John Beranek & Karen Park
Chalk it up to love!
When Karen Park and John Beranek got engaged, friends scrawled the story of how they met on the sidewalk between their homes.
"John met Karen at Top of the Park," they announced in colored chalk. "She lives that way"-here an arrow pointed toward the former Bethel AME Church on Fourth Avenue-"And they are neighbors," another sidewalk square continued. "Weird, huh?"
Weird, but true: though Beranek was renovating an old house just four doors from Park's apartment in the renovated church, their paths crossed not on the street but at the Summer Festival's popular outdoor nightly event in 2004. She was with three gal pals, he with a bachelor friend. The groups eyed each other, and somehow their tables combined.
"It wasn't like love at first sight," stresses Park, an anesthesiologist at St. Joe's. Beranek, an engineer between jobs, nods in agreement. But they were amused to discover they were neighbors, and they found they both liked to run and bike.
Soon afterward, Park saw Beranek working in his yard and stopped to chat. They started biking together, and things began to heat up when Beranek injured his knee biking and had to get around for a while on crutches. "Karen began calling me up [to ask] 'Do you need me to pick up something for you?'" Beranek recalls.
"I sort of nursed him back to health," agrees Park, who credits soup from Zingerman's with hurrying the healing.
To celebrate Beranek's fortieth birthday, the couple flew to Hawaii. There he proposed, and she accepted. They returned to find their story chalked on the sidewalk between their homes-prompting congratulations from neighbors up and down the block.
Park, forty-six, is small and trim. She came to Ann Arbor in 2002, moving from D.C. with a former boyfriend, and liked the city so much that she stayed on after they broke up. Beranek, forty-two, a sturdy-looking guy with light brown hair, came from Boston in 1990 to take a job at Ford.
Asked what attracted them to each
other, Beranek looks embarrassed. "Her zest for life," he says. "We just like to have fun together." "He's just one of the most considerate people I've ever met," says Park. "I saw how he was with his friends."
Although both their careers require scientific savvy, Park says her spouse's field is a mystery to her. When she lived in the D.C. area, all her friends and dates seemed to be "lawyers, political people, academics. I didn't even know anyone who was an engineer!"
Beranek had done some fixing up of the 100-year-old home before they met. Together they planned a "green" addition and remodeling that took more than a year to complete but made the building so energy efficient that it is a candidate for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification-which would be a first in the state for a home remodeling project. Remodeling is famously stressful, but the newlyweds managed fine-partly because they were able to move into Park's apartment while the work was done.
It helped, too, that they had similar tastes in decorating. They knocked down walls to make the small house seem larger and created a modern, open kitchen. They kept the snow-white exterior but set it off with a brilliant blue front door that looks as if it jumped out of a child's picture book.
Sitting in their new living room, Park and Beranek laugh a lot, even when describing the difficulties they faced combining their well-established households. "We each had a complete set of dishes, silver," Park says. "It wasn't like junky stuff you have in college," Beranek puts in.
They also had different approaches to resolving the duplication. "I'm a throw-away-er," Park explains. "And John's more of a memorabilia keeper." But both were mature enough to know that the name of the game was compromise. Out went Karen's glasses and most of John's furniture. Dishes were combined.
Considering they were neighbors for almost a year without knowing it, Beranek and Park wonder whether they'd ever have gotten together if not for that night at Top of the Park. They're not sure they believe in destiny, but Beranek says they met at just "the right moment," when both were ready to settle down.
Park says something about him decided the matter for her. "I was in a totally different relationship" before, she says. "But I felt alone in the relationship. With John, I felt we were in together."
[Originally published in February, 2009.]