LEWISTON, Maine — Martel Elementary School secretary Rebecca Lussier didn’t think anything unusual was happening when she was called to an assembly Monday.
She was baffled when asked to sit in a balloon-decorated chair facing the audience.
Her puzzlement turned to surprise, then joy, when boyfriend Bill Hensley emerged with a ring, got down on one knee and said, “Will you marry me?”
She said yes as 300 students cheered.
“I was surprised, shocked, shaking like crazy, and happy,” Lussier said Wednesday. She gave her fiance a grade of A-plus for executing the formal proposal.
Hensley did his homework and had help from Principal Steve Whitfield, who it turns out is a big romantic.
But Hensley couldn’t call Whitfield outright. Lussier, the school secretary, answers the school’s phone.
So he asked a woman from Trask Jewelers in Farmington, where he bought the ring, to make the call for him.
The woman called the principal, then put Hensley on the phone. Hensley explained that he didn’t want to impose, but he’d like to propose at school.
“When they first met, she told him she had 300 children,” Whitfield said, adding that the school’s environment is like a family and Lussier is loved by the students and staff.
The couple had been talking about becoming engaged. She was expecting the proposal to be soon, so it wasn’t a question of whether she’d say yes, Whitfield said. A negative answer in front of students wouldn’t be a positive experience.
An assembly already was scheduled for the end of the day Monday to call attention to students’ positive school behavior. The proposal could be added, Whitfield reasoned. It would be a positive life lesson for students.
Hensley was advised to show up at school near the end of the day. He parked his car at CVS and was sneaked into the school by the kitchen staff who knew he was coming. Anxious, he came a full hour early.
“We had to hide him in the kitchen,” Whitfield said. Because the school secretary often delivers messages around the school, “security had to be good,” Whitfield said.
At first, only a few people knew what was going to happen. During the day, a few teachers were informed.
Before the proposal, Hensley was appropriately nervous, Whitfield said with a laugh. When Hensley proposed, “the fifth- and sixth-grade girls cried. There were tears from two-thirds of the staff,” Whitfield said.
Did Whitfield cry?
“Almost,” he said.
Strings teacher Dave Boardman’s lessons were canceled that afternoon. He agreed to fiddle a love song at the engagement assembly. Kitchen staff served punch. Young students thought they witnessed a wedding. “We had to explain: ‘It was the asking,’” Whitfield said.
One first-grade teacher used the event Tuesday as a writing prompt, assigning students to write congratulation notes to the couple. “We got some academics out of it,” Whitfield said.
No wedding date has been set.
Hensley, 31, works in electronics at Radio Shack in Farmington. He’s pleased that he was able to propose “to the woman I love” at her school. “It went better than planned.”
Lussier, 28, called her betrothed her best friend.
“I can count on him,” she said. “He makes me laugh. We have lots of fun.”
He said, “She’s everything I’m looking for and more.”
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