NORMAL — If Jim Waldorf ever wanted to write a book, he knows exactly the topic he would choose: singing valentines.
A member of Bloomington-Normal’s Sound of Illinois Chorus, he joined three other members this weekend to form one of several tuxedo-clad, close-harmony barbershop quartets who traveled the Twin Cities called Singing Valentines.
“It is the funnest things we do all year,” he said. “I swear, the things that happen to us and the things that we see, I know I could write a book about it.”
For $60, the Singing Valentines will show up at a site of the customer’s choosing to sing two complete songs, present a gift of chocolate or a candle, delver a valentine card, hand the recipient a fresh rose and snap a photo of the event.
On Sunday, one of those visits was to Redbird Arena at Illinois State University, just prior to the tip-off of the men’s Illinois State-Bradley basketball game.
“It’s Valentine’s Day,” said Paul Brown, who surprised his wife at courtside with the human greeting cards. “I did this last year. It’s a lot of fun and a nice surprise. It’s a fundraiser for them and so it is definitely worth it.”
Members of the group were dressed in black tuxedos with red bow ties and vests. Sunday’s group featured Brett Mulford, Mark Sheffler, Brian Johnsrud and Mike Rutledge.
They were joined briefly by ISU mascot Reggie Redbird — who sang silently — but wore cupid wings and a bow and arrow for the occasion.
“We’ve been doing this Friday, Saturday and Sunday and it’s just a lot of fun,” Mulford said. “The camaraderie is special, but we also love surprising the guests and just having a lot of fun doing what we love to do, which is singing.”
Members of the barbershop chorus have been delivering singing valentines since 1998 as a fundraiser to cover chorus expenses and to build awareness for the ensemble.
“Some real crazy things happen and we love the unpredictability,” Waldorf said. “We have sung for men who have chased us away and we have sung for diesel mechanics who have burst into tears.”
Sometimes, the quartets are asked to deliver special gifts.
“We have handed car keys to daughters and, of course, engagement rings and jewelry,” Waldorf said.
“We have sung for couples because their children asked us to," he said. "We have sung for people who have recently lost loved ones. It can be very emotional.”
Scheffler has been singing barbershop harmony for 43 years, he said.
“When you do something like the Singing Valentines, you get so many different reactions and that is what makes it so much fun,” he said.
The Browns weren’t the only ones to share a romantic moment Sunday at Redbird Arena.
Matt Coates, a former walk-on who joined the Redbirds for the 2008 season, and his girlfriend, Allie Held, were picked to compete in an in-game fan contest during a timeout on the court. After the contest, Coates asked for the microphone, dropped to one knee, presented her with an engagement ring and asked for her hand in marriage.
Held put her hand over her mouth, dropped down to hug Coates and nodded her head to say "yes" while the crowd of 7,888 fans cheered wildly.
Coates, who graduated in 2011, now is a motivational speaker and counselor in the Peoria area. Held lives in Bloomington and works for State Farm. Her father played basketball at Bradley.