Ten minutes before he was going to propose to his girlfriend, Ben Stone was standing alone in the middle of a stage in a darkened auditorium.
And he was still taking care of details. A sound check. Lights up, then down. He’d even rehearsed the proposal with a friend on stage.
And then it got quiet. She was in the building.
Jessica Bockman ’13 was walking through Bone Student Center with a friend for dinner at McAlister’s Deli on July 31. Bone Marketing Coordinator Erin Watts ’05 walked up and asked if they’d take a survey in Braden Auditorium, offering them a Fear the Bird blanket for their time.
Jessica said sure, and followed her onto the stage. Watts said she didn’t know what was going on with the lights so she walked off the stage. That’s when the lights came on and a song started to play. Jessica dropped her purse. She recognized the song, one Ben wrote for her. He walked on stage, took her in his arms and they started to dance. At the end of the song, he dropped to one knee, pulled out a ring and asked her to marry him.
“He said Braden was the place he fell in love with me,” Jessica said, a few minutes after she accepted. “I was kind of speechless. I got a ring, a Redbird blanket and a fiancée. How cool is that?” she said, laughing.
The two met in August 2012 outside Braden after a performance by Fuel, a campus ministry they belonged to. Ben and a friend were talking to Jessica until one of her girlfriends walked up and she ended the conversation abruptly, which he thought was a bit rude. But then things changed.
“She gave a very warm and loving hello to the other girl. I looked into her eyes, following her as she left our conversation and I saw this sparkle. When I saw that, something in me flipped. All of a sudden I was enamored by this girl. That’s why I wanted to bring her back to Braden. That’s where it all started.”
About a month later he noticed on her Facebook status that she was bored, so he offered to teach her how to play the guitar. She accepted and a friendship unfolded.
“That whole winter we spent building our friendship, learning guitar, getting to know each other. But we weren’t best friends by any means,” he said.
But by the following summer, they started dating.
Both have degrees in communication studies. Ben graduated in 2011 from Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa, and works in admissions for Heartland Community College. Jessica works for Central Illinois Orthopedic Surgery.
Although they’d talked about getting married, he wanted to surprise her with the proposal and got the idea for the location after reading a STATEside story about Redbird weddings. He also wanted a campus tie because that’s where it all began, and they walked through the Quad on their first date.
Friends call him a romantic, but he disagrees.
“I don’t think I’m the most romantic guy in the world. I don’t always put candles on the table. But whatever I do, I just like putting my heart into it.”
He also didn’t want the proposal to be over-the-top.
“We both talked about that. Sometimes in our culture people put more emphasis on the proposal than being engaged. We wanted to make sure our priorities were in the right place. The proposal is a cool thing but being engaged to be married is a better thing.”
Check out video from the surprise proposal (skip to the 1:30 mark):
Kate Arthur can be reached at kaarthu@IllinoisState.edu.