, I want to go to school here,” Patrick says in an interview with the three siblings. “I never got anything from the U of C,” notes Josie, but Patrick’s brochures “looked good.” Patrick interjects, “Well, there’s a funny story about how we both wound up here.” They each applied early action. Josie got in; Patrick didn’t. He spent his first year at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, then applied to transfer to Chicago. Josie, he says, “was getting the college experience I knew I wanted.”

Soon Matt was being primed for Chicago. “Josephine would call and say, ‘Oh Matt, Matt, this place would be perfect for you,’” he remembers. “I’ve been hearing about U of C since I was a junior in high school.” Patrick offers, “Sorry!”

While their parents also were excited about Chicago, they find the tuition check less thrilling. At the 2005 parents weekend Robert met then-President Don Randel. He was disappointed, quips Patrick, that Randel didn’t roll out the red carpet. Yet as Josie recalls, Randel did say, “I should be shaking your hand.”

Although the University doesn’t keep track of siblings on campus together, administrators note that sets of two aren’t so rare, but three is relatively unusual. The Landbacks, however, are currently matched in numbers by at least one other College family: the Zainulbhais. Daniel, ’07, Tameem, ’07, and Shezaad, ’10, all attend the College; older brother Azeem graduated in 2004.

For their part, the Landbacks find Chicago big enough to give them separate experiences. While the siblings all did theater in high school, for example, at Chicago they’ve managed to differentiate themselves—somewhat. Last year Matt joined the Motet Choir, a 30–40 person group known for its performances of Renaissance and Baroque music. He also has done four shows with University Theater (UT). Josie did Motet and UT—but before Matt arrived. Now, she says, she spends her time outside classes working on her senior paper on Japanese art. Patrick is president of the Judo Club. “I picked exercise,” he jokes.

Patrick studies biology and has applied to doctoral programs in evolutionary genetics. Josie majors in Interdisciplinary Studies in the Humanities, focusing on French and Japanese art and language. Specifically, she’s interested in Japanese influences on 19th-century French art. After graduation Josie hopes to get a PhD in Japanese art, although not immediately. Matt, meanwhile, lists a series of majors he’s still considering: “English, film studies, art history...” Interrupting, Patrick instructs, “Let’s just say something in the humanities.”

Occasionally their lives overlap. When Matt took Theories of Media, Patrick thought it sounded so interesting that he decided to sign up. In addition, Patrick says, he sees parallels between his and Josie’s majors. She studies art in context, he explains, while he studies ecology and evolution, which is essentially the study of genes in context. Josie adds, “One thing that’s similar is none of us have narrow interests.”

Their interests coincided in classes taught by associate professor of Slavic languages and literature Malynne Sternstein. Patrick took a class on Czech literature, while Matt took one on Czech surrealism. Sternstein is the head of Josie’s department, so Josie took her required class on critical theory. When Josie told Sternstein that she taught all three Landbacks, Sternstein exclaimed, “Wow, what a clan!”

Although Josie rolls her eyes when she tells the story, the Landbacks seem to enjoy their clan status. They have “funny ways,” Josie says, of letting people know they’re related. Patrick explains: “Usually we don’t tell people; we let them find out. Like, I’ll be walking with a friend and I’ll say, ‘Hi Matt,” and the friend will say, ‘Who’s Matt?’ ‘Oh, he’s my brother.’ Then, ‘Hi Josie.’ ‘Who’s Josie?’ ‘Oh, she’s my sister.’” They wind up sharing friends and acquaintances—like the crowd that joined them at their joint birthday party last March. Patrick and Josie were born March 3, while Matt’s birthday is March 11. Josie says they plan to make the birthday party “an annual tradition.” The siblings also get together almost every Sunday, when they gather for pancakes or waffles at Josie’s or Patrick’s apartment or in Matt’s room at the Shoreland, which has a kitchen this year. Matt realizes, “I guess I’ll have to start doing my share of the cooking.”