She said yes: Surprise proposal on the beach just before sunset

Lance Shearer

She said yes.

Brent Fallows and Elana Toby Bandalene traveled 1,300 miles from Chicago for a beach vacation, but only he knew there was something more on the line — the rest of their lives.

He had made elaborate preparations to “pop the question” on the Marco Island beach at sunset, but she swears she had no clue what was in store. When they walked down to the water’s edge Thursday evening, Elana had been told that a photo was part of their hospitality package. So, she dressed up a little, but hadn’t thought to have her nails done.

When they came upon the stepladder set up on the beach, with pictures of them and rose petals strewn on the sand, Fallows went down on one knee and whipped out the jeweler’s box holding the diamond ring.

After she gasped, said “yes,” wrapped Fallows in her arms ­— and slipped the ring on her finger — Bandalene spared a thought for family and friends back up north.

“Does anyone know?” she asked.

Brent Fallows and Elana Bandalene are all smiles at the water's edge. The couple came from Chicago to Marco Island, with longstanding family associations, for a surprise proposal on the beach at sunset.

“Everyone knows,” replied her fiancé. In fact, it was Elana’s mother, Chicago lawyer Sheryl Toby, who alerted the Marco Eagle to the event, and helped coordinate it. In an email, she explained the longstanding connections of Elana and her family to the island.

“In the early 1970s the bride-to-be’s great grandparents were hired by the Island’s developers to operate Marco’s first restaurant so that the construction workers and the relatively sparse number of residents at that time could have somewhere to go for breakfast and lunch. The restaurant was called the Islander. Thereafter, my grandparents (my daughter’s great grandparents) were hired to live in and manage a number of the garden condos as they opened (the Aquarius and the Island Manor) and thereafter lived in and managed the Island’s first really tall sleek condo, the Admiralty house, where they eventually retired. 

“As a teenager I looked forward every December to coming with a large group of my parents’ friends that caravanned in trailers and stayed at the KOA outside of Marco as we spent our winter vacation time at what was then close to a true pristine tropical island.  After about 10 years of vacations on the island, my boyfriend at that time used to vacation with his parents across the state but one day took a bus to get to the island to get to know my family. I remember painting a huge sign welcoming him which we taped up on the Marco Bridge sign. That boyfriend also fell in love with Marco and my now husband for over 30 years with our kids continued to vacation every year on Marco.”

The same thing happened with Brent and Elana, said her mother, falling in love with both the girl and the island. Fallows, 32, works in property management in Chicago, while Bandalene, 27, is an account manager for OxyChem.

Back in their hotel room, decorations included more rose petals and a commemorative blanket made by Elana’s sister Alissa. Marco Beach Ocean Resort, where the couple was staying, refused to allow a Marco Eagle representative to set foot on their property to reach the beach, despite their guests’ wishes and what would seem to be a feel-good story offering positive public relations. Hotel manager Chelsea Kalenda did not respond to repeated telephone calls seeking comment.

Reached by telephone a day after the surprise kneel-down, the couple said they had been busy “facetiming all our friends” so that those who didn’t yet know the news found out. They have not set a date for the nuptials, they said. And with his family living in Michigan and hers in Chicago, they hadn’t chosen a venue for the wedding, either — but with their well-established Marco Island connection, returning here for a beach wedding is a possibility.

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