Then and now: Couples recall popped questions

Judging from the following stories, whether you're newlywed or married nearly 40 years, one thing in marriage is constant: You don't forget the way you got engaged. We asked some well-known locals to share their engagement tales. The stories show one thing: It's never too late– or too soon– to find love.


Satyendra and Irene Huja

November 29, 2003

After a nine-year courtship, Satyendra Huja, the city's director of strategic planning, says he was finally ready to pop the question to his longtime love, Irene.

"After I traveled to Bulgaria [this past June], I asked her to meet me in Paris," says Huja. "I thought I would ask her to marry me on a bridge or a boat."

As it turns out, Irene herself picked the spot– without even knowing it.

"We were at the tea room in the Ritz Hotel and a lady was playing the harp," Huja recalls. "Irene said, 'This is the most romantic place I've ever been.'"

Huja seized the opportunity.

"That was a good sign," he says. "I had been carrying the ring for five days, so I thought, 'I'd better use it now.'"

The couple wed this past November in a combination Western and Sikh ceremony.


Virginia Daugherty and John Conover

June 21, 1974

 "When I first met John, I was teaching English at Norfolk State University," says Daugherty. "He came there to teach economics, and we met at a coffeehouse. It was the sixties, and coffeehouses were big then– like now, but they were different. They were not about coffee flavors and combinations; they were about people talking protest and change.

"My first take on John was that he was too preppy, too University of Chicago. But I was impressed that he was in an animated discussion with Joe Hellinger, an older community organizer and well-known eccentric.

"One of the first times we went out together, we were discussing the war in Vietnam. Someone he knew had been drafted, and John was upset about it. All of a sudden I saw he was actually tearing. This was not your average crass guy.

"The thing that really grabbed me happened when he came over to my apartment one evening. I had one daughter at that time, six years old. I was holding a meeting in my living room, probably a NOW meeting. John took my daughter in another room and they started laughing and playing ball.

Soon we were engaged– that is, living together in a communal house. That was nearly 35 years ago.


Rob and Jessica Bell

July 5, 1997

 Delegate Rob Bell says he planned his proposal painstakingly. The couple had been dating nearly five years, and Bell chose Christmas Eve as the "big moment."

"We always opened our presents on Christmas Eve," says Bell, but when the couple came home from a party that evening, Jessica threw a wrench into her honey's plan.

"She told me she was too tired to open presents that night," says Bell. "I had the most sleepless night of my life."

Bright and early the next morning, Bell's big moment arrived– he, however, was in a "sleep-deprived fog."

When he finally got his chance to ask, Jessica gave him a big hug without saying a word.

"For a minute, I couldn't tell if it was a hug of sympathy or one of joy," says Bell. "I told her if she ever gets proposed to again, she should definitely give the answer before she gives the hug."


John And Carol Whitehead

August 26, 1967

 John and Carol Whitehead didn't have to search long for their life partners. In fact, they were hardly out of elementary school when they first met.

"I was 11, and John was 14," says Carol, whose family had just moved onto John's street in Bartonville, Illinois. Carol was soon "madly in love" with her handsome neighbor, who is now head of civil rights organization The Rutherford Institute.

But there was trouble in paradise.

"He kissed me one time on the cheek," says Carol, who reports she was less than thrilled with the gesture.

"I said, 'Don't sweat all over me," she laughs. The two didn't see each other again for five years.

When John came home from his first year of college, however, things changed quickly.

"We started dating that summer, got engaged the next year, and married the summer after I graduated from high school," says Carol.

Thirty-six years later, the couple have five grown children.


Dragana Katalina-Sun and Sun Da

May 27, 1994

 The night before Dragana Katalina-Sun left her home in war-torn Bosnia for Germany in February 1992, she had a vivid dream about an apartment complex and a man with black hair.

"On my first night in Germany," she recalls, "I opened the curtains in my apartment and saw the apartment complex I'd dreamed about."

She found work as a dishwasher in a Chinese restaurant, but she got a big surprise when she met the chef, Sun Da.

"I knew then," she says, "that's the guy I dreamed about."

Though Dragana felt there was a mutual attraction, Sun Da, she says, was not moving fast enough.

"I was getting so impatient," she says. "As I was waiting for the bus with him, I jumped up and kissed him and jumped onto the bus."

Soon after, Sun Da asked her out, but dating proved complicated since neither spoke German nor the other's native language.

Accompanied by a translator on their first several dates, the two slowly began to learn German and soon could converse.

Eventually they moved in together, and married in the spring of 1994. Dragana had applied for an American Refugee visa three years before, but it wasn't until 1999 that a letter arrived clearing the way for the two to move to the United States.

The rest, as they say, is history.

In 2001 they opened the tiny Marco & Luca dumpling shop, on Second Street NW, which this winter expanded into a larger space Mall-side in York Place. The couple is expecting their third son in March.