Those in love finding creative ways to pop the question.
It's one of life's game-changing questions: “Will you marry me.”
And it is being posed in many creative ways — not just in February, the month of love and Valentine's Day — but throughout the year by those looking to solidify a romantic connection.
ApoteoSurprise, a French company specializing in planning spectacular marriage proposals in Paris (www.proposeinparis.com), is touting the fact that it is has arranged for a 35-year-old French man to be the first to propose to his girlfriend in outer space on Feb. 14.
But Pittsburgh-area romantics feel they have their own out-of-this-world stories to share about popping The Big Question:
INTERSECTING: Hayley Markoff Hinkle and Tim Hinkle
It was Christmas Eve 2011, when Tim Hinkle asked his girlfriend, Hayley Markoff, to meet him at the intersection of Venango Avenue and Union Street in Munhall because he said he had a gift for her that he couldn't wrap.
Markoff had no idea what was happening, though she was very aware this was a special place for the couple.
She lived her entire life on Venango Avenue and he on Union Street. Though they only resided about 100 yards from each other, as the crow flies, they did not become aware of each other until they met six months before on the South Side and fell in love.
“I really liked the idea of being right in the middle of where both of our childhood streets intersected and where we had first met for our unofficial date at the same time. It is just a special place that has significant meaning to both of us, even though it is just an intersection,” Hinkle says.
On that Dec. 24, he exited the car with a rose for Markoff. She thanked him, assuming that the flower was what could not be wrapped. At 11:58 p.m., he took her hand and escorted her to the middle of the intersection.
When she asked what was happening, Hinkle said, “This is cool, look, it's like being on top of the world, it's our intersection. You know I love you more than anything, right?”
As midnight arrived, he got down on his knee, pulled a ring box out of his pocket, looked up at her and said, “If you'll have me, will you marry me?”
“The night I met Hayley for the first time, it was right around midnight. I thought it would be cool and romantic to get engaged at the same time that we had met each other,” Hinkle says.
The ring box had a small bright light inside that lit the sparkling colors of the diamonds. After Markoff's acceptance, hugs, kisses and a little crying followed, the couple did a “victory lap,” Hinkle says. Stopping at her parents' house, they were greeted with a champagne toast. Then, they went down the street to his mom's house to celebrate with her.
“The whole experience only lasted maybe 10 minutes, but it seemed as though time had stopped and that the two of us were the only people that existed. It was an experience that neither of us will forget,” Hinkle says.
The theme of the Port Vue couple's wedding Oct. 7, 2012, was “Intersections,” symbolized by a Venango Avenue/Union Street sign that Hinkle constructed expressly for the reception.
“When I tell people the story of Tim's proposal, they think it is so sweet, romantic and unique. It truly catches our personalities,” Hayley Hinkle says. “I think that most men are looking for ways to propose that are creative but very special to that couple. I would have been happy with any way that he proposed to me. I was just so happy to know I will be spending the rest of my life with him.”
AIRPORT SURPRISE: Brian Higginbotham and Danielle Mongelluzzo
Exhausted from traveling all day, Danielle Mongelluzzo stepped off her late-night flight last September in Pittsburgh into a surprise.
Instead of seeing her father, who was supposed to pick her up, her boyfriend Brian Higginbotham, 28, of Greensburg, was there holding a sign, limo-driver style, bearing her first and last name.
As she drew closer, Higginbotham, a seventh-grade social-studies teacher and volleyball coach at Greensburg Salem Middle School, flipped the sign around to read, “Will you marry me?”
“I was immediately taken back,” say Mongelluzzo, 25 of Delmont. “When he got down on one knee, I instantly ran over to him and got down on my knees to hug him. I asked him if this was a joke.”
Then, she glanced over and saw his sister, Leeann Higginbotham of Greensburg, who had been hiding behind a pillar, recording the scene with her phone. When her boyfriend assured her this definitely was not a joke, she said, “Yes! Yes! I will.”
They had been dating eight months and plan a 2014 wedding.
“I was excited, overwhelmed, nervous and shocked. I was honestly not expecting for him to propose anytime soon. I knew that he was the one I wanted to marry, but was not sure of when it would actually happen,” Mongelluzzo says.
“I absolutely love the way he proposed and how creative he was,” she says. “His proposal was one of a kind, and the fact there is a video is truly amazing and makes it that much more memorable, something we can cherish forever.”
PROPOSAL IN CYBERSPACE: Claudeen Crooks Perkins and Babatunde Ijeboi
Claudeen Crooks Perkins isn't afraid to admit it.
“I like the thrill of things out of the normal. I always gravitate to things not typical,” says the New Kensington resident who came to the United States from her native Jamaica in 2005.
This time, it is life-changing.
She is traveling to Great Britain next month to finally meet in person and marry the man who proposed to her via Skype: Nigerian native Babatunde Ijeboi, a researcher in Sheffield, England, who plans to move to Canada to pursue his doctorate in psychology.
They first met through a dating site in November 2011 and have had daily in-depth, get-to-know-you discussions on Skype since, sometimes spending several hours a day video chatting.
“One of the most attractive things I found about him is his Christian moral standards. We share similar values,” Perkins, 31, says of her fiance, 42.
She already has met and developed a close relationship with his mother and family, making several trips to Philadelphia, where they reside.
“They just accepted me like they have known me for three or four years,” says Perkins, a nursing assistant.
When he typed those four little words, “Will you marry me?” during one Skype session, she immediately responded by typing three of her own, “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“Typing while video chatting is a part of how we communicate even now. We often use it to express our most inner feelings for each other,” she explains.
“These are very unique circumstances, but also exciting. We have gotten to know each other so deeply. It is typically hard to explain to people. They can't understand. He's a gentleman, and we made a connection.”
It will be the second marriage for both. DeShae Perkins, 6, her daughter from her first marriage, has grown very close to him, too, she says, via Skype and is excited about the marriage
The couple will be married in the U.K. on April 27. “I will stay in the U.K. for a while, and we will be living all over the place at first,” she says.
Though she has never met him beyond cyberspace, Perkins insists, “I already know him,” perhaps moreedeeply than some couples who have been dating in person, because of the self-described “Skype life” they have lived in their hundreds of hours together online.
HE DOES BRING HER FLOWERS: Art and Frances Kramer
Art Kramer doesn't recall being nervous as he made plans 65 years ago to ask his high-school sweetheart Frances to marry him.
“I was pretty sure she was going to say ‘Yes.' We were really in love, just got along great and still do,” the Franklin Township resident recalls.
After all, she had been waiting for him for three years as he went off to World War II.
When he returned at 21, it was time for the former artilleryman, who grew up on an Ohio flower farm, to turn his sights again on his girlfriend.
So, he fashioned an orchid corsage, tucked a surprise in it, and came calling.
“He was taking me out to a special restaurant, which was a big deal back then,” Frances says. “He handed me the corsage. We were going to put it on, and I saw a ring in the middle of it.”
Art, who, like his wife, is 86, does not remember if he went down on one knee as he asked her to be his bride. And, after all these years, Frances doesn't recall how quickly she responded in the affirmative. So, she asks her husband, the father of their four sons, “Art, did I say ‘yes' immediately?” Both believe that she probably did.
Frances Kramer is certain of one thing: “He still brings me flowers.”
TYLER, STEPHANIE AND STANLEY THE PENGUIN: Tyler McGuigan and Stephanie Nihart
Stanley the penguin was excited, but not as much as Tyler McGuigan and Stephanie Nihart.
Moments earlier on June 7, 2011, McGuigan, 23, had dropped to one knee, asking Nihart, 22, to marry him, as the National Aviary penguin swam behind them. Now they all were off for another photo op, with Stanley seeming to beam while standing on a table, but this time Nihart had a ring on her finger.
“It's something I will always remember, and I love telling the story, but my answer wouldn't have changed no matter where Tyler asked,” she says.
The Wilkins couple, who will marry in June, met four years ago as members of the Indiana University of Pennsylvania marching band. She is a preschool teacher in Braddock, and he is a travel agent in Plum.
Penguins are her favorite animal. “I always wanted to pet a penguin, so it was pretty special that he incorporated something I really wanted to do,” Nihart says. “My reaction, of course, was to say ‘YES!' I'd known for quite a while he was the one.”
McGuigan says he wanted to do something different “and a little more creative,” which is why he arranged for the penguin meet-and-greet at the North Side aviary.
More men are asking to pop the question in front of the penguins, so the aviary makes special arrangements, beyond the regular penguin encounters, to accommodate them.
“When we visit now, I always find Stan and put my ring on the glass, and he follows it,” Nihart says. “I like to think he remembers us and our special day.”
A PAGE OUT OF THE NOTEBOOK: Kelsey Weightman and Tim Wolf
Tim Wolf of South Park took a page right out of “The Notebook” for his proposal to Kelsey Weightman of Jeannette in August 2012.
“He planned the whole thing, from a romantic vacation destination to visiting a historic plantation to propose and topped it off with choosing a gorgeous ring. It was so special because it was not only sentimental, but offered a unique story and location with fabulous photo ops,” Weightman says.
After secretly selecting a ring and inviting Weightman to join him and his family on their beach vacation in South Carolina, Wolf, a first-grade teacher, put his plan into action.
Having earlier researched details of the making of “The Notebook,” the first movie the couple saw together, Wolf made arrangements for a guided tour for everyone of the mansion at Boone Hall Plantation, Mt. Pleasant, S.C., where some of the scenes were filmed.
“The front of the plantation home is surrounded by lovely gardens, and it was in those gardens that my fiancé got down on one knee and asked me to marry him in front of his family and family friends (who remained at a respectful distance),” Weightman says. The couple then moved to a private spot under a willow tree to talk alone as relatives took photographs from out of hearing range.
“I wanted pictures from the engagement because it is such an important moment in our lives. They will be used at our wedding (planned for June 2014), hung in our future home, and, hopefully, shown to our future children,” Wolf says.
Weightman admits that she became “a little suspicious” during the tour that something was about to take place, “so I wasn't exactly shocked.”
“It was more of a ‘Is this really happening?' moment. I was taking everything in. I kissed him, and then said, ‘Yes.' ”
Wolf, 24, believes that most people who know him are not surprised how he chose to ask Weightman, 23, to marry him.
“I lost my father at a young age, and it has made me appreciate things differently than most people,” he says. “He would always tell me to make memories that last a lifetime. I feel that is all I tried to do.”
35 PEOPLE WITH A SECRET: Maisie Miller and Preston Saxton
Of the 35 or so people witnessing the engagement this past December at PPG Place, only one of them wasn't in on the secret: Maisie Miller.
She had to wait for her boyfriend, Preston Saxton, to pop the question on a rainy, windy night that turned beautiful for everyone when she said “Yes.”
The Knoch High School graduates, now Cranberry residents completing their studies at Robert Morris University, have known each other since sixth grade.
In a logistical triumph, Saxton, 23, made arrangements to have their families and friends ushered into a nearby building to watch without Miller, 22, knowing about it as he knelt on the wet concrete outside of the ice rink.
When they saw her accept his ring, they came cheering out of the lobby to offer congratulations as a photographer Saxton hired to shoot paparazzi-style stepped out of hiding and snapped away.
“I think that it was so awesome that he kept the actual proposal part still very private and intimate, but that all our friends and family were still able to watch and then come out and surprise me afterwards,” she says.
Saxton acknowledges it was difficult because he had to keep it all hush-hush for about a month.
“Maisie and I went up to New York City on the weekend before, and I was thinking about asking her then,” he says. “However, I thought that it would be clever to wait because she would be expecting me to ask at Rockefeller Center. I figured she would be truly surprised when I did ask the following week.”
A PRESENT FOR LIFE: Ryan Cooper and Danielle Rectenwald
The clock struck midnight this past Dec. 21, and the crew at the Rink at PPG Place cleared everyone off the ice, except for Ryan Cooper and Danielle Rectenwald.
That's when Cooper, 25, sensed that his girlfriend, 23, was becoming suspicious, and with good reason, as he skated into action and asked her to be his wife.
The moment capped a well-orchestrated two weeks of planning for Cooper, including special arrangements made with the rink crew, his mother, Rita Cooper of Greensburg, and friends in Cheswick where the couple reside.
“We'd been dating since high school, so I'm sure she knew it would eventually happen, and, yet, I still wanted to make it a surprise, which is why I decided to propose on my birthday — a day she would least expect it,” he says.
About 11:30 p.m., a skate guard delivered Rectenwald a rose, saying, “Danielle, this is for you.”
“I was confused, and Ryan acted like he had no idea where it came from,” she says. “After midnight, he got down on one knee and pulled out a beautiful, sparkling diamond ring and asked me to marry him.”
The crowd who gathered to watch burst into applause.
“It was a very romantic moment. The snow falling down on us made this proposal very magical for me. It was everything I ever wanted in a proposal,” she says.
She believes that more men like her fiance, who is astronomy and earth science teacher at Freeport High School and the freshmen hockey team coach, want their ladies to remember this moment forever and tell their children about it someday.
“They want to show us how much we mean to them,” she says.
The Hempfield High graduates plan to marry in 2014 in the chapel at Duquesne University, where Rectenwald graduated last year.
“I couldn't think of a better birthday gift than for Danielle to say ‘yes,' ” Cooper says.