The marriage of Mark and Aleta Lindell of Sioux Falls, S.D., got off to a wild start with a wedding celebration at the Sioux Falls zoo and an unplanned overnighter at the Townsend Hotel in Birmingham. (Jeanie Bruggeman / Special to The Detroit News)
The freshly married Lindells didn't know Birmingham, Mich., from Birmingham, Ala., until a stranger named Shane stepped in last week.
They still don't know much about Shane, but they know they're grateful. And they could get used to those fluffy bathrobes at the Townsend Hotel.
You could begin the Lindells' story at the airport in Omaha, where their flight to Detroit on Aug. 10 was delayed, delayed again and then delayed some more. Or you could begin it with their reception two days earlier, where they took a camel ride in their wedding clothes.
Or, if you wanted to take the long view and invoke fate, you could go all the way back to high school, when two future soulmates from South Dakota won prizes at the 1990 state speech tournament. Aleta Jaspers competed in Class B and Mark Lindell was in the category for larger schools, but Aleta's mom took group photos of the winners in both divisions. While Aleta and Mark didn't meet until this past October, it turned out she'd kept his face in her scrapbook for almost 20 years.
Aleta, 36, likes the long version. She's a devout Catholic who runs a sort of faith-based finishing school for preteens called Miss Jaspers' House, and she sees a guiding hand in almost all of this, including the camel.
Mark, 36, is director of guest experiences at the Great Plains Zoo in Sioux Falls. That explains the celebration at the zoo's big hall, but it doesn't explain how the hall was booked for the mayor's annual picnic when the Lindells asked about renting it -- until the mayor called an hour later to reschedule.
Clearly, the Lindells thought, fate was on their side ... until the hours started to stack up at the airport.
'Miss Jaspers doesn't date'
Aleta and Mark met at her parish's young adult group. They began keeping company, mostly in groups and always at arms' length.
"Miss Jaspers doesn't date," she told him early on, because it might be complicated and confusing for her young students to see their authority on manners and comportment holding hands. Then one Friday in February they went to noon Mass together, "and it was as if God just kicked me in the seat of the pants and said, 'It's Mark!' "
By Tuesday, they were in a jewelry store, spontaneously pointing at the same ring. Six days later, at her family's farm in a little town called Eden, he proposed -- at which point, for the first time, they kissed.
Six months later, a gate agent at the airport was offering to put them up at a hotel in Omaha and let them try again the next day. But that didn't get them any closer to Prince Edward Island, Canada, a destination Mark chose because his bride had always loved the "Anne of Green Gables" books set there. Instead, they wound up at Metro Airport, well after their 7:30 p.m. connection had left without them.
Enter Shane, whom they had chatted with at the Omaha end of the adventure. You don't want to stay at some dumpy airport hotel, he told them. Let me find you something else, he said.
First, he helped them find their luggage, which wound up in two different spots. He escorted them to his car. He drove them to Birmingham and walked them into the elegant Townsend Hotel -- and then he paid for their room. "This is on my wife and me," he said.
Thank you, Shane
Shane wouldn't give them his last name or address. "That's not what this is about," he said.
He's married and has four children, the youngest adopted from Guatemala. He's slightly shorter than Aleta, who goes about 5-foot-10. He lives somewhere in the metroplex and drives a four-door sedan.
They're willing to know only that, but they want to say thank you yet again, and assure him that everything was wonderful: The suite with the robes and slippers, the late dinner he suggested at Streetside Seafood, the breakfast at Toast.
At Streetside, staffers Kris Doerfling and Janet Kueber found out they were waiting on stranded honeymooners. They told manager Martin Bell, and the restaurant picked up the Lindells' tab while everyone cried a little. At Toast, where Aleta had a morning burrito and Mark ordered biscuits and gravy, breakfast was memorable.
Prince Edward Island was blissful, the flights home were roughly on time, and now the couple is home in Sioux Falls, telling everyone about Birmingham and looking for ways to pay the blessings forward.
"I'll say good things about Detroit for the rest of my life," Mark says. "I may become a Lions fan, even." And he says they'll be back in 50 years to do it all again.
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