Southside Sweethearts

Southside Sweethearts

Articles by Sherri Coner

JR and Danielle Byrum

For nearly a decade, Danielle Byrum pretended to love pork chops, all in an effort to support her husband’s newfound cooking skills.

“My husband and I married young, and we learned a lot together,” Danielle said of JR, her high school sweetheart and husband of 16 years. “We were very, very poor like most college students, and he very slowly learned to cook. Very slowly.”

To improve their skills, they cooked side by side with recipes for 10 weeks in a row.

And then, JR became a stay-at-home dad for 10 years while Danielle went to work as an air traffic controller. When it was necessary to tackle solo cooking, the meals were a total loss.

“I don’t know what I was doing wrong, but they were all bad,” he said of the long list of culinary failures.

Around year four of the marriage, JR finally hit a homerun with a recipe for baked pork chops with apples.

“For the first time in four or five weeks, I didn’t just destroy a meal,” he said.

“He was so proud of himself,” Danielle said. “I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I don’t like pork chops. I pretended to love them.”

All of a sudden, JR confidently and frequently whipped up the tried-and-true pork dish and served it with a smile for date night and other times when it was his turn to cook.

After nine long years of fake happy dining, Danielle reached her limit.

She finally confessed that actually, she never wanted to see another pork chop, even if it was surrounded by apples smothered in cinnamon.

“He was furious,” Danielle said of JR’s reaction. “He couldn’t believe that I lied to him for so long and how dare I pretend to like something, even to spare his feelings.”

A few weeks passed.

While Danielle tossed another occasional apology in his direction every now and then about the pork chop fib, JR did some sulking.

Eventually, they made up, just in time to book a cruise.

JR and Danielle Byrum have been married for 16 years and live in Greenwood (Submitted photos)

When JR was late to meet her for dinner on the vacation, Danielle very innocently ordered for him.

Because chops had not been on the family menu since her confession, she thoughtfully ordered a pork chop dish for her man.

When JR joined her in the dining room a few minutes later and learned that Danielle had placed a pork chop order in his honor, “I shot her a death glare,” he said with a laugh. “But she had no idea why I was so mad.”

The time had arrived for JR to also make a confession.

“I never told Danielle until that night that I don’t like pork chops either,” he said.

When the waiter arrived with the dreaded pork chops, “Danielle was cackling with glee,” JR said.

The waiter laughed at the story and insisted that JR choose something himself from the menu.

“This man spent over 10 years making food for us that neither of us liked,” Danielle said. “We thought we were being considerate to the other person.”

His wife still loves to share the pork chop saga, JR said. “And every time it comes up, everyone laughs except me.”

It isn’t exactly a shock that pork chop dinners led their lives for a decade.

Their pure intentions to protect each other’s feelings began in high school trigonometry class when JR sat three seats behind Danielle.

To get his attention, she pretended to need help with the graphing calculator.

“I didn’t have the heart to tell him he was doing it wrong,” she said of her crush’s patient assistance.

“I taught her the wrong way,” JR said. “So on the test, I bombed it, and she aced it.”

Scott and Monica McKeown

The perfect love story between Scott and Monica McKeown of Whiteland began in 2001 when Monica, her family and another family of friends arrived at an Orange Beach, Ala. resort.

As the handsome bellhop from Pensacola, Fla. helped the families with luggage, the cute Hoosier girl caught his eye.

During that spring break vacation, Monica saw Scott only in passing.

Before her family headed back north, Monica nervously left her email and phone number for Scott at the front desk.

Very naturally, two months of faithfully exchanged emails followed.

Young people his age were fickle and he was tired of dating, Scott said.

But Monica was different.

“I saw an openness about her,” he said. “Monica really wanted to be in a relationship.”

Eventually, a long-distance calling card made phone conversations possible.

That Christmas, Scott drove north for a three-day stay with Monica and her family.

Back in Florida, he realized something before he had completely unpacked from the trip.

“I thought, ‘I’m gonna make this big leap,’ Scott said. “I’m moving to Indiana to be with Monica.”

From January to May 2002, the lovesick 20-year-old made huge sacrifices.

“I ate Ramen noodles and tuna for lunch every day for five months,” he said with a laugh. “So I could afford a moving truck.”

Monica was set to graduate from Whiteland Community High School and Scott was her prom date.

As a resourceful young man, Scott remained in Indiana for a couple of weeks.

Scott and Monic McKeown: Scott was living and working in Florida when Monica and her family were on vacation in 2001.

He landed a job with Value City Furniture in Greenwood, where he is still employed.

He rented an apartment in Bargersville.

He left his car with Monica’s family and rode a Greyhound bus back to Florida.

When Monica, 18, saw her 20-year-old sweetheart again, he was driving a U-Haul truck.

“He actually got back in town two days before I graduated,” she said.

Engaged by December that same year, the couple tied the knot and bought a home in 2005.

When their first child Noah arrived more than three months premature in 2008, the same strong love they nurtured across state lines carried them through prayers for Noah’s survival and financial recovery afterward.

“Monica was in the NICU with Noah every day,” Scott said. “I realized we couldn’t pause the bills. So I got a second job, cleaning at night.”

After leaving work at Value City, Scott took a short nap at home before working from 7 p.m. to midnight at the second job.

For five years, that was his schedule; to keep life afloat for their little family.

A couple of years later, daughter Charlee arrived after a full-term pregnancy.

Today, Noah, 15, and Charlee, 13, are busy with homework and extracurricular activities.

Monica is a library assistant at the Clark Pleasant Branch of Johnson County Public Library.

Married now for 18 years, their love has never faded.

“Scott is a self-made man,” Monica said proudly. “He is a wonderful husband and father, even though he didn’t have that kind of role model. He treats us so well.”

After 18 years of marriage, that immediate connection with Monica has never changed, Scott said.

“She’s always supportive and we relate with common interests,” he said.” Being married to Monica is like having your best friend to hang out with for life.”

Chris and Melissa Russell-Plunkett

On that particular day more than 20 years ago, Franklin College senior Chris Plunkett met Melissa, a happy-go-lucky freshman under the stage lights.

She was auditioning for a part in the upcoming play, and Chris read for the male role.

“Our first kiss was that day,” Melissa said. “The part called for the male actor to kiss me on the forehead.”

Both were involved in the campus theater program.

“I knew pretty early on that she was someone special,” said Chris, technical director of Pike Performing Arts at Pike High School.

“It was so easy to spend time with him,” said Melissa, a mental health counselor in Greenwood. “He made me laugh so much and we shared similar interests. We were friends long before anything happened romantically.”

Humor was also important to Chris.

“Melissa can always make me laugh,” he said. “And she matches me in intellectual conversation.”

After dating for a year, Chris knew he wanted Melissa to be his life partner.

To make the proposal unique and memorable, he bought two tickets for Phantom Of the Opera in Toledo, Ohio. He then called there to ask for permission to propose to Melissa near the stage during intermission.

“Of course, the ring was burning a hole in my pocket,” Chris said of his well-developed plan.

When intermission finally came and he mustered the nerve to take a knee, his unsuspecting girlfriend popped out of her seat for a restroom break.

That evening, a growing crowd of other women shared the bathroom break idea.

By the time Melissa reappeared, the lights were dimming for the play to resume.

Sadly, Chris realized the proposal plan was a curtain call.

Not the kind of guy to completely give up on romantically asking for the hand of his beloved, he got busy devising a new plan.

Chris and Melissa met in the campus theater program at Franklin College.

A couple of months after the theater idea failed, Chris intended to use Melissa’s tendency to sleep deeply as his primary plot for success.

Carefully, he would place the ring on her finger while she was sleeping, then wake her up to serve breakfast in bed. When Melissa eventually noticed the ring on her hand, he would pop the question.

While thinking about this new and improved plan and how priceless her expression would be when Melissa suddenly noticed the ring, Chris started frying the bacon.

Moments later, it was too late to realize the ring placement should have happened before ever frying bacon.

‘Sleeping Beauty’ awakened right out of her slumber and stumbled into the kitchen for the second proposal fail.

“I smelled the bacon frying,” she said with a laugh. “It woke me up. And Chris was a little exacerbated.”

“I just said, ‘Here, here’s your ring,’” he said.

“Yeah, I messed it up both times,” Melissa said. “I don’t think he had it in him to try again.”

On their wedding day, Chris once again flirted with the element of surprise.

“I sent a bouquet of flowers to the church,” he said.

That plan also tanked when Melissa arrived late and frazzled.

The nervous bride didn’t see the surprise.

Nineteen years later, the couple has two boys, ages 16 and 13, and an angel baby.

Unfortunately, Melissa’ superpower for accidentally messing up her own special moments is still going strong.

Despite a long list of failed attempts, Chris still tries for the win.

“She ruins so many of my surprises,” he said with a laugh. “But she’s worth the hassle.”

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