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Surest paths to ‘yes’

Sparks fly, galleries transform and sketches tell the story when locals pop the question.

Bryce Burton's proposal to Katie McCaffrey included an art gallery and roughly 20 framed photos of the two together. The couple is planning a wedding in May of 2013.

Adam Schwery and Andrea Kahlfeld were engaged in June and are planning to marry next year.

Ashley and Seth Koukol were married Sept. 20, 2011, in a Kansas City courthouse, two weeks after their engagement.

Blaise Cannon brought the fireworks when it was time to ask girlfriend Rachel Crabtree for her hand in marriage two years ago. The two were married on July 24, 2011.

After getting engaged in Orlando in October of 2010, Callista and Brandon Bond were married on Oct. 15, 2011.

Ink

As a matter of technicality, a marriage proposal is defined simply as “an offer of marriage.” But any man who’s spent even a smidgeon of time around the opposite sex will tell you that ain’t gonna cut it.

Somewhere along the way, the marriage proposal — and this is to say nothing of the actual wedding — has taken on a life of its own. These days, the proposal better be elaborate. It better be well thought-out. And it better knock her socks off.

When a woman informs her friends that she has just gotten engaged, after all, they don’t ask her how she’s feeling or what kind of wedding dress she’s planning on wearing or whether there’ll be an open bar at the reception.

They want to know how he proposed.

And in an apparent response to this expectation, the world’s male population has shown its ability to up the ante.

Take Oregon resident Isaac Lamb, who unknowingly raised the bar recently when a video of his elaborate proposal — a choreographed dance through the streets of Portland that included singing, dancing and Skype — went viral. The stunt landed him on NBC’s “Today” show and tugged at the heartstrings of countless women.

Not to be outdone, meanwhile, a New York City man recently orchestrated a massive flash mob, complete with marching band, in proposing to his girlfriend in a city park.

But is bigger always better?

Aren’t the most memorable proposals oftentimes the most original ones? The ones that break the mold and stray a bit from the norm?

With that in mind, we tracked down five unique stories from across the Kansas City area. They’re not all elaborate — most of them aren’t. But they’re all special and tinged with personal significance.

And, most important, they all proved successful.

Bryce Burton & Katie McCaffrey

Date night. Michael Smith’s restaurant. Crossroads Arts District.

During dinner, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Things had gone smoothly enough, and although Bryce Burton had passed on dessert following dinner — something he never does — there was no reason for Katie McCaffrey to suspect the night would end any differently than the countless other date nights the two had enjoyed over the years.

Even on the way out of the restaurant, when Bryce pointed out a flier for a special one-night gallery showing that night at the nearby Todd Weiner Gallery, there was nothing altogether odd about it.

Since the two met, art had represented a large part of their relationship. Avid attendees of the monthly First Friday events, the couple — both now 25 — spent plenty of evenings taking in the city’s various art showings and galleries.

“I’ve probably dragged Bryce to more art galleries than he would have liked,” Katie admits.

But by the time they arrived at the studio, it was apparent that something was amiss.

When they entered, music was playing and candles lined the gallery space. On the walls, there were no paintings or sculptures. Instead, they’d been decorated with framed black-and-white photos of Katie and Bryce — which Bryce and his family had planted earlier that day with the help of gallery owner Todd Weiner — with personal captions beneath each one.

Originally, Bryce had planned to take Katie around the gallery, stopping by each picture to reminisce a bit before actually popping the question. He’d put three days work into transforming the gallery into a makeshift shrine to the couple’s relationship, printing out about 20 photos for the elaborate display.

But there was a problem.

“I instantly started crying when we first walked in,” Katie says, “and I think he probably figured he had to do it pretty quickly.”

So that’s what he did.

“I wasn’t exactly sure when I was going to do it,” he said recently. “But the music was playing, and she was crying, and it felt right.”

So in the middle of the gallery, surrounded by photos and candles, he dropped to his knee and took out the ring.

“Most of it was a blur, to be honest with you,” Katie says. “But he said really nice things about how much he loved me and how much he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me.

“And then he proposed.”

Brandon & Callista Bond

To celebrate their five-year anniversary as a couple, Brandon Bond and Callista Gredys decided to take a trip to Orlando, the same place they’d spent their one-year anniversary. From the start, Callista, a noted planner, began mapping out their week: Disney World, Sea World, outlet malls, an evening at a dinner theater.

Brandon’s only request was that they spend at least one evening at the beach, which they hadn’t been able to do on their first trip.

They spent Wednesday, their actual anniversary, at Disney World, bouncing from attraction to attraction from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., and on Thursday, after sleeping in and playing a little tennis, they headed to Cocoa Beach, a relatively secluded spot on Florida’s eastern coast.

When they arrived, the sun was beginning to set.

The two had met in art school in 2004 and had taken turns sketching each other during art classes and on early dates, so it wasn’t all that surprising when Brandon, now 30, asked if she wanted to spend some time sketching near the water.

He grabbed a couple of sketch pads from the car, and they took a seat near the water, spending the next 15 or 20 minutes quietly working on portraits of each other.

When they finished, they agreed to take turns revealing their work.

“You go first,” he said.

Callista, 27, flipped her sketchbook over, and he laughed at her rendition of him as a pirate.

Then he asked her to stand up and close her eyes before showing his sketch. A bit suspicious, she stood, and when he had handed her his book and she opened her eyes, she saw a sketch of a man and a woman on a beach. The man was down on one knee, holding something small in his hand. The woman was standing, with a look of shock on her face, her hand up to her mouth in surprise.

Confused, she lowered the picture and found Brandon on one knee, holding a small box.

“Callie,” he said, “would you do me the honor of being my wife?”

She’s not sure how long she stood there. She knows she started crying, because she could feel the tears rolling down her cheeks. And she knows that it was the happiest she’s ever felt, a feeling she’d later describe as “so passionately content.”

It wasn’t until Brandon spoke, though, that she snapped out of her daze and realized that she’d sort of left him hanging.

“So,” he asked, after a lengthy pause, “are you going to say yes?”

Seth & Ashley Koukol

They met on MySpace, a couple of strangers with not much more in common than a ZIP code. He wrote her a cheesy pickup line — “Is that your natural hair color?” Seth Koukol inquired about a black-and-white photo — and Ashley Davis bit.

They dated for almost four years, fell in love, but while both were ready for marriage, there were a couple of holdups. For one thing, money was a concern. For another, Seth had felt pressure to propose in a previous relationship, and the experience turned him off to the pageantry of it all.

“There’s so much emphasis on doing such a grand proposal and wedding and all that,” he says.

Which is why maybe what happened that night last September couldn’t have worked out any more perfectly.

After work, Ashley, now 25, stopped to pick up dinner at a restaurant across the street. While waiting for her food, she started talking to the bartender — who knew Ashley and Seth — and he asked her if she and Seth were married. She responded that they didn’t exactly have the money to marry.

“Getting married is like having a baby,” the bartender responded. “You can never really afford them.”

She thought about that the rest of the night, and after dinner, as she and Seth, 30, were getting ready for bed, she turned to him and, well, popped the question:

“If it weren’t for money, would you wanna get married?”

His response?

“He squealed like a girl,” Ashley says. “ ‘Yes!’ ”

And that was that. They chatted about some of the details, decided where to have the ceremony (a Kansas City-area courthouse) and who to tell beforehand (almost no one). It was a proposal without all the bells and whistles — simply two adults making a decision, free of the hoopla.

Two weeks later, in September of 2011, they headed down to the courthouse , tied the knot and then celebrated at nearby Grinders in the Crossroads Arts District, where they’d had their first date 31/2 years earlier.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering whether Ashley feels she missed out on that elaborate, romantic proposal that many women long for, the answer is an emphatic no.

“I love our story,” she says. “Not the typical, romantic frou-frou crap, but honest and real.”

Blaise Cannon & Rachel Crabtree

The first time they went out, sparks flew.

Literally.

This was five years ago. Blaise Cannon and Rachel Crabtree’s first date. They started with dinner at Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop — she had to drive because he had a cast on his right foot — and after dinner, they drove to each other’s favorite places around Kansas City, eventually ending up on a bench at Loose Park.

They sat talking about this and that, getting acquainted, and after about 20 minutes, fireworks began going off in the distance. It wasn’t a holiday — it was October, in fact — so the pyrotechnic display was a bit strange. But Blaise, now 23, took the opportunity to joke that he’d planned the whole thing out.

She laughed.

Three years later, to the day. Third anniversary of their first date. They had dinner at Extra Virgin — he drove this time — and after dinner, they revisited a number of their favorite places around Kansas City, eventually ending up on the same bench at Loose Park.

They sat talking about this and that, reminiscing about the past three years, and then he told her he didn’t have anything else planned for the night.

Rachel, 25, looked dismayed. She said she wasn’t ready to go home. He said he had an idea.

They drove to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the place they’d first met through a mutual friend, and walked onto the front lawn. He had a bottle of sparkling wine. He told her there was no grand fireworks display this time around but produced some sparklers instead. He knelt down to grab a lighter, except he came back with a ring.

He went through his schpeel.

She cried. And laughed. And said yes.

To celebrate, they lit the sparklers, and moments later, fireworks filled the sky, courtesy of some friends nearby who were waiting for the right moment to let ’em rip.

Her jaw dropped.

“This time,” he said, “I had planned it.”

Adam Schwery & Andrea Kahlfeldt

Sometimes marriage proposals go as smoothly as a man could possibly hope, everything falling perfectly into place.

And sometimes they go the way Adam Schwery’s went.

As a birthday gift for girlfriend Andrea Kahlfeldt in June, he planned a three-day trip to Chicago during which he planned to ask for her hand in marriage.

Their first night in town, they went to see Aziz Ansari do stand-up, which sounds like an enjoyable enough way to spend an evening. Except that on this particular night, he happened to spend a 25-minute segment on how important marriage proposals are to women, sending an already nervous Adam into even more distress.

“Naturally,” says Adam, 29, “I’m sweating bullets at this point.”

The next day, things didn’t get a whole lot better.

He needed them to be at Millennium Park at exactly 4 p.m. — he kept the reason a secret, telling her there was an outdoor concert there he wanted to see — and so he was working on a very precise schedule. One that immediately began to fall apart.

A projected hour-and-a-half stop for pizza at Gino’s East ended up taking two hours and 20 minutes. The traffic from the restaurant to Shedd Aquarium, which Andrea, 25, wanted to see, was a nightmare thanks to the Skrillex dubstep festival that was happening at nearby Soldier Field. And the line to get into the aquarium was so long that Adam had to shell out some money for express tickets just to get them in the door. (He had to rush her through the exhibits to get her to the park in time.)

Adding to the stress, it was 94 degrees that day in Chicago, prompting Andrea to ask on the walk to the park whether they might not hold hands.

But like any dedicated man, Adam persevered. He got his girlfriend to the right spot at the right time (barely), waited (unsuccessfully) for the perfect moment to open up, and then decided to just go for it, dropping to one knee and asking her to spend the rest of her life with him.

“I kind of sensed him getting down on one knee,” Andrea says. “And I was like ‘Oh, my gosh!’ ”

Oh, and the coolest part? He’d hired someone to capture the whole thing in real time, so as he was popping the question, a photographer was snapping away from a hidden spot nearby, documenting the entire proposal and then hanging around to take some post-engagement photos in the park.

In a fitting end to the day, meanwhile, Zombie March Chicago happened to be going on at Millennium Park, which meant hundreds of costumed dead were stalking the park in the middle of all this.

Says Adam: “Keeping our (pictures) zombie-free was no easy task.”

To reach Dugan Arnett, call 816.234.4039 or send email to dugan@inkkc.com.

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