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‘Will You Make Me The Happiest Man On Earth And Marry Me?’

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BY JE’DON HOLLOWAY-TALLEY | Special to the Birmingham Times

DARYEL AND VALARIE STEARNES

Live: Leeds

Married: Aug. 27, 1983

Met: Valarie and Daryel were born and raised in the Heights neighborhood, in Leeds and both attended Leeds High School and Bessmer State Technical College. However, in the Summer of 1981, Daryel realized he was falling in love with his long-time friend, which surprised Valarie because “…he used to bring his girlfriends by to see if I approved,” she remembered.

After graduating from Leeds High School, Valarie attended Southern Junior College of Business where she earned an office administration certification, and Daryel took up welding before enrolling at Bessemer State Technical College to get certified in welding and blueprint reading. After Valarie completed her courses at the Southern Junior College, attended Bessemer Tech as well and they began carpooling.

“We would ride back and forth and would discuss the things going on with each other and soon enough I discovered I was in love with her,” Daryel said. “I told my cousin, ‘I think I’m in love with this girl’, and he said, ‘I don’t know why you are telling me, you need to be telling her’… and that was when I asked her to go out on a date.”

“We went out a week later, and I remember the day because it happened to be on his mother’s birthday, April 29, 1981,” Valarie said. “And we told both of our parents [that we were going on a date] and both of them were elated…they were happy to see us headed in a good direction with one another.”

First date: April 29, 1981, at Baby Doe’s Matchless Mine restaurant in Birmingham [now closed]. The restaurant sat atop Red Mountain and overlooked the city, and Daryel chose it because of its romantic view.

“This wasn’t just any date, I wanted everything to be just right so I took her to that restaurant overlooking the city and conducted myself like a nice young man because I had a lot of respect for her,” Daryel said. “Valarie was fun to be around, she wasn’t snooty… she was very attentive and carried herself like a young lady and those were the things that really got my attention. And she was fine and sexy.”

“I was very excited that he wanted to take me on a date because he was a very popular young man, and I was very quiet and reserved …,” Valarie said. “The conversation over dinner was good, we talked about things we had dealt with in other relationships, our schooling, we talked about the Lord and he was a member of a gospel group, so that was the gist of our conversation.”

Valerie and Daryel Stearnes were born and raised in the same Leeds neighborhood, but fell in love during the summer of 1981, marrying two years later. (Provided Photos)

The turn: Fall of 1981. After the first date Valerie said, “I knew that I wasn’t going to date anybody else. We would go to sleep on the phone and wake up in the morning with phone in the bed,” she said.

“Valarie and I were pretty close, we would get together every weekend … she was well-mannered, she had skills, she could cook, she had qualities you’d look for in a wife. I was ready to settle down and raise a family and I asked myself one day if God forbid something were to happen to her and she became a paraplegic would I still want to be with her, and the answer was ‘yes.’ That’s when I knew she was the one,” Daryel said.

“And I was over her house one night and her stepfather said, ‘you’ve been dating my daughter for [months] when you gonna marry her?’ And I told him ‘whenever she’s ready,’ and Valarie’s mother came running through the house with a calendar pretending to mark off dates,” he laughed.

The proposal: Christmas Eve 1982, at Daryel’s mother’s home in Leeds. Valarie was sitting in their living room with Daryel’s mom and sisters when he proposed.

“I had already asked her dad, stepdad, and mother if I could have her hand in marriag e… I told her how much I loved her and I called her by her whole name, ‘Valarie Lynett Blake’, and said will you make me the happiest man on earth and marry me? And she said ‘yes’. …everybody was excited about the ‘yes’,” Daryel said.

“… he came in the room and came over to the couch that I was sitting on and got down on one knee and just asked me. Back then, proposals weren’t like they are now, people didn’t spend thousands of dollars to ask your hand in marriage. It was just me, him, his mom, and his sisters and I was very excited and said ‘yes’,” Valarie said.

The wedding: At the Leeds Civic Center, underneath a gazebo, officiated by a close family friend, the Rev. Earnest Mitchell of First Baptist Patrick City Leeds. Their colors were peach and white.

Most memorable for the bride was walking down the aisle to a song that she and her husband-to-be had recorded for their special day. “My husband wrote a song [called ‘I’ll Love You Forever and A Lifetime’] and we both had verses in the song and my stepdad recorded us singing it for me to walk down the aisle. It was different to walk down the aisle to [your own voice], music is something that we share and it was very magical because the song was for us and about us,” Valarie said. Also, “to look out and see our friends and family and community that came out that cared enough about us to come and share the moment, and to have my father and stepfather both there showed how love [can bring] family together.”

Most memorable for the groom was a moment of internal reflection as his bride walked down the aisle. “The night before, my buddies kept on asking if I was sure I was ready for the ‘old ball and chain’, and I was,” Daryel said, “it was a commitment I was excited about and ready for. And when she came walking down the aisle, she was beautiful and I became more excited that in a few moments, she was going to be mine forever.”

The newlyweds honeymooned in Atlanta, Georgia, for the weekend and went sightseeing.

Words of wisdom: “Communication is number one,” Valarie said. “And you need to look good and smell good as much as you can, and try to keep a smile on your face. Even during the tough times, smile anyway.” She added, Ecclesiastes 4:12 says “a three-fold cord is not easily broken … you got God, you got him, and you got me, and if we tie together we cannot be easily broken.”

Daryel said, “If some young lady makes you want to spend the rest of your life with her, you should consult God and wait for an answer. I believe when a man and a woman come together, it’s you, her, and God, and you need to be well advised on marriage because it’s a big responsibility and you want to be on one accord,” he said.

Happily ever after: The Stearnes attend Macedonia Baptist Church in Leeds, where Daryel serves as a Deacon and bass guitar player, and Valarie as a minister and a lead choir singer. They have two adult children, Daryel Jr., 39, and Ariel, 32, and two grandchildren.

Valarie, 63, is a Leeds native, and Leeds High School grad. She attended Southern Junior College of Business where she earned a certification in office administration, and Bessemer State Technical College where she earned a certification in computer science. She works as a renewal analyst for Protective Life Insurance Company in Birmingham.

Daryel, 63, is a Leeds native and Leeds High School grad. He attended Bessemer State Technical College where he earned a certification in welding and blueprint reading. He works for Highland Bird Minerals as a control room operator in the quarry.

“You Had Me at Hello’’ highlights married couples and the love that binds them. If you would like to be considered for a future “Hello’’ column, or know someone, please send nominations to Barnett Wright bwright@birminghamtimes.com. Include the couple’s name, contact number(s) and what makes their love story unique.

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