How sweet it is

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:45

    WEST MILFORD-A local man and his fiance have had a storybook courtship. They met through an Internet-based dating service more than two years ago, and will be married just before Valentine's day at a Dunkin' Donuts store in Hackensack. For John Townsend, 29, who grew up here, and his future bride, Michele Sarao, 28, of Hasbrouck Heights, it means cutting two years off their planned engagement, time that was to be spent saving money for their marriage, he says. Tuesday, Jan. 18, the couple learned they had won a contest for the New York metropolitan area sponsored by the Massachusetts-based chain of more than 6,000 stores in 30 countries. The only was to enter the contest was to go online to a special website and "follow the links to complete and submit the online entry form, including an essay of no more than 500 words describing your marriage proposal and a color photo of you and your fiancé," said the official rules. The contest ran from Nov. 17 to Dec. 15. Townsend and Sarao entered. An independent panel of judges chose the semi-finalists. Then a second panel selected the three finalist couples in a second judging. The regional winning couple was determined by individuals casting votes at the Website during the early January voting period. The other finalist couples were identified as Drew Christoffel and Mary Lapinski from Mahwah, and Rebecca Conklin and George Petrask from Bloomingdale. A second regional competition was just completed in the Philadelphia metropolitan area and the wedding was to take place today, according to Donna Walter, a senior account executive at Dunkin' Donuts agency, Weber Schandwick in Manhattan. "It's going to actually take place in Hackensack at 150 E. Passaic St., Walter said of the nuptials. "It's going to be a tent wedding on Feb. 10 in the Dunkin' Donuts parking lot. A brunch reception will follow, with doughnuts for dessert and a doughnut wedding cake, the spokeswoman said. A seven-day and six-night honeymoon in the Bahamas will follow. It will be a pleasant change after the current weather, says Walter, who added: "Could it get any colder out?" Townsend says they're working on invitation lists which may need to be pared down to meet the 100-person limit. How does any couple arrange something as frenetic as a wedding in three weeks? "They take care of the dresses, tuxedos, the wedding bands, everything short of us getting our marriage license and putting together the wedding party," he said. The wedding is valued at $15,000, plus $3,000 in cash to the bride and groom. Experience helps when planning a wedding, and Walter's agency has retained the services of David Beahm, a wedding planner who planned the nuptials of Actor Michael Douglas and Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, the spokeswoman said. What was the story that captured the prize? "We talked about doing something special for our two year anniversary on Oct. 20," said Townsend. "We were planning on leaving for Orlando in about a week or so, and decided to just do something small that wouldn't cost much money." They went shopping and bought, among other things, a new pair of sneakers for his fiance and a Gameboy Advance for her to use on the drive to Florida. With the help of Townsend's sister who followed his guidance, the couple returned from the trip and found " white rose petals scattered all around the carpet, two dozen roses in a nice vase on top of the dining room table, a "Happy Anniversary" banner hanging from the ceiling, and numerous "I Love You" and "Happy Anniversary" balloons all throughout the house. There were also four gift-wrapped boxes. "The first box was from the Gameboy Advance. "She opened up the first box, and saw that I had written on top of it the word ‘Yesterday'. Inside the box was a note that said ‘We Dated' and underneath that was the very first picture that was ever taken of us as a couple. The second box had written on top of it the word ‘Today' and inside was a note that said" ‘We Fell In Love'. "Underneath was another picture of us, one of our favorites and the one I submitted to Dunkin Donuts for this contest. The third box had written on top of it the word ‘Tomorrow'. Inside was a note that said: "Now What Do We Do?' Underneath that was a picture I took of myself, holding a large banner that read ‘Will You Marry Me?' "She freaked out, and screamed yes! I then went over to the place where I asked my sister to place the ringbox. I got it and then brought it over to her and asked her to be my wife," Townsend recalled. Who says young men don't know how to be romantic?