SLO County residents share their unique marriage proposal stories

Jodie Steele and Jim Dorf got engaged on a tram ride in New York City and later married in Times Square.
Jodie Steele and Jim Dorf got engaged on a tram ride in New York City and later married in Times Square.

While on patrol in Kabul, Afghanistan, last June, Diana Flatley looked into the night sky and saw an AC-130 gunship that bore asecret message for her. Because she was wearing night vision goggles, she could read the hidden note, written in phosphorescent paint, on the plane’s side: “Diana I Love You,” it read. “Marry Me?” One of her Army buddies then quickly led her to a computer at the base, which was displaying the face of her boyfriend, Robert Anderson, who was online at his computer in San Luis Obispo. Surrounded by her unit, the still-shocked Flatley happily gave her answer, via Skype. “Yes, you son of a b----!” she yelled.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, we thought it’d be interesting to hear how some local couples became engaged. So we asked readers to share their proposal stories. Some of them used creative approaches. Others became engaged in unusual or exotic places. And several had interesting stories about how they met.

Outside the box

Anderson wanted to be creative when he proposed, but because he was more than 7,500 miles from his girlfriend, he needed help.

The two had met at a bar in Kansas, where Anderson was visiting relatives and Flatley was stationed at the time.

“She seemed really cool,” Anderson said. “She’s also gorgeous.”

During their three-hour conversation, he discovered that Flatley was coincidentally from San Luis Obispo. Anderson returned to California, but because they connected so well, he returned to Kansas twice to visit Flatley. Then she was sent to Afghanistan.

Still, Anderson knew she was the right one, so he decided to propose.

Having made friends with one of Flatley’s fellow soldiers that first night in Kansas, he asked the soldier for help. And the friend — whose name Anderson didn’t want to reveal for fear of getting him in trouble — enlisted help from a military pilot friend who performed patrols for his unit.

“They were taking a hell of a chance in doing that,” Anderson said.

Five minutes after the plane landed, the message was sandblasted off. And when Anderson and Flatley marry this summer, the soldier who helped brainstorm the proposal will be Anderson’s best man.

Anderson wasn’t the only reader with a creative proposal.

Last December, James Shelton was spelunking with his girlfriend, Kim Brown, at Moaning Caverns in Calaveras County when a guide led them to a cave room called Double Negative. At that point, the guide handed Shelton a geode that had come from a Brazilian volcano. Inside the geode, which Shelton then presented to Brown, was an engagement ring.

In 2003, Brendan Reitsma, of Arroyo Grande, took his girlfriend, Paula, to a sushi restaurant. When Paula opened her fortune cookie after the meal, it didn’t contain a fortune — it contained a proposal: “WILL YOU MARRY ME!”

The Reitsmas have been married for eight years.

Like Anderson, Erik Ernstrom needed help for his proposal. During a walk on the beach at Morro Bay, Ernstrom treated his nowwife Jenny to a picnic dinner as they watched the sun set. Then they walked down the beach, where two of Erik’s friends and a brother had dug three holes along a dune trail. Each of the three was buried in sand up to his neck, with a box placed over his head. As Jenny lifted each box, a man greeted her holding a different surprise — the first a box of candy, the second a dozen roses and the third an engagement ring.

A scenic backdrop

Several readers had stories of proposals in beautiful places.

Joyce and Larry Rabellino got engaged on a gondola in Venice, Italy. Paul Menconi gave Paula Vigneault a ring at a restaurant in Nepal. And Ryan Gray proposed to his girlfriend, Emilie Dufaure de Lajarte, while wearing a wetsuit on an island in Greenland.

In 1988, Larry Versaw proposed to his future wife, Arlene, at the same time as his buddy proposed to his girlfriend during a hiking trip to Death Valley. Both couples got married the next day in a double ceremony the guys had secretly planned for months.

Two readers got engaged in New York City: Matt Coward proposed to Tamera Fletcher 17 years ago at the top of the Empire State Building, and in 2003, Jim Dorf proposed to Jodie Steele on a tram traveling above the East River.

Dorf and Steele had frequently used the tram to get to a tennis court on Roosevelt Island, where they met. After two years of dating, Dorf, of New York, decided to propose to Steele, a San Luis Obispo native who went to grad school in New York. As they sat in the tram, the lit-up Manhattan skyline providing a romantic backdrop, Dorf placed an engagement ring that once belonged to his grandmother on her finger and said, “I want to marry you.”

“I said, ‘Oh my God!’ about 20 times,” Steele recalled. “And then I said, ‘Yes!’ ”

There were roughly 15 strangers on the tram, Steele said, but she’s not sure anyone even noticed.

The two married in Times Square seven and a half years ago and now live in San Luis Obispo.

How they met Jeannie and Greg Malik were engaged on a 19-foot boat while deep-sea fishing for salmon in Monterey Bay — which seems appropriate since they met in water.

In 2002, Jeannie was swimming her regular mile lap at the Kennedy Club Fitness pool in Atascadero when she first met Greg.

“He came up and said, ‘Can I share your lane?’ ”

When Jeannie was finished , the two chatted a bit. And a couple of weeks later, they met for lunch in Morro Bay.

After Greg asked her to marry him, the two wed at the Kennedy pool, where they enjoyed a cake decorated like a swimming pool, the bride and groom sharing a lane.

“We still share a lane,” Jeannie said.

Even after four previous marriages, Terry Adams, of Paso Robles, hadn’t given up on the notion of wedded bliss. But she also wasn’t rushing anything.

After meeting for coffee with 28 men she’d met through the dating site  , Adams, an interior designer originally from Beverly Hills, connected with Pete Melz, a physicist who lived in Hollister, through the site.

“We’d talk on the phone every other night for a couple of hours,” she said.

After five weeks, they finally met.

“We had lunch and have never really been apart since,” she said.

About eight years ago, the two were watching “The Sopranos” together when one of the actresses appeared in a negligee.

Melz said, “If you wear that negligee, I will marry you.”

Adams never found the right nightwear, but the two wed six weeks later — and they’ve now been married for eight years, twice as long as Adams’ longest previous marriage.

Déjà vu all over again

Linda Stratton of Pismo Beach actually had the same man propose to her twice — 38 years apart.

When she went to college in Hawaii, Stratton’s sweetheart from Arroyo Grande High School, Don Carnate, followed her to the islands. After she graduated, Carnate proposed. But later, seeing none of his friends were married, he changed his mind.

“If you can’t make up your mind, I’m going home,” Stratton told him. She moved back to the South County.

In the years that followed, they remained friends but married other people. Stratton was married for a couple of years, Carnate for 10, before each divorced.

Two years ago, Carnate, then living in Oregon, returned to San Luis Obispo County, supposedly to visit his mother. But he actually had another agenda — to meet his former fiancee.

“I let you go once, and I don’t want to let you go again,” he told her.

Later, Stratton visited Carnate in Oregon. And while at a restaurant there, Carnate proposed a second time.

This time, they set a date. And on Tuesday — Valentine’s Day — the wedding that never happened will finally take place.

“So I am marrying my high school sweetheart, my best friend,” Stratton wrote to The Tribune. “And he is my happily ever after.”

Related stories from San Luis Obispo Tribune