By Lisa Byers
FRENCH CREEK TOWNSHIP, Mercer County —
Gerald Hutchinson was out test driving the king of all toys, a jacked up Ford F350 truck, when it became clear he was ready to make one of the biggest decisions of his life.
So instead of returning to the car lot right away, Hutchinson took a little detour.
“I was originally going to buy a truck,” Hutchinson said. “But while I was test driving, I drove down to David Jewelers and was like, ‘This is the day.’”
What a day it wound up being.
Hutchinson is employed by Armstrong in Meadville and every year the company has a drawing for a balloon ride during the Thurston Classic. After six years of putting his name in the box, Hutchinson’s name was finally drawn this year for a ride on June 14.
So with a balloon ride scheduled, diamond ring in hand and a “go big or go home” attitude, Hutchinson began orchestrating a proposal he hoped his longtime girlfriend Sara McDeavitt would be proud to share.
“Once I got the perfect ring, I had 30 minutes to be at Allegheny (College) for the liftoff,” Hutchinson said. “So I rushed the truck I was test driving back to the lot, got my own vehicle and drove up.
“I told Sara she was gonna have to meet me there.”
While en route, Hutchinson made another important phone call. This call was to Sara’s mother, asking for her permission to marry her daughter.
“She, of course, said, ‘Yes,’” Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson arrived at Allegheny College’s Robertson Field where he was greeted by McDeavitt. Everything was going according to plan. And best of all, Sara expected nothing out of the ordinary.
“He kept asking me to ride with him, but I refused. I was too scared,” McDeavitt said. “I told him I didn’t want to.”
Before heading out for their flights, the riders had to attend a briefing where instructions and the dos and don’ts were discussed. While Hutchinson was at the meeting, McDeavitt went and sat down on a nearby bench.
“Some woman came up to me and said, ‘You can go over with him,’” McDeavitt said. “Everyone knew what was going on besides me.”
It was then that Hutchinson was thrown a curveball. Weather for this year’s Thurston Classic was unpleasant to say the least and by Friday evening, June 14, Robertson Field where the Sponsors’ Flights were scheduled to launch from was saturated.
So organizers opted to have the balloons launch from a location of their choice.
McDeavitt told Hutchinson to go along and she would wait at Robertson Field for him to return.
“I said, ‘I’ll wait here,’” McDeavitt said. “He said, ‘You can’t wait here.’
“I thought, ‘What is the big deal? I’ll wait for him and watch him land.’”
McDeavitt was eventually coerced into going to the selected launch spot on Westview Drive. But there was still some uncertainty whether any of the balloons would actually get off the ground because of unstable wind.
“I had no backup plan,” Hutchinson said. “The pilot was in on the whole deal and while we were waiting for the wind to die down he says to me, ‘Son, no matter what I will make this happen even if we have to go up only 10 feet, we will.’
“So it was nice knowing this was going down, but again I was so nervous and scared.”
Finally, the pilot was given the go ahead and Hutchinson loaded into the balloon while McDeavitt, pregnant with the couple’s first child, a daughter Sophia Rose, due Nov. 4, stood below and watched as the balloon began to ascend into the air.
When the balloon was about five feet in the air, Hutchinson dropped a banner that read, “Will you marry me?”
The balloon continued to ascend and with the all the noise coming from inside the balloon as it continued to climb, Hutchinson never heard an answer. Her tears were enough to convince Hutchinson, he hoped, that it was a yes. It was going to be roughly an hour before he would know for sure.
“I dropped the ring like 30 feet from the air,” Hutchinson said.
When the balloon finally landed off Route 27 near Hunter’s Inn (an eight-mile drive) McDeavitt was not wearing the ring.
“I didn’t put the ring on,” she said. “He came to me and said, ‘I didn’t hear an answer and you don’t have the ring on your hand.’
“I said, ‘I didn’t want to put the ring on my hand. I was waiting for you to do it.’ That’s when he got down on his knee and did it himself.”
“I wanted (the engagement) to be different than anyone’s I had heard of and as well be romantic,” Hutchinson said. “I never want to be sitting down somewhere and have her get a phone call from a friend explaining how romantic (the friend’s engagement was) and then ask Sara and have her say, ‘Ya. Hutch wasn’t at all.’”
The Meadville couple has not announced a wedding date. McDeavitt, originally from Conneaut Lake, said they are looking at sometime in 2015. For now, they will await the arrival of Sophia.
“We just fit together so well,” McDeavitt said of Hutchinson, who she has been dating for roughly four years. “He’s such a hard worker. He is dedicated in everything that he does. He’s so easy to talk to at the same time.”
“We’re more than a couple,” Hutchinson said. “We are best friends and in the end we love each other.”
Lisa Byers can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.