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posted: 2/14/2011 6:00 AM

Crystal & Mike Kwasman: Movie, caramel corn and a prize

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  • West Chicago Mayor Mike Kwasman and his wife, Crystal, celebrated their wedding with dinner for family and friends at an Italian restaurant.

      West Chicago Mayor Mike Kwasman and his wife, Crystal, celebrated their wedding with dinner for family and friends at an Italian restaurant.
    Courtesy of Mike Kwasman

  • Mike and Crystal Kwasman still love "To Kill A Mockingbird," the movie they were watching the night he proposed.

      Mike and Crystal Kwasman still love "To Kill A Mockingbird," the movie they were watching the night he proposed.
    Courtesy of Mike Kwasman

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Mike Kwasman was nervous. "To put it mildly," he says.

He had the ring. He had one of those newfangled machines called a VCR, which was roughly the size of a pickup truck.

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And he had a plan.

It was 1982 and Kwasman was living in a loft apartment in Chicago. He and Crystal Howerton had been dating for a year and she was coming over to watch "To Kill a Mockingbird," their favorite movie.

Kwasman wrapped the ring in newspaper, tucked it inside a box of Garrett's caramel corn and held his breath.

"I was half watching the movie," recalled Kwasman, now the mayor of West Chicago, "and half watching the expression on her face."

Six-year-old Scout was running from her attacker -- one of the movie's later scenes -- when Crystal finally found the package.

"What is this?" she asked. Kwasman feigned nonchalance, as if it was just another Cracker Jack prize.

"I don't know," he shrugged. "I usually get one of those crummy compasses that never work."

She unwrapped the ring. He got down on one knee.

"I'm proposing a merger between your company and my company, and while you're at it, will you marry me?" he asked.

"She thought for a moment and she accepted and she immediately called her identical twin sister, and the two of them were screaming."

The Kwasmans had met at the Apparel Center, where they both worked. Crystal was an independent sales representative for high-end women's apparel, and Mike a rep for affordable men's clothes. He had been joking about the merger, but "it ended up she did come into my business and take it over," he said. "And I've been working for her ever since."

A year after he proposed, Crystal and Mike were married in Chicago. They filled their favorite restaurant in Old Town with family and friends, and served a seven-course Italian meal.

They eventually went back to the movie the night Kwasman proposed and finished it. A few years later, Mike bought Crystal a first edition of "To Kill a Mockingbird" signed by author Harper Lee. And when they moved to the Indian Knolls neighborhood in West Chicago, there was a huge tree with a carving out of it near their house.

"We used to call it the Boo Radley tree," Kwasman said.

Kwasman's hair is gray now and he's pretty sure he got the first strand the night he proposed.

But his bride, he says, is just as beautiful as she was 28 years ago.

"She hasn't changed," he said.

Neither has their favorite movie, "To Kill a Mockingbird."

"We still watch it to this day, over and over again," Kwasman said. "It's a great story."

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