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I love a good love story and just had to share this one. My sweet cousin Ryan proposed on the fourth of July to the “love of his life.” This is their story. All photos by Dustin Barker.

The couple

Who: Ryan and Kelsey
Where: Currently living in Oxford, Mississippi but the proposal took place in St. Louis, Missouri
Occupations: Law student and student
Hometowns: Kelsey-Carson City, Nevada — Ryan-Centralia, Missouri

The proposal
So, despite not having a vehicle, I sunk everything I had to my name into a ring and a phenomenal vacation to St. Louis. 

When did you know about the engagement? How did you know it was the right time?

Ryan: I started planning for the engagement back in January. Kelsey’s twin’s boyfriend’s mother used to own and run a jewelry store, so I called her to scout out the diamond. She found what I was looking for in about three days. Once that was pieced together and paid for, I shifted my focus. I knew we’d both have the 4th of July off and that we both loved St. Louis, the city where we both truly and fully fell in love with one another one and a half years ago, so I started planning a 4th of July venture to St. Louis.

To distract Kelsey from my true intention, I organized 24 of our closest friends to get together at the suite of a Cardinals game on July 5th. Kelsey had no clue I was really organizing this to celebrate our engagement. So from my initial call for people to join us back in early February, I had to keep this plan from Kelsey for about five to six months. And, since I normally confide everything in Kelsey, I had to find others to confide in. I chose to tell basically everyone, so it’s amazing that it didn’t get back to Kelsey!

She’s truly the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. No one could complement me better. We have an old-fashioned love story.

I knew it was the right time because I’ve wanted to marry Kelsey since about the second date. She’s truly the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. No one could compliment me better. We truly have an old-fashioned love story. I knew once I made enough money, I was buying her a ring. Period. So, despite not having a vehicle, I sunk everything I had to my name into a ring and a phenomenal vacation to St. Louis.

Kelsey: I had no idea about the engagement until he got down on one knee. I think I knew he was the one within a week of meeting him, I was so nervous for our first date that I could barely eat all day! It was a few months into the relationship that I knew for sure that he was the one I would be spending the rest of my life with.

How long have you been dating? How did you meet?

We’ve been dating for almost two years. We met at The Grove during my first home football game as an Ole Miss law student. My first friend in law school and I planned a tailgate. His sister happened to be best friend’s with Kelsey. When I met Kelsey, she told me she was a journalism student. As a journalism grad, I realized we had a lot in common, so I got her number and told her we should hang out sometime. I didn’t even realize I was hitting on her or asking her on a date until we started texting.

Maybe it was the gin or maybe it was my own stupidity, but I didn’t fully realize how interesting Kelsey was until we started texting. Suddenly, our “let’s get together for a drink” turned into “let’s grab dinner at the nicest place in Oxford, grab a drink, share a quick peck and nervous butterflies, and then eventually get married.”

I always dreamed that I would have that fairy tale love that every girl dreams about and I found that with Ryan.

Kelsey:  One of my now bridesmaids, Mary, takes all the credit for our meeting. We have been friends for about 5 years now and her brother is in law school with Ryan. One Saturday at an Ole Miss football game, Mary and I went to the grove. She thought it would be a good idea to go to her brother’s law school tent, so we went. Turns out it was a great idea, because I met Ryan. We started talking about journalism which was both of our undergraduate degree and exchanged numbers. Mary saw the potential in the relationship before I did, but only by about a week. Ryan and I started texting and I found I never wanted our conversations to end. A week after we first met, he asked me out for a drink. Was this a date? I wasn’t quite sure until he added dinner to the mix. Then I knew. And I was NERVOUS!

Ryan and I started texting and I found I never wanted our conversations to end.

I was working at a jewelry store the day of our date and I didn’t eat a thing all day. I called my sister to get some advice and try and calm my nerves. He picked me up at my house and was a perfect gentleman. The date was the most perfect date and I didn’t want it to end. When it finally did end, he walked me back to the door, kissed me goodnight, and from then on, I knew he was special.

I always dreamed that I would have that fairy tale love that every girl dreams about and I found that with Ryan.

I always dreamed that I would have that fairy tale love that every girl dreams about and I found that with Ryan. He is my best friend and I truly believe that we were made for each other. He is kind, smart, completely selfless, extremely handsome, funny, caring and so much more. I am the luckiest girl in the world to be marrying this perfect man. I love him with all my heart can give.

Tell me about your engagement night? 

Ryan: It was really an engagement week. We went to St. Louis on Saturday with a checklist of the most important things to do while you’re in St. Louis. Up until Thursday, the night of the proposal, we went to Crown Candy, the Zoo (and we watched the sea lion show), the Missouri Botanical Gardens, The Hill, The Budweiser Tour, the Galleria and other stuff.

On Thursday, we woke up and went to the VP Fair Parade downtown. We then hightailed it to Grant’s Farm to pet the Clydesdales, feed goats, watch an elephant show, etc. After that, we checked into our hotel, and I thought my cover was blown. I had reserved the Westin back in January.

I dropped by the Westin two days before the 4th to see if they’d secure our spot. Little did Kelsey know, I also went in to tell the front desk that I was going to propose to my beautiful girlfriend on the 4th and would appreciate any special treatment they could give us. And boy did the Westin ever deliver. They secured our spot and upgraded us to one of the nicest suites in their hotel, a suite that looked directly out to the Arch and Busch Stadium. The room was immaculate too. It had a living room, dining room, master bedroom, two bathrooms, a walk-in shower, a massive bath tub, etc. It was like a high-scale loft. Not only that, they sent up bottle service with chocolate covered strawberries and pretzels. It was amazing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Luckily, she thought I was just that good that I was able to get us an upgrade by simply being nice. I appreciate her admiration for me.

When we checked into our hotel after Grant’s Farm, Kelsey walked in and her jaw dropped. I had just read an article in a magazine that I know Kelsey read too about how being nice to the hotel staff pays off, so I leveraged that. Luckily, she thought I was just that good that I was able to get us an upgrade by simply being nice. I appreciate her admiration for me.

We got ready for dinner at the first restaurant, Caleco’s, where I had taken her when we met in St. Louis over a year ago. We ordered a pizza and some caffeine, had a romantic-ish dinner, and then rushed over to the lawn in front of the Old Courthouse (where the Dred Scott decision was held) to secure a spot for the fireworks show. Since it was three hours before the show, I told her I wanted to listen to Trace Adkins perform. He took the stage at 8. As a side note, I had a runner’s utility belt strapped to my ankle to conceal the ring box… I wanted to wear shorts, but it was too noticeable when on my thigh.

I locked down our spot which gave us what I thought would be a perfect angle for a camera shot of the Arch, the fireworks, and the proposal. My buddy Dusty showed up around 8 to take photos. I told Kelsey he was there to take photos of the Arch and the fireworks as part of a project he was working on. Dusty set up behind us, told everyone what he was doing, and everyone was happy to help him out. The stage was set.

I’ll leave out the part here where I get stomach issues, rush to a local hotel to buy some Pepto-Bismol, and finally get settled in time for the the sun to set for the fireworks.

For over a year, I’ve been writing the same thing on Kelsey’s back and telling her it was a secret. After writing it on her back one last time, I asked her if she’d like to know what I had been writing. She said yes. I asked her to stand with me and helped her up. I looked into her eyes and said, ‘The past two years have been the best two years of my life. I love you so much, and…’ then everyone started clapping because they knew what was about to happen. I went on to say, ‘the thing I’ve been writing on your back is this,’ and then I dropped to one knee, pulled out the ring from my pocket and asked her, ‘Will you marry me?’

The firework show started and about five minutes into it, I began to execute my plan. I got the thumbs up from Dusty that his camera was adjusted to the light and I looked to Kelsey and began writing something on her back. For over a year, I’ve been writing the same thing on Kelsey’s back and telling her it was a secret.

After writing it on her back one last time, I asked her if she’d like to know what I had been writing. She said yes. I asked her to stand with me and helped her up. I looked into her eyes and said, “The past two years have been the best two years of my life. I love you so much, and…” then everyone started clapping because they knew what was about to happen. I went on to say, “the thing I’ve been writing on your back is this,” and then I dropped to one knee, pulled out the ring from my pocket and asked her, “Will you marry me?” I think she said yes, but I couldn’t tell. She began to ball instantly. Tears weren’t even rolling; they just dropped to ground as she waved her hand in my face. I placed the ring on her finger and hugged and kissed her.

That’s when cupid shot a heart into the sky as you can see from the picture.

When we sat down, she was hysterical. She kept crying and saying “Oh my gosh! I can’t believe this is real!” To be certain, I asked her, “Just to clarify, you did say yes, right?” She said yes and several “Oh my goshes”.

I don’t think I was nervous until I started to write on her back, but my stomach suggested otherwise. I just wanted it to be perfect because she’s perfect. She deserves the world, and I’m happy to be the guy who will always try to give her that.

She called her family to tell them I proposed as the firework show wrapped up. After the show, everyone came up to congratulate us. My brother and father came shortly thereafter. And then we walked over to meet our friends. Lastly, we walked back to the Westin, enjoyed the bottle service, and that’s where the story ends!

Kelsey: The engagement was a complete surprise. Of course we had been talking about getting married for quite awhile now, but neither of us has a lot of money so a proposal wasn’t even on my radar! Ryan had everything planned down to a science, but here is my perspective. We decided that it would be fun to re-create our first day in St. Louis by going to the first restaurant we ate at and spending the day downtown by the arch, which was the first place we visited. We also went to Grant’s Farm because I love animals!

We went to dinner, ordered the same thing we did the first time we went there, and then went in search of lawn seats to watch the fireworks. The spot we found was the perfect spot to watch the fireworks in front of the arch. Ryan convinced me to let his friend Dusty tag along telling me that he had been lonely at the lake all by himself (so of course I start to feel bad for him and didn’t want him to spend the fourth alone). I was a little bummed because I wanted the night be just the two of us, but Ryan convinced me that he would be wandering around taking pictures the whole night, which if you knew Dusty, wasn’t that weird.

I started crying immediately and have no idea what he was saying until he got down on one knee and opened the box.

So we are all set up to watch the fireworks and as they are starting Ryan starts writing something on my back with his finger. He had been doing this for months now, but he would never tell me what he was writing. When we was done he asked if I knew what is said and of course I said no. That is when he asked me to stand up and that’s when I knew. I started crying immediately and have no idea what he was saying until he got down on one knee and opened the box.

Then I stuck out my hand and nodded, I’m not sure I said the word yes but I knew the answer was YES! The ring is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen and perfect in every way. Everyone around was cheering and congratulating us but all I could do was look at him. I was and still am the happiest girl in the entire world. I called my sister and my parents, who had been waiting for the call and then we celebrated with friends and family who were also on stand by. When we got back to the hotel room, champagne and chocolate covered strawberries were delivered to the the future, Mr. and Mrs. Pulkrabek.

Wedding plans and where to live

Our plans are to get married in July of next year in St. Louis. We will likely live in St. Louis but are going to go wherever the job takes us so long as it’s north of I-70. After a week like that, it’ll be hard to go anywhere other than St. Louis.

I hope that every girl in the world can find the love that I have with Ryan. It is something so rare and so amazing that it is hard to describe unless you know the feeling. I love him so so much and I cannot wait to marry the man of my dreams and spend the rest of our lives together.  -Kelsey