Saturday, October 13, 2007

Love story: Couple shares Hallmark moments

DEBORAH SHOUSE

I’m going to marry Kerstin,” 5-year-old Bill Kraai told the kids in the neighborhood.

It was 1980. Bill and Kerstin Kolbe, then 4, lived on the same street in Sioux City, Iowa. They often played together.

“I had a crush on her,” Bill says. “She was a fun, cute girl, but she was also great at playing with boys.”

In 1980 their friendship was put on hold when the Kraai family moved to Kansas City.

Years passed. When Kerstin was 17, she and Bill saw each other at a wedding. Several years later her mom saw Bill at another wedding, after he had graduated from college. Her mom later gave Bill’s business card to Kerstin.

“I held onto it,” Kerstin says.

After she finished college, Kerstin moved around for several years and then took a job in Kansas City at Hallmark Cards.

In fall of 2002 Kerstin and a colleague were eating lunch in the Hallmark cafeteria when Kerstin thought she saw Bill. But she wasn’t sure, so she didn’t go over to talk to him.

Bill, who was doing contract work at Hallmark, noticed two women looking at him.

“I didn’t know what to think,” he says.

Back in her office, Kerstin looked him up on the intra-office e-mail list and shot him a message. They had lunch a few times and got reconnected.

“We got along well,” Bill says.

As their friendship deepened, they agreed to start seeing each other romantically.

In the fall of 2006, after several years of dating, they started talking about getting married.

That December they went to Sioux City to visit Kerstin’s parents. On their last day in town, Bill said, “Let’s go to our old neighborhood.”

They walked around the familiar street. In front of Kerstin’s old house, Bill got down on one knee, pulled a ring out of his pocket and said, “This is where I said I was going to marry you when I was 5 years old. Kerstin, will you marry me?”

They were married on July 28. The couple lives in Brookside. Kerstin is a cataloger for the Creative Collections at Hallmark. Bill works as an illustrator at Russell Stover Candies. They enjoy listening to bands, going to movies and taking road trips.

“Bill’s genuine sincerity and integrity attracted me,” Kerstin says. “My life with him is full of surprises. The realness of our love and friendship is better than any fantasy.”

“Kerstin is just as spirited and fun as she was when she was 4,” Bill says. “I love being with her.”

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