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Lesa Laird leaves Peace Corps in Paraguay to marry the man she loves
Lesa Laird leaves Peace Corps in Paraguay to marry the man she loves
True romance: Time apart brings couple even closer
05:32 PM CST on Friday, March 5, 2004
By DARLA ATLAS / The Dallas Morning News
In November 2002, Lesa Laird thought she had a good idea of what her immediate future would bring.
Because she'd been accepted into the Peace Corps, Lesa, a 34-year-old Spanish teacher at Creekside Elementary in Lewisville, was gearing up for two years of exotic experiences.
"I've always traveled a lot, and I've done a lot of volunteer work abroad in different countries," she says of her decision to join the organization. "I figured I could combine volunteering with trying to be more fluent in Spanish."
After going through a yearlong application process, she'd been accepted and was waiting to hear where she'd be going.
Meanwhile, Eric Ramirez, 32, who teaches Spanish at Hebron High School, had met another woman who taught at Creekside Elementary. She e-mailed him an invitation to a happy-hour event at Outback Steakhouse, and Eric agreed to go.
But because he wasn't interested in the woman as a date, he brought his two cousins along. Soon after he arrived at the restaurant, he noticed Lesa.
"I thought she was very attractive, and I'm not usually attracted to blondes," he says.
Lesa also noticed Eric and his cousins – mainly because she heard them talking about her.
"They were speaking in Spanish," she says, explaining that they just assumed she didn't speak the language. That's when another teacher walked up and told them, "By the way, Lesa's our Spanish teacher, so speaking Spanish is probably not going to help you out."
The ice officially broken, the two started chatting. The woman who'd invited him to the party "was kind of getting mad at first, because he wasn't paying attention to her," Lesa says, "but then she finally said, 'You two probably have a lot in common.' "
That they did. Besides being Spanish teachers in the same school district, the two discovered they shared a love of the Dallas Cowboys. They also both attend Prestonwood Baptist Church and found they shared political views and a love of the outdoors, and both were raised by parents with careers in education.
"Then we ended up talking about college," Eric says, adding that has a degree in theology from Hardin-Simmons University. "Her grandparents had gone there, too."
As their conversation continued to flow, Eric told his cousins they could go home, and the two talked until well after midnight. Despite all of this talking, one subject Lesa didn't bring up was her imminent Peace Corps duty.
"I kept thinking in my mind, 'Do I say anything to him?' " she recalls. "I'd just met this great guy, and I was leaving the country."
That night when she got home, she found she had received a letter from the Peace Corps, saying she'd been assigned to work in Paraguay. She was scheduled to leave in three months.
She didn't tell Eric the news until about a week after they'd met.
"He called on a Saturday and asked what I was doing," she says. When she said she was packing, he asked if she was moving to a different apartment. "I said, 'No, I'm about to move out of the country.' "
Eric was surprised, of course, but it didn't deter him from wanting to keep dating.
"We just said, 'Why don't we just take it slow, wait out the next three months and see what happens?' " he says.
Lesa, who says she'd had bad luck with guys before, considered canceling the trip but decided she didn't want to take such drastic measures for a guy she'd just met. Instead, she took the attitude that "if this was meant to be, it'll happen."
But by Christmas, the relationship had gotten more serious, so both knew that saying goodbye wasn't going to be without a little heartache. "Neither of us wanted to bring up the subject," Lesa adds.
After a Super Bowl party in late January, he dropped her off at her parents' house, where she was staying until she flew out the next day.
"We stood in front of my parents' house and just cried and cried and cried," Lesa says.
Once she arrived in Paraguay, the couple kept in touch by talking on the phone once a week, writing letters and e-mailing. But after four months away, Lesa had begun to reconsider her choice.
"For many, many reasons, the assignment was not what I'd wanted," she says. "I was really unhappy, because I wasn't meeting the goals I'd set out for myself."
She says she felt frustrated in her job at a school, where the teachers and surrounding community treated her like an outsider. Plus, she wasn't able to practice much Spanish, because the country has two languages and the other, Guarani, was used more often.
She then talked to Eric about coming home.
"I got to the point where I said, 'I don't want to make the decision to come home because of you,' " she says. "And he didn't want me to come home because of him."
Still, "I really did feel she would be coming back eventually," he says. "From our conversations, I could tell she wasn't happy there; she had a sense of non- satisfaction."
Last June, Lesa flew back home, and the couple resumed where they'd left off.
"That summer, we played and went fishing and hung out," she says. "Everything completely fell into place."
In the fall, she landed a job at Lewisville's Southridge Elementary, teaching Spanish. The couple continued to date and to get more serious about each other.
After Lesa threw a birthday party for Eric at his house, "I realized she was the person I wanted to spend the rest of my life with," he says.
"She has such a giving heart and is always such a loving person. So I kind of had that feeling, but I didn't know when or how to propose."
One thing he didn't want to do was to present her with a ring at a restaurant.
Instead, he decided to be creative. Playing off their love for the Cowboys, he e-mailed the tour director at Texas Stadium to arrange a private visit.
On Dec. 9, he asked Lesa to take the day off from school for "a you-and-me day, just to play and relax," he says. So off they went to the stadium with his cousin, who was tagging along to videotape the big moment.
Once they walked onto the field, "we started throwing the ball around, and I told Lesa we should go stand on the star because it would make a cool picture," Eric says.
"Right afterward, I got down on one knee."
He proposed, using a stand-in ring because the one they were having made with her grandmother's diamonds wasn't ready. She said yes.
"Some women would maybe not find that romantic," he says, "but Lesa felt I couldn't have done it at a better place."
The two, who will marry on July 12 on a beach in Destin, Fla., have seen the picture of their proposal take on a life of its own. After Lesa saw an ad for a photo contest on Yahoo, she entered the picture, which shows Eric on one knee, Lesa standing on the star, the empty stadium seats in the background.
"That blue star, for Cowboys fans, has a lot of significance," she says.
A few weeks ago, Lesa received an e-mail saying the photo was one of 120 winners picked from 21,000 entries. The prize: The photo would be shown for 15 seconds on the big screen in New York City's Times Square.
"That kind of caused this thing to get bigger and bigger," she says, adding that several local TV stations did news segments on the couple and their winning photo.
Now that she has found her ideal man, Lesa says, she has changed her tune about fate and the mysteries of romance.
"I used to hear people say, 'When you know, you know,' and I thought, 'That is just ridiculous. I mean, come on.'
"But when I came back from Paraguay and we started spending more and more time together, I just got this overall peaceful feeling," she says. "So now I tell people that that saying is true."