SOMERVILLE, NJ – A surprise engagement took center stage at last weekend’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Somerville. In the midst of the March 11 festivities, Piscataway resident Steven Verardi boarded a float and popped the question to his girlfriend Elise Latona, marking the first known engagement to take place at the parade in 27 years.

Since opening The Beauty Bar three years ago, Latona and business partner Kelly Knecht have hosted a small parade day party for family, friends, and clients at their West Main Street salon. So, when it came time to propose and Knecht suggested doing it during the parade, everything, said Verardi, began to fall into place.

“Doing it during the parade was actually Kelly’s idea. I think she initially suggested it as a joke – she told me to do it on a float dressed as a leprechaun,” said Verardi, adding, “I thought it was a great idea and went with it – minus the leprechaun, of course.”

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With Knecht’s help, Verardi said he reached out to the committee in charge of the Somerville St. Patrick’s Day Parade in early February and, within a week, was given the green light. “They thought it was a great idea and told me that, over the past 27 years, no engagement has taken place, that they know of, at the parade,” Verardi said, adding that special thanks go out to Neil Mahoney and the other members of the parade committee for their support.

Over the weeks that followed, Verardi and Knecht also worked closely to iron out the details of the proposal and, on parade day 2018, a larger than usual crowd gathered at The Beauty Bar.

In the midst of the festivities, Latona and Knecht were asked to come outside under the pretense that they were being honored as business owners in the community.

“They called us outside and said something about wanting to honor us. Then they led us onto the float. I had no idea what was going on,” said Latona.

“They called Elise and I up on the float and introduced us and then basically kicked me off,” laughed Knecht, adding, “As I turned to step down, Steven was standing there waiting to go up.”

Once on the float, Verardi proclaimed his love for his best friend and soul mate before going down on one knee and proposing to Latona in front of friends, family members and total strangers. Latona, of course, said yes, and kissed her fiancé as confetti shot into the air, fire sirens sounded and the crowd cheered.

“It really was a fairytale,” said Knecht, a former resident of South Plainfield

While she was honored to play a role in making the engagement memorable and determined to keep it a surprise, Knecht said not letting on that she was talking to her best friend’s boyfriend on a daily basis was hard. “We work together every day so I had to make sure to keep my phone on me at all times with the screen down so that she wouldn't catch on,” she said.

Latona and Verardi, who both currently reside in Piscataway, met through an online dating site and will celebrate their three-year anniversary next month. Although she knew she wanted to marry Verardi and had discussed doing so ‘at some point,’ Latona said she never expected the proposal to occur when it did. “I didn't see it coming,” she said.

“Kelly and Steven had obviously been planning this whole thing and all of our friends and family were there and all these people knew and no one slipped,” said Latona, adding, “I had no idea and I am still in shock. I really wasn't expecting it.”

Although no date has been set, just yet, Verardi said wedding bells will be ringing ‘by the end of the year.’