A little Disney magic came to Chattanooga on Sunday when what started out as a simple Father's Day walk turned into happily ever after.
Under a bright June sun, friends, family and co-workers formed a flash mob to help Steven Vagnini make his girlfriend's fairy-tale ending come true.
Just after 12:30 p.m., an unsuspecting Melody Dale set foot on the Walnut Street Bridge with her mom and dad. She thought they were going to take family photos.
On cue, friends and family swept out from behind the bridge's trusses and beams to surround her, singing and dancing to "That's How You Know," from the Disney film "Enchanted," as the music blared from a speaker.
As they showered her with flower petals, Dale walked ecstatically along, hugging each new person who popped up along the way -- friends from high school, professors from her time at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the couple's former co-workers from Walt Disney World in Orlando. More than 20 came out to support the couple.
When the real-life musical approached the center of the bridge, Vagnini quietly walked up behind Dale and tapped her on the shoulder.
A bright smile lit up her face as she spun around and he dropped to his knees, holding up a ring box. With bright streamers floating in the breeze, Dale covered her face with her hands for a brief moment.
And then "awww, yes!" burst out of her; friends and family rushed in to congratulate the happy couple as onlookers applauded.
Dale, looking deliriously happy and a little bewildered, clung to her new fiance.
"I was just here to celebrate Father's Day with my dad," she said. "I love musicals, so this was the best way ever. This is so crazy."
Dale, a Disney internal communications specialist, has always loved Disney. She even looks like a Disney princess, with large, expressive eyes, a pert little nose and long, shiny brown hair.
Vagnini, a Disney archivist, began planning the event four months before he popped the question. He knew it had to be perfect, and he left nothing to chance, coordinating people, places and props across three states, all while keeping Melody in the dark.
"Melody always said she wanted a production," said her brother, Benjamin Dale. "Steven definitely delivered."
Vagnini drew up itineraries, created color-coded charts and even provided instructional videos on how to do the song and dance routine. He wanted the proposal to be everything Melody had hoped for.
"Only someone like Steven would care about his girlfriend so much that he would coordinate this lavish surprise," said Matthew Hughes, who's known Vagnini since 2005 and helped organize the event. "Being able to put all this together in so little time really shows his undying love for her."
Vagnini and Dale met in fall 2010, when she started on the Walt Disney World college program. The two didn't start dating until the following January, when they made a visit to Chattanooga.
"I asked her to be my girlfriend on this bridge," Vagnini said.
Dale was ecstatic with the choice of location.
"I love the walking bridge," she said. "He couldn't have picked a better place."
Joanie Sompayrac, a professor at UTC, has known Dale for about six years and was very impressed with Vagnini's proposal.
"For a guy to go to this much trouble and be so nervous is precious. It shows how much he loves her," she said.
Excited as they were, Dale's parents were relieved that four months of keeping the secret were finally at an end.
"I'm just glad the secret's finally out," said Dale's father, Edwin. "But this is a truly happy Father's Day."
Contact staff writer Lindsay Burkholder at email@example.com or 423-757-6592.
Lindsay Burkholder is originally from Winston-Salem, N.C. She graduated from Covenant College in May 2012 with a bachelor's degree in English. While at Covenant she spent time writing for and editing the news section of the school newspaper, The Bagpipe. Burkholder also attended the World Journalism Institute in New York City in 2011.
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