July 02, 2014 - Ortonville- Mike McLain's 28th birthday weekend featured a treasure hunt that led him to the ultimate prize— his bride, Daphne.
Mike and Daphne, Ortonville residents who met two-and-a-half years ago, became engaged this past Valentine's Day in Grand Rapids and planned to get married next year, but budget constraints altered plans, and Daphne made the decision to give Mike a surprise wedding— perhaps not what they had originally envisioned, but a unique and perfect day, nonetheless.
"I believe our story is not an ordinary love story," said Daphne. "I wanted to continue our love story, versus going to a church and getting married and going to a restaurant after."
"We couldn't afford something grandiose," said Mike.
"But our love is grandiose," Daphne interjects, before Mike continues, "We've worked really hard for each other our whole relationship, so it was important we didn't settle for what was easiest. The courthouse wouldn't show the love and care we have for each other."
Mike and Daphne's love story was set in motion by Mike's boss, who thought his employee, a salesman for an industrial contractor, worked too much, so he signed Mike up for ballroom dance lessons at a studio where Daphne was an instructor.
Mike was reluctant to go, but agreed to try it once.
"I was immediately hooked on her more than the lessons, but eventually the lessons were great, too," he said.
The dance studio had a strict policy that instructors were not allowed to fraternize with students. At first, this was not a problem for Daphne, who admits she was not immediately attracted to Mike. But when he learned that she always asked her last student on Saturday nights to walk her out to her car after lessons, he began scheduling himself to be her last lesson every Saturday. They began to get to know each other.
Daphne recognized Mike as a gentleman, someone passion-driven, and she also came to the realization she was unhappy in a relationship she was in. She began dating other guys, but found herself comparing them to her student.
"I'd say to myself, 'This guy is not as funny as Mike, not as successful as Mike, not as sweet as Mike, not as handsome as Mike,'" she said. "Then I realized— I think I like Mike!"
Three months after he began taking lessons, on Valentine's Day 2012 as he escorted her to her car after class one night, Daphne asked Mike if he would like to go on a date.
His answer was an emphatic, "Yeah."
Fast forward two years and on Valentine's Day this year, Mike took Daphne to Grand Rapids, for a weekend trip, and surprised her by proposing on a bridge in a park at sunset in the bitter cold, even arranging for professional photographers to capture the moment.
While the proposal caught Daphne off guard, she would pull off a bigger surprise for Mike— a wedding planned in about four months, with almost no assistance from him.
"I told him, I'll plan the wedding honey, we'll get married in a year at property up north and meanwhile, I was planning the biggest surprise," said Daphne. "Being a dance teacher was my dream forever. He became my new dream, and I really wanted to show him how much I appreciate everything he has done. I wanted to plan a stress-free wedding."
Stress-free for Mike. But Daphne had a lot of work to do, planning a wedding in Grand Rapids because that is where he proposed, and involving all of their family and friends.
"Fifty people were invited and in on the secret for the whole time, except my parents," said Daphne. "My Dad was going through an illness and I didn't want them to worry and I wanted my Dad to know this was for him, too. I wrote him a letter and said, 'I don't want you to feel like you're giving me away, I want you to feel for Father's Day you're getting another son.'"
Daphne's special touches for the wedding included ordering Volworth hot dogs from the Upper Peninsula and sliders from White Castle, booking a park in Grand Rapids and renting chairs, purchasing her dress off rack from a bridal outlet store, asking friends to become ordained ministers to preside over the wedding, securing a string quartet, ordering cupcakes instead of a traditional wedding cake and making fruit kebobs and tomato basil kebobs the night before the wedding. Finger foods were necessary because while she had antique China for place settings, she didn't have enough matching silverware and so decided she didn't want any forks and knives at the wedding. She had talked Mike into buying a suit in preparation for the wedding he thought was still a year away. But even with all her well-laid plans, the anxiety built the actual day of the event.
Daphne had constructed clues and a treasure hunt for Mike which he thought was all part of his birthday weekend. She had told him she was going to a sleepover at her best friend's house and to plan birthday games for him. When he awakened June 14, he thought he was meeting Daphne for breakfast at a Clarkston restaurant. When he arrived there, he received his first clue— written by Daphne, but given to him by friends.
"Mike, It's your birthday weekend so I've planned an eventful day, Enjoy breakfast and get a clue to your next destination when you pay, I've borrowed this camera so you can capture these joyous moments, And at each location you will collect different memorable components, I hope your day with friends and family is a lot of fun, At the end of your treasure hunt is when you'll find the one."
His subsequent clues would lead him to the gun range for some shooting with his father, to a massage therapist, to the barbershop and out to lunch with friends, where his next clue instructed him to go to the place where he stayed when he proposed. Knowing this was Grand Rapids, Mike became very confused.
"I thought, 'This is so elaborate, this is crazy.' I was so set on this birthday party and I thought I'd never be back in time."
Still, he rode his motorcycle to GR, with his friends riding in front of him in a truck. At the hotel in Grand Rapids, he saw Daphne's cousin from Chicago and started to become irritated, thinking she'd guilted people into coming out for this far-flung birthday party. In his hotel room, he found his nice clothes laid out and opened three boxes— one containing a tie clip engraved with his initials, a second with his grandmother's handkerchief, and the third with a clue:
"Now that you have something old and something new, keep the borrowed camera rolling, and go meet your bride on something blue."
For months, he had heard how difficult it would be to schedule a wedding for the next year. He convinced himself that it was a terrible joke at his expense. But as he and his friends walked toward the blue bridge in Grand Rapids where he and Daphne had some of their engagement photos taken, he saw what he describes as the most beautiful woman he had ever set eyes on— Daphne, in a wedding dress, waiting for him.
He walked slowly so he could remember the moment forever. When he reached her, they kissed. Daphne asked him if he knew what day it was.
"I said, 'Our wedding?'" and she nodded yes and began crying," said Mike, who jokingly asked her if he could still bail. They shared a laugh and then shared a petty cab into the park where they would marry, with Mike stunned to see all their closest friends and family awaiting them. After months of planning by Daphne and after a ceremony that lasted about 20 minutes, they were pronounced husband and wife. Their guests then surprised them both with a flash mob dance to "Umbrella" by Rihanna.
In a message on Facebook, Mike wrote to his family and friends that he had never felt so loved. As he recounted their story, he cried, the first tears Daphne had ever seen him shed and it cemented for her that the surprise wedding was the right thing.
"I successfully showed him how much I love him and he knows now how I would go above and beyond for him."
Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville