Life was good Friday night for Kristen Viator.
After polishing off a decadent feast at Texas de Brazil, she and her boyfriend of about 18 months, Sgt. Jim Dunphy, headed toward Sullivan’s Steakhouse to meet some friends. But Viator didn’t know that’s where they were headed, and Dunphy made her close her eyes once they got close.
She didn’t find out why he did so until they stepped out of his car, when he pointed to a billboard across the street, then dropped to one knee.
The billboard, just south of Interstate 10 on Constitution Avenue, was lit with a picture of the couple kissing at an airport upon his return in December from a Louisiana National Guard tour of duty in the Middle East. Text next to the picture read: “Kristen, thanks for waiting! Will you marry me? Love, Jimmy.”
“Yes, of course,” she said, to her now-fiancé.
The Baton Rouge couple’s journey began in October 2012 the same night LSU’s football team lost against the Florida Gators in The Swamp. Although both Dunphy and Viator attended LSU at the same time years before and had some mutual friends, they didn’t meet until a postgame party that October night.
“I felt like we had a lot in common,” Dunphy said, and it wasn’t long before the two began dating.
At that point, he already knew he would spend most of the next year in the deserts of Kuwait. But Viator promised to wait for him.
The couple spent the next four months falling in love until he deployed in March 2013. During that time, marriage talk came up a time or two, planting a seed that grew in spite of the ocean between them.
During his time overseas, the couple talked and chatted daily via video.
“He was very good about making sure we talked every day,” Viator said.
When Dunphy returned with the rest of the Gonzales-based 922nd Engineer Company in December, Viator was waiting for him with a “Welcome Home” sign and puckered lips.
Her loyalty during his absence only strengthened his resolve to make her his wife, he said.
Then came the daunting task of planning a proposal.
Dunphy said he read somewhere online that 80 percent of women weren’t happy with the way their proposals went, prompting him to double-down on his efforts.
Eventually, he settled on a billboard proposal and contacted Lamar Advertising to see if it was possible. It was, so he designed the billboard using a picture snapped by The Advocate at his return, including, of course, the traditional question.
When Dunphy first pointed to the distant billboard Friday night, Viator couldn’t quite make out the words. But she recognized the picture, and as soon as he popped the question, she said, “Yes.”
Afterward, every time the billboard changed to their picture, a gleeful Viator would point and ogle. She couldn’t get enough of it.
“This is very creative for him,” Viator said.
It was a successful surprise, and, as Dunphy planned, they capped off the celebration with a few friends at Sullivan’s.