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It was L.O.V.E. with 4 strings attached.

Rick and Karen first met in kindergarten at Montalvo Elementary School in Ventura, California. Many years passed and, as providence would have it, they were reunited as adults at a high school reunion and sparks began to fly. At the time, Rick was on faculty at a small, private, liberal arts university in Springfield, Missouri where he was directing a college `ukulele club of students who met weekly at a local coffee shop to “strum and sing loudly.” Karen, an `ukulele player herself, relocated from Northern, California to Springfield, Missouri where she quickly became “den mother” for this rag-tag `ukulele club.

One evening, while the club was playing, the city mayor (Robert Stephens) happened by for a cup of coffee. He heard the sound coming from the back room and decided that the group must represent Springfield at the next Sister Cities Arts Festival in Isesaki, Japan. Karen was inspired and so were the students. The next year was spent rehearsing and fundraising. While Karen and Rick’s interest in each other continued to grow, they were careful to keep their relationship private which was surprisingly easy to do. The students merely assumed that Karen was there because she loved them.

Nine students were chosen, and travel plans were made to include a side trip to Hawaii where the club would continue to work on their performance and, at the same time, experience `ukulele culture first-hand. Surprisingly, few of the students had traveled beyond Missouri. Fewer had passports. The trip would be life changing. While details were arranged Rick and Karen decided to add another item to the itinerary - a wedding.

. . . The conspiracy was afoot.


On the day of the wedding, the students were told to be prepared for a photo shoot; to wear something nice and to bring their `ukuleles. By now, those kids were feeling like rock stars, so the ruse seemed entirely plausible. That afternoon, vans were loaded (Karen driving one, Rick the other) and off they went to a secluded part of Waimanalo Beach . The group was met by a professional photographer who started directing them this way and that. Then he announced that they would move further down the beach for another group shot. This is when Rick intervened. “I would like to say something.” After a rare silence, Rick proposed to Karen to the wild amazement of the young group. Shrieks, laughter, tears. iPhones came out. Texts were sent. The feeling of joy intermingled with betrayal washed over the students until one of them thought to ask, “Do you have a date set?” “Yes,” Karen said, “right now and you are our wedding party.”

At that moment, family members, the mayor, and the wedding planner were headed toward this frenzied mass, placing leis on them, kissing their cheeks, and leading them to the altar where the wedding commenced. Vows were spoken. Rings exchanged. When the mayor said: “husband & wife” and announced that there would be a song, the students were asked to perform a song that, they were led to believe, was a part of their Japanese Arts Festival repertoire. Who thought of that?

The sun began to set and it was time to get back to the hotel. Karen drove her van full of students; Rick drove his. When they all arrived at the hotel everyone joined the new couple for pizza and ice cream sandwiches (aka wedding cake). The next day they boarded an airplane for Japan.