ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When it comes to pulling off the grandest of grand romantic gestures for Valentine’s Day, Lonnie Anderson is an undisputed star.
You remember Anderson, the South Valley man who wears his heart on his sleeve for his wife of 19 years, Anne Bolger-Witherspoon. Last year, for example, that heart was a 100-pound pink piñata one made from refrigerator boxes covered with 300 sheets of tissue paper and dangled from a crane parked near their home off Bridge and Goff SW.
Over the years, Anderson, who owns a graphic design firm, has also painted a giant Sweetheart candy imprinted with Anne’s name on a building, spelled out an e.e. cummings poem with 6,500 pebbles, threw a private prom, crafted cardboard flowers taller than a house, used industrial-strength projectors to cast images of affection for Anne on the side of a building and rented a working carousel for his lady love to ride in their front yard.
His super-sized Valentine’s surprises have been featured in this column over the years and in other publications and across social media.
“I have become slightly famous around the world for my valentines,” he said.
This year, you might say Anderson’s annual display of affection was out of this world.
On an enchanted evening this week, he feted Anne with a galactic treat by serving her dinner under the stars – those stars aligned in a special constellation projected overhead at the planetarium in the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.
Days before the big night Wednesday, he explained his plan: “I have a box of stardust with glowing orbs that I will give to her so she can make a wish. If everything goes as it should, my wife’s name will then appear in the millions of stars on the dome of planetarium. And very quietly, we will play Frank Sinatra’s version of ‘Fly Me to the Moon.’ ”
Kind of makes convenience store roses and a box of Brach’s look pretty blasé, doesn’t it?
Anderson also presented Anne with a note written to her by retired NASA astronaut Terry Virts. A longer shot – as in about 220 miles overhead – was his hope that by the time dinner was served he could secure a love note transmitted to Anne from European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano, who is orbiting the Earth on the International Space Station.
That, he said, was not to be this time. But he’s been working on this part of the project for five years, so what’s another year?
This stellar show stopper of a valentine was inspired by youngest daughter Cheyenne Anderson, 12, who served the dinner to her mother under the stars.
“Both my daughters Cheyenne and Hawthorn have helped me since they were very young,” he said.
Like every Valentine’s Day project he’s done over the past 25 years, Anderson estimates that the cost for his space-themed lovefest is about equal to the price of a fancy dinner for two and a bouquet of roses. That’s in part because most of the people who help him pull off his projects offer their services at no or low cost just to be part of the love.
This year, for example, he’s enlisted the help of the museum space science director James Greenhouse, who gave the go-ahead for the Valentine’s project. Software developer Simone Seagle and museum technology director Geoff Skelton reprogrammed the code that makes the planetarium stars align just so.
Anderson reminds us that his love for love was inspired by his grandmother, who every Feb. 14 wistfully watched her fellow waitresses gush over gifts from their husbands or boyfriends while she received nothing, her husband not a believer in public displays of affection of any sort.
Anderson said he vowed that Anne would never feel unloved like his grandmother did. And he also vowed to publicly share his Valentine’s Day extravaganzas as a way to spread good news and cheer to his South Valley community and, now, to infinity and beyond.
“There is always so much negative news coming out of the South Valley where I live that I had hoped this might inspire others to do something beautiful for the ones they love,” he said.
This Valentine’s Day, may you be inspired to reach for the stars and for the ones who make your heart soar.
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.