Most people would consider the Fairview Heights MetroLink parking lot a strange place for a marriage proposal, but not Chris Miller.
That’s because he met his girlfriend, Kristen Ackermann, on a train, commuting to work in St. Louis.
“I was just stunned,” Kristen said of Chris dropping down on one knee and popping the question, oblivious to other commuters walking to their cars. “I just never expected it.”
That was nearly 17 years ago. Today, the Millers are married with three children and a farmhouse in rural Trenton.
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One of Matthew’s favorites involves Ted and Amy (he uses first names only). They had a class together at University of Missouri-St. Louis and rode the same bus in the late 1980s.
Amy learned that Ted liked author William Faulkner, so she began carrying a copy of “The Sound and the Fury” onto the bus, hoping it would lead to a conversation.
“Her strategy worked, and this year they’ll celebrate their 29th wedding anniversary,” Matthew wrote.
Another of his favorites involves Tonya and Darryl, who met on a bus in 2010 and got engaged two years later. Today, they have a 3-year-old son.
The couple had recognized each other from middle school, where they played in the same band.
“They grew apart but, low and behold, public transportation brought them back together,” Matthew said.
More than transportation
Metro got the idea for the Valentine’s Day series from USA Today, which published a story about couples who met on public transit in other cities.
Matthew started collecting local love stories four years ago. It’s a way for Metro to show that buses and trains are more than just modes of transportation.
“There’s a community aspect to it,” said Patti Beck, Bi-State director of communications. “We have Metro riders who take the same train or bus for years. They see the same people and become friends with those people.”
Chris Miller, 47, is a computer programmer for Bi-State, but he was working at Blue Cross Blue Shield in 2001, when he met Kristen, a fraud specialist at Bank of America in downtown St. Louis. Both lived in Illinois.
Chris got off MetroLink at Union Station, three stops after Kristen. It was a fellow rider who played matchmaker.
“I just happened to ask if he knew any single guys,” said Kristen, 45.
She made the first move by getting Chris’ email address and writing him before talking to him on the train. They started dating, and the rest is history.
Chris proposed on a Friday night in 2002. When Kristen arrived at the Fairview Heights station after work, he was waiting next to her car.
“I turned the car onto accessory,” he said. “I put an Alabama CD into the player, and I skipped to the song, ‘Will you marry me?’”
The couple danced in the parking lot before Chris asked the same question. They got married a year later, using a MetroLink train as a backdrop for wedding photos.
Today, the Millers park at the East Riverfront station in East St. Louis each morning after dropping off their twins, Allison and Ronald, 11, and son, Roy, 10. Chris considers his beard essential for commuting.
“I just grow it in the winter for the warmth,” he said. “On the platform, it can get cold. It works. It really works.”
A chance to be a hero
Other metro-east residents in the Valentine’s Day series are Whitney Wilson, 35, a Bi-State communications manager, and her husband, Patrick, 38, project manager for a mechanical contractor. They live in O’Fallon.
Patrick was working on the MetroLink extension from Forest Park to Shrewsbury in 2005 when he met the former Whitney Ehinger at the construction site for the new Forest Park-DeBaliviere station.
“He walked up and introduced himself,” she said. “I could tell he was a little bit nervous. He was just quiet and didn’t know what to say, except, ‘Hi, I’m Patrick.’”
“(The introduction) was intentional,” he added. “The guys in the trailer encouraged me after I let it slip that I thought she was hot.”
Patrick got a stroke of luck when Whitney’s new Nextel walkie-talkie started beeping, and she wasn’t sure how to operate it. He was able to help and be a hero.
The couple met for lunch several times before going to Pin-Up Bowl in University City, Missouri, for their first evening out.
“It was a good date,” Whitney said. “I remember telling him, ‘Wow, there really is someone out there like me.’ We connected on so many things.”
Patrick proposed in 2007 on the old DeBaliviere bridge, overlooking the station where they met. He was caught off guard by a Forest Park festival crowd that day, but still dropped down on one knee and put a ring on her finger.
The Wilsons got married a year later. They have two children, Josie, 3, and Levi, 7. A piece of steel from the bridge, which was demolished three years ago, is displayed on their patio as a reminder of their meeting and involvement in the MetroLink extension.
“We’re grateful that we got to work on that project,” Whitney said. “We can always show it to people and say, ‘We were part of this.’”
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, just the scale of the construction,” Patrick added. “At the end of the day, we knew that millions of people would use the system and ride it every day, and that gives me a sense of satisfaction.”
Matthew has won awards for his Valentine’s Day series. Couples who met and fell in love on Metro buses or trains and would like to be profiled should send him an email at MRHibbard@bistatedev.org.