By Amanda Dyslin
Free Press Staff Writer
MANKATO — If the proposal was any more romantic, no one would have believed the story.
Nighttime Thursday in a pavilion lit with blue Christmas lights, surrounded by lightly falling snow, on a bluff overlooking Sibley Park — which itself was aglow with more than a million Kiwanis Holiday Lights — Josh Mayer laid down the gauntlet for pretty much every man who reads this and is considering popping the question.
Mayer had a friend paint the surface of Russian nesting dolls with books, each containing an important page from his two-year relationship with Jonnica Norell. The first and largest doll was adorned with a physics equation, because the two had met in physics class at Bethany Lutheran College. She pulled out doll after doll until, finally, the last was painted with Norell’s favorite flower, lilies, and the words “Will you marry me?”
Inside, there was a ring.
“I was very impressed,” said Norell, a fifth-grade teacher in Arlington. “I was so shocked. I kind of stepped back, and then I was like, ‘I knew it!’”
Norell of rural St. Peter and Mayer of Mankato had talked about marriage before. She knew the proposal would come some time this winter. And then, when Mayer seemed anxious all day Thursday, she had her suspicions that by nightfall she would be engaged.
The two had a romantic dinner at Neighbors, and then a surprise trip to Sibley Park came afterward. Norell said she
hadn’t been to the park to see the Kiwanis Holiday Lights before then, so at first she thought, “Really, Christmas lights?” But the view, she said, was incredible.
They climbed up the hill to the pavilion, where a friend was waiting with a bag containing the dolls.
Mayer said he was inspired by a close friend whose fiancé had written her a love letter when she got engaged. She liked having that memento she could show her kids one day.
“I wanted something we could hold onto and keep and tell the story of our engagement,” Mayer said.
Choosing the Kiwanis Holiday Lights setting was inspired by the couple’s courtship.
“(Jonnica) and I have always loved the winter. We first told each other we loved each other out in the snow,” he said.
Norell said the couple started out just friends her freshman year at Bethany when they met in class. Then her junior year she needed help with her philosophy class, a call which Mayer was happy to answer, and the two started dating.
Mayer graduated in 2011 and is now in seminary, on his way to becoming a Lutheran pastor. Norell graduated last spring and has started her career as a teacher. So both being busy, they only know so far that they will marry some time in the summer of 2014.
But that’s enough for now. And their families couldn’t be happier.
“They came and told us (Friday) morning,” said Norell’s grandmother, Jan Manzey. “We were thrilled.”