It was 21 years ago, in 1996 at St. Clare/Holy Trinity Elementary School (now Corpus Christi Elementary) at Lincoln and Mercer in Bloomington. That's when and where Ben Heaton and Lindsay Schroeder first caught eyes.

They were 5, in line for their very first day of kindergarten, and they became sweethearts.

At school together, through seventh grade, they stayed good friends.

Lindsay moved on to University High and Ben to Central Catholic, and both were athletes. They remained pals.

Then came college and full separation — Illinois Central College and Lindenwood for Lindsay; Augustana for Ben. 

But fate apparently was not done.

Upon college graduation, both landed jobs in St. Louis and one night at a bar there, each looked across the mahogany:

"Lindsay?"

"Ben?"

They began dating.

Then the other day, more than two decades later, in a nicely orchestrated scheme that involved a "broken-down car" and Ben needing a rescue at the corner of Mercer and Lincoln in Bloomington, he called Lindsay for an emergency lift. And there, to her surprise, as 15 friends and family also secretly made way via party bus to catch the moment, Ben went to the very spot of their first kindergarten glance in 1996.

With the hood of his "broken-down" car up, suddenly he hit a knee.

Kindergarten teacher (now retired) Sharon Ryan even made a poster: "It All Began Here — St. Clare Kindergarten." 

And Lindsay said "yes!"

They've set next Aug. 25 as a date, at Holy Trinity Church. Parents are Tom and Joan Schroeder and Greg and Marcia Heaton.

No word yet if the reception will be — where else — at the corner of Lincoln and Mercer in Bloomington.

Police beat

The good thing about a thieving mind is that a lot of them can appear rather small, making eventual detection by police a bit easier.

Like, the guy recently out in the parking lot at Central Illinois Regional Airport.

After apparently trolling a lot that can hold 3,000 cars, he found a set of high-performance wheels and tires he liked.

They were on a Ford Explorer.

In a laborious, methodical process that surely took hours, he jacked up the Explorer and, one by one, wheel by wheel, took off each. Then, under each wheel well, he placed concrete blocks, for the victim's convenience.

But this story has a nice ending.

Rather than selling the tires and wheels in another town perhaps, the thief instead put them on his own car — a very small car — the vision of which was so astounding that, having read recent theft reports, an attentive McLean County sheriff’s deputy saw a car on a street with unusual wheels and pulled it over.

Last week, in McLean County Circuit Court, the thief pleaded guilty to not being the smartest sprocket wrench in the tool box.

Food for thought

So the downtown venue, these days newly known as Grossinger Motors Arena, has been going through some lean times.

Meantime, Portillo's has come to town ... and 10 weeks later, it's still standing-room. The drive-through is so long, it changes area codes. The new Giordano's Pizza lot is also full. Ditto the new Destihl Brewery.

"The way we react to new restaurants ... it's ridiculous," suggests Jeff Payne, a longtime Twin Citian.

Thus, here is Jeff's idea — ''Turn Grossinger Motors Arena into a massive food court on nights when they can't book an act," he says. "The place would be packed every night! It'd bring thousands downtown! Plenty of parking, too."

When's the last time Bloomington's council was forced into debate over downtown over-crowding? 

`Best town ever'

Big cities get all the worldly headlines. But it’s the smaller towns that get lauded for their kindness and willingness to help.

Take Pontiac.

If Les Adams, of Sullivan, Mo., was naming what he views as the most kind city in all of America, he’d say Pontiac.

He’s even writing all the media to announce that.

Couple Thursday nights ago, Adams and his sons were along I-55, on their way to Great Lakes Naval Base in north Chicago to see granddaughter Abby graduate from boot camp.

That’s when, near Pontiac, a wheel bearing went out.

“I made it to the BP station off 55,” says Les. “The ladies there were wonderful. They gave us info for help and hot coffee left in the pot because they were closing. A local couple then came by and said if we can make it, we could use their garage. Then a young man (Michael Tuley) took my son to get parts and worked for more than three hours fixing the bearing. A local parts store was closing, but said if we paid by phone, they would hide the needed part outside. They did! A county deputy then came by and parked his vehicle so we had light. And he stayed there, shining his flashlight, until we were done.”

The Adams indeed made it to the graduation and Abby, says Les, will move on to becoming a Navy corpsman. In the meantime, Les — a Marine who served in Vietnam — says he'll remain a “proud grandpa and a proud veteran” and “thanks to one lovely town’s people, was able to send my granddaughter off with hugs and support to serve this nation and towns across America, like Pontiac, Ill.”

Nice job, Pontiac.

Outbrain