WAHOO — It was 1984, and Dave Berreckman was on a weeklong bike trip across Nebraska. Cycling next to him was the love of his life.
He and Jean Sobieszczyk, a girl with light-blond hair and a bright smile, had been dating for several months. Dave was sure he wanted to be with her forever — but how to tell her?
He wanted to propose somewhere along the Bike Ride Across Nebraska (BRAN) route, but he wasn’t sure exactly where. Everything had to be just right.
Then, he heard the ride was finishing near Grand Island, the location of a fun run where the two had first spoken to each other.
The ring was hidden in an empty aspirin bottle tucked in his front pack and out of Jean’s sight. Toward the end of the ride, Dave asked Jean if she wanted to pull off to get something to eat nearby. Instead, they ended up taking a detour to a familiar spot.
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Jean said she began to get suspicious. Nervous.
“As we were pulling into this place where we actually met, my heart started pounding,” she said.
Dave’s father pulled up to deliver flowers — daisies — Jean’s favorite. Then, Dave got down on one knee.
“This is where we first met, so this is where I’d like to ask you to stay in my life forever,” he said. “Will you marry me?”
With a resounding “Yes!” from Jean, the two began the rest of their lives next to that bike trail.
Jean and Dave were married less than a year later. Thirty-eight years, two kids and two grandkids later, the pair is still together and happily in love.
“After the 500-mile bike ride, she was worn down enough to say yes,” Dave joked.
Today, the Berreckmans live in Holdrege, and Jean is a former middle school counselor. In celebration of her recent retirement, Dave and Jean wanted to take a trip together.
Dave said he wanted to go to Hawaii, but Jean suggested BRAN.
So, the two set off on a ride to retrace the route where their love first began. The week of their engagement was BRAN’s fifth ride, and this year was the 40th.
“It’s romantic, very reminiscent and reflective,” Dave said. “It’s been a joy.”
Pedaling along with them was their dear friend, Barb Bohaty, who played an integral part in their relationship. Bohaty was there when Dave and Jean first met, and she was also along on the pair’s engagement ride.
“She’s the reason we’re together,” Dave said.
After the two met at the Grand Island run, Bohaty helped arrange a place for Dave and his friends to stay so he and Jean would have a chance to connect. She’s been walking alongside the couple ever since.
She even hand-sewed the matching cheetah print bike shorts Dave and Jean wore on their engagement ride.
Saturday, the couple posed for a picture in those same shorts, re-creating the picture from the most important bike ride of their lives.
Bohaty is a 30-time BRAN rider who has continued to faithfully participate in the event since her friends’ engagement, but she was thrilled to accompany them for their first BRAN ride since ‘84.
“It’s like coming and having a family reunion with people who like to ride bikes,” she said.
The trio finished their week of biking Saturday in Wahoo. Bohaty and the Berreckmans rode alongside 375 cyclists, trekking through towns such as Alliance, Callaway, Ord and Shelby.
Dave said he enjoyed the scenery and the chance to get to know the group. He didn’t get to do that last time — he was a little distracted.
“I was infatuated with her and wanted to marry her,” Dave said. “So all my thoughts were about her and I.”
Today, he’s just as in love with Jean, but this year’s ride was about nostalgia.
As the pair rolled across the prairie, past churches and farm towns, they were reminded of their love for each other. With all the children, grandchildren and careers come plenty of happy memories.
“Her and I have established what we wanted to do, and we’ve lived a great life,” Dave said.
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