Eric Vangsness and Hannah Kerr will marry July 19, 2014, in Decorah; Eric did include “no” as a potential response for Hannah in the coloring book he created with which to propose to her -- but he clearly hoped she’d go with “yes.” (Photos by Julie Berg-Raymond; magnifying glass added)
The past few weeks have been a whirlwind for Hannah Kerr, of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, England.
She graduated from college Wednesday, July 10 (with a degree in finance and investment management from Northumbria University); she flew to rural Iowa -- her first trip to the U.S., and her first sojourn in a non-city setting -- Thursday, July 11; and she became engaged to marry Decorah native Eric Vangsness, Saturday, July 13.
"I thought it was all a dream," Hannah, 28, says of the weekend that culminated in an unconventional marriage proposal.
Part of an elaborate and well-thought-out plan concocted by Eric -- a 10-year serviceman (an aircraft hydraulics technician in the Air Force and a 2003 graduate of Decorah High School) -- the proposal was several months in the making and involved surreptitious international phone calls, emails ... and a crash course in Photoshop.
How this love story began
Eric was stationed in Japan and Hannah was living in England in early 2012, when Eric's service buddy, Jones, was relocated to England. Jones told his friend about the young woman his wife had met in a Spanish class she was taking, and said he thought the two of them would probably really like one another.
He might have been thinking about the fact that Eric, ready to see more of the world, had included England on his "wish-list" of European military bases to which he was hoping to be assigned - therefore a meeting wasn't outside the realm of possibility.
Eric might have been thinking about that, too, when he contacted Hannah via an online chat group to which he and Jones belonged. It wasn't long before he decided to take things to the next level by giving her a call.
"I really don't like talking on the phone," Eric says. "But that first time, we talked for over four straight hours. That blew my mind."
A week later, after many hours-long conversations, they began to skype (video and voice communication via the Internet) two-to-three hours per day. That went on for a few months -- and Eric figured it was time to ask Hannah's dad whether it would be all right if she came over to Japan to visit him.
She traveled to Japan three times over the next several months; but by February of this year, that was no longer necessary -- Eric got his transfer to England.
A plan is hatched
By the time he moved to England, it was pretty clear to Eric that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with Hannah; so he started thinking of romantic ways he might ask her to do that.
Appealing to her love of the arts, particularly painting and drawing, he decided to make a coloring book filled with images from their life-so-far as a couple -- including the marriage proposal he intended to make when they visited his hometown in the U.S. this summer.
He contacted Erik Anundsen in Decorah, of Anundsen Publishing, and asked him to help make it happen.
"The first time I talked to him, I knew we were all right," Eric says of the initial conversation with Anundsen -- who shared the groom-to-be's enthusiasm for the idea.
"(Eric) had bought a trial version of Photoshop and took some pictures that he had of both of them and created simulated charcoal black and whites of the pictures," Anundsen recalls. "We went back and forth via email sending files and proofs since he was around six hours ahead of us, trying to dodge Hannah the best he could without getting her suspicious."
"I just thought he was working a lot," Hannah says. "but I had a lot going on, too, at the time."
In fact, Eric spent a lot of late nights after work -- teaching himself to use Photoshop to make the drawings for the coloring book and and compiling the images for Anundsen,who printed them, spiral-bounnd them into a book and laminated the cover.
"The hardest part was trying to make the calls (to the U.S.)," Eric says, laughing. "But I'm in the military; I'm good at keeping secrets."
Calls also had to be made to Elliott's Jewelers in Waukon, where Eric bought the ring he would present to Hannah in Palisades Park.
That day, Eric took Hannah up to the park overlooking Decorah. Telling her he wanted to get some nice pictures of the two of them on the hill overlooking town, he put his camera on a tripod and set it to take consecutive shots at five second intervals.
He gave her the coloring book he'd made for her; and as she paged through it, she came to an image of Eric on one knee, holding a box in his hand. She turned around to see him doing exactly that. The box held crayons -- into which he'd tucked an engagement ring. She pulled a purple crayon from the box, and colored in her answer: "yes."
"They both stopped in here the next day," Anundsen says. "It was just great to meet Hannah." I couldn't help but think what a wonderful idea it was. I was happy to be a part of it."