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Proposal on the Old Stompin' Ground

October 16, 2013


MACOMB, IL – Jenna Decker (Oak Forest, IL), a senior sociology major at Western Illinois University, wasn't exactly thrilled her boyfriend had talked her into running the early-morning 5K event during WIU's Homecoming Weekend. A tradition during the annual festivities, the Old Stompin' Ground 5K Run/Walk was the first race Matt Jeslis (Plainfield, IL), a senior law enforcement and justice administration major, had competed in at Western three years ago. For him, running in it this past weekend was another way to celebrate his love of WIU… and the love he has for Decker, his girlfriend since June 2012.

Although they have run a few times together in other races, Decker, who ran track all four years of high school and has the leg wear-and-tear to prove it, hadn't been interested in competing this year.

"I didn't really want to run the race to begin with. I ran cross country and track for four years in high school, but my legs are pretty beaten down, so I try not to run long distances," Decker noted. "We've run a few 5ks together and they have always been fun, but this one he was acting really weird. He had his phone with him the whole time and was texting during the race. He was also extremely quiet and fidgety. I never would've thought he would do that during a race."

Jeslis had a reason for his nervousness. An idea—which had come to him one late December evening while working at the information desk in Corbin/Olson—was going to come to fruition that early morning run, which has a course that passes in front of the Sherman Hall steps. All he could do at that point (well, with the exception of running and texting) was hope his plan would end in success.

"Before the race, I hadn't described the course in detail, and I failed to mention the couple of hills we had to run up. To be honest I was getting nervous, because Jenna seemed to be getting madder at me for making her run in the first place," Jeslis said. "But I because I know Jenna is in love with the Sherman Hall steps and would like to get married on those steps, I was hoping my idea—about how special it would be if I proposed marriage in the same spot—would work."

Upon coming around the corner of the Sherman Circle part of the course, the reason for her boyfriend's behavior started to become clear to Decker. Jeslis had enlisted a group of their friends, who had traveled to Macomb especially to aid him in the execution of his plan. Stationed along the final leg of course, their friends were holding signs that would deliver the proposal while Decker and Jeslis ran the last bit of the 5K distance.

"I heard the voices of my friends, Kate (who goes to ISU), Meagan (who goes to SIUC) and Sean (who goes to U of I), and that was my initial indicator this was happening. When I finally read the signs and got to the Sherman Hall steps, I was in complete shock and full of emotion. The signs were original and were such a good idea on his part to lead me to the proposal," Decker said.

Needless to say, Jeslis' plan worked.

"When he got down on one knee, he looked at me with his big smile (my favorite) and asked, 'Will you make me the luckiest guy...?" And before he could finish, I said, "Yes! Yes! Yes!' The rest is a blur. I just remember him picking me up, and I was crying, and then I ran to my friends and family and hugging everyone and bawling our eyes out. It was everything I ever dreamed of. The fact he did it at Sherman Hall, right by the steps and at the heart of this University, made it even better. Saying that we love Western is an absolute understatement, I couldn't imagine us getting engaged anywhere else," Decker said.

The young couple—who met during their first year at Western on their way to WIU Student Services' leadership training camp, Camp Leatherneck—would like to say their vows in 2016.

"After we both graduate next spring, Jenna plans to attend graduate school to study college student personnel, and I plan to move to the state where she will be getting her master's degree. I plan to pursue my career in law enforcement by getting a policing job," Jeslis said.

And, if all goes according to Jeslis' next plan, they would like to arrange for the ceremony to take place on the Sherman Hall steps, both because of Decker's love of that area of campus and because of their cherished experiences at Western.

"Both Jenna and I have been extremely involved at WIU. From both being in Greek Life (Delta Zeta and Pi Kappa Phi); serving as being summer assistants (which is pretty much a summer resident assistant position) and working with hall governments; working with Inter-Hall Council; working with a state organization Illinois Residence Hall Honorary to bring a conference of 200 people to Macomb from 17 different Illinois universities, to community service and Students Today Leaders Forever (STLF) Pay It Forward Tours, we have been really lucky to call WIU and Macomb our home," Jeslis explained. "Western has significantly changed our lives. We not only met each other here, but we have also gotten to know so many great people through all of our experiences. Never in a million years did I think, in addition to being able to earn my degree here at Western, I would be lucky enough to find that one person I want to spend the rest of my life with. Once we graduate, we can come back to WIU every Homecoming and take part in the 5K and remember that special day," Jeslis added. "That is, if Jenna will want to run with me again."

To view more photos of Jeslis' proposal, see www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10152309456888957.1073741850.10274793956

Posted By: Teresa Koltzenburg, University Relations
Phone: (309) 298-1993 * Fax: (309) 298-1606