When Chet Soares sought to marry the love of his life, like most courting gentlemen, he purchased a ring.
But even with the ring in his possession, Soares' success wasn't certain, so he did something decidedly unconventional: Soares proclaimed his love for Tammy Dukowitz to the entire Kenai Peninsula in black and white. He took out an ad in the newspaper.
"If he can announce (it) to the whole Kenai Peninsula by putting an ad in the paper," Dukowitz said, "he's sincere, he really does love me."
Soares' proposal came more than a week after Dukowitz told him she needed to take a break. With 20 years of bachelorhood under his belt, Soares said he'd had girlfriends since his 1988 divorce, but none he wanted to spend the rest of his life with. He and Dukowitz had a lot in common and could easily talk to each other, but Soares' life as a bachelor almost got in the way of what he wanted.
"I wasn't communicating very well," he said. "I was thinking mine and hers, (not) looking at ours."
Soares met Dukowitz at Lucky Puck Bingo Hall in Kenai. Dukowitz worked there, Soares played bingo, and they would crack jokes and just talk. They have similar senses of humor, Dukowitz said, and she found herself blown away by his jokes.
"When I didn't show up, she called my daughter and said 'Where's your dad?'" Soares said.
Their relationship began slowly: a couple of movies here, a walk on the beach there. Soares drove for Carlile Transportation Systems and he would often take Dukowitz along. Their kids got along well with each other and Soares and Dukowitz found they could be so comfortable with each other, speech often wasn't necessary.
"He has qualities I was looking for," Dukowitz said.
Even though they found they could talk to each other easily, Dukowitz and Soares hit a road block in their relationship. Dukowitz and Soares weren't communicating openly with each other. When Soares' birthday rolled around, Dukowitz made him a birthday cake and called it quits.
For a week, Soares said he left messages on Dukowitz's phone, telling her how much he loved her and that he had made a mistake. But Dukowitz said she wanted something more concrete than words on an answering machine. The Clarion printed Soares' ad on Jan. 15. Soares sent a copy to Dukowitz along with a dozen roses, but still she made him wait for her answer.
In the meantime, Soares' ad created such a stir among folks in the community that he said if he could do it over again, he would have left Dukowitz's last name out. He was bombarded with phone calls from people who wanted to know if Dukowitz said yes, and from women who said if she wasn't interested, they'd have him. Dukowitz said people were calling her family, and even Soares' daughter put his 2-year-old grandson, Jackson, on the phone to persuade her to say yes.
"(He said) 'Tammy, will you say yes to my papa?'" she said. "He's my little buddy."
Jackson was successful. Dukowitz accepted to Soares' proposal, but there are a few things they'd like to do before they tie the knot. Dukowitz's youngest daughter Kaley will graduate from Nikiski High School in May and go on to pursue a nursing degree. And her oldest daughter Hillary is expecting her first baby.
"I can't till she's a grandma," Soares said. They also added that because Dukowitz will be moving into Soares' Kenai house, some remodeling is in order.
"(It's) a major bachelor pad," Dukowitz said.
Dukowitz said they haven't set a date yet, but she's hoping for a summer wedding either on the beach or at Twin Cities Raceway. Soares is the president of the Kenai Peninsula Racing Lions, and even if they don't tie the knot there, Dukowitz said she will be there on her wedding day.
"(Saying) 'Stop the races! I do, I do, and continue on,' would be neat," she said.
When asked if they have any advice to give to couples who may be looking to take the next step into matrimony, Dukowitz said they should take their relationship slow and always make sure they communicate their feelings openly.
"You have to believe in the person you're with. Open communications are extremely important," she said. "And put an ad in the Clarion, it worked for Chet!"
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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