‘It was either go big or go home’

Published 12:35pm Saturday, November 10, 2012

AUSTIN — Dan Swanson thanked God for Hillary Tapp in front of hundreds of friends and strangers Friday night. For him, there was nothing better, nothing more perfect, than to ask Tapp to marry him in the middle of Riverside Arena after the first period of the Austin Bruins game against the Minot Minotauros.

Dan Swanson, left puts an engagement ring on fiance Hillary Tapp's hand after proposing to Tapp in front of hundreds of people after the first period of the Austin Bruins game Friday night. -- Trey Mewes/Austin Daily Herald

“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” he said.

Swanson and Tapp grew up in Brownsdale together and have known each other for more than two decades. Tapp worked as a waitress at the restaurant Swanson’s parents owned when she was in high school, and the two were always on friendly terms. Yet time and different plans separated the two until they randomly connected the first weekend in February.

“I was so happy to see him,” Tapp said.

Right off the bat, they knew they were going to be together. For Tapp, there was never any doubt she would spend the rest of her life with Swanson, and Swanson clearly felt the same way.

“We just knew that it was going to be that way,” Tapp said. “I don’t know how else to describe it, we were almost immediately talking about it.”

They had talked about getting married for a while, but Tapp always thought Swanson would propose in April.

“He always kept saying, ‘After tax season!’” she said with a laugh.

Swanson spent weeks trying to come up with the perfect way to propose, but it wasn’t until he read an Austin Daily Herald article on the Bruins’ charity efforts for The Hormel Institute that he realized what he should do. After watching the TV show “Flash Mob,” where he saw similar public proposals between couples in love, he knew Riverside Arena, where the two had their first date at a Bruins game in April, was the perfect place to do it.

“It was either go big or go home,” he said.

He got the engagement ring at about the same time he figured out the proposal — they had exchanged ring pictures back and forth, so he had a pretty good idea of what she wanted. He met with Bruins officials a few weeks ago, who were pleased to help with the proposal.

Swanson met with Bruins staff Thursday to figure out the perfect plan: he would ask Tapp at the end of the first period in Friday’s game against the Minot Minotaurs.

At first, Tapp knew nothing about the proposal. She and Swanson were competing in the shopping cart race, a long-standing tradition at a Bruins home game. Yet Bruins officials stopped the race in the middle of the ice, telling the crowd something was wrong with the cart. The announcer asked Swanson to turn over and examine the cart, and asked for the house lights to go off and a spotlight to come on.

Swanson told Tapp her cart had a broken wheel, but after a moment Tapp flipped the cart right-side up and tried to continue the race, as many audience members laughed at what Swanson would teasingly call “cheating” later.

As soon as she heard the song, though, Tapp spun around on the ice. “Just the Way You Are,” by Bruno Mars came on, and Tapp knew she was about to experience something special.

“Over the course of this relationship, he’s sent different songs to me that meant something to him,” she said. “I think that was the first song that he had sent.”

When Swanson got down on one knee, Tapp put her hands up to her mouth in surprise, appearing to hold back tears, and walked back toward him. After a brief speech, Swanson popped the question, and Tapp immediately shook her head yes as the crowd cheered.

Afterward, Swanson said it was difficult keeping his plans from her.

“She’s not dumb, so it was tough to keep it a secret,” he said.

The two will be busy planning the wedding, and Tapp said they might get married next year in the spring or summer.

“I don’t know yet, I thought I was supposed to get engaged next April,” she said.

Whenever they set the date will most likely be fine for Swanson. He just wants her to know one thing:

“I love her, a lot,” he said.