"I just wanted to show her how much I love and really care for her," Duke Wilbanks says of his wife, Peggy. "You know, you can tell your wife that you love her, but it's the things that you do voluntarily, without expecting anything back, that really lets them know how you feel."
What Wilbanks did to let his bride of three years know how he feels was to rewrite her personal history.
During Peggy's senior year of high school, her parents refused to allow her to attend the senior prom a decision Peggy has rued ever since.
"She's got a really big and loving heart, and she does a lot of things for other people," says Duke, 44. "So I thought, 'Well, I need to do something for her. I'm going to take her to the Payson High School prom.'"
The decision was easy. What was difficult was all of the preparation that had to be done without letting Peggy in on the surprise and keeping both of their two sons from previous marriages, PHS seniors Austin Wilbanks and Matt Taylor, from spilling the beans.
"The first thing I had to do was to think of a little scheme to get her down to the Valley to buy a formal evening gown," recalls Duke, a near-lifelong Paysonite. "I told her we had to go to a dinner that the town was throwing. Then later, after we bought the dress, I told her that I'd just found out the dinner had been called off."
Pretty cunning so far, and it stayed cunning through last Saturday. Prom day.
"I wanted Peggy to have a manicure, get her hair done and have a cosmetic makeover, so I called Backstreet Salon and told them what I was up to. They played along all the way. One of the beauticians called Peggy and told her she'd won a promotional contest."
Again, Peggy fell for the ruse hook, line and sinker.
"Before Peggy's appointment," Duke says, "I took her dress, her shoes, her corsage, a bouquet of flowers and everything she needed to the salon. When Peggy's makeover was complete, the beautician brought out the bouquet along with a poem I wrote."
The poem tells the Cinderella story of a young princess destined to experience a special day, but that it would not happen until she became the true love of a certain young man.
"Your chariot awaits," it concludes, "and the night will be one for you and I to celebrate our love for each other."
Peggy had just finished reading the poem when Duke drove up to the front door of the beauty salon in a 1929 Franklin automobile borrowed from a friend.
"She just couldn't believe this was happening," Duke says. "We went cruising up and down the highway and just talked. We went to dinner, had a couple of glasses of wine, and then we went to the prom. We had a great time, because we knew all the kids there. We visited with them and danced. It was really romantic.
"All the girls keep telling me that they wish their husbands would take a tip from me," Duke says, mulling over the broader implications of his loving act. "So maybe I've really shot myself in the foot with this thing."
Queen of the prom
"I never caught on," admits Peggy Wilbanks, 43, who by Monday was still walking on air. "I didn't have a clue until I was at the beauty shop and they brought out the flowers and the card. That's when they told me. Duke had it very well planned.
"I always wanted to go to a prom one time, just to see what it was like to get all dressed up and everything, because all my friends went. But I never got the chance to do that. So I was in shock. I really was.
"But it wasn't surprising that Duke did all of this," she says, "because he's a very romantic, thoughtful and caring man.
"It was wonderful. We got to the prom about 8:30 or 9 o'clock, and everybody thought we were chaperones. We had to tell them, 'No, we're actually a prom couple!' We danced and had a great time. It was very, very romantic."
Not to get too personal, but ... afterward, did Mr. and Mrs. Wilbanks sit in the back seat of the car and make out?
"Well, sure we did!" Peggy answers with a gleeful laugh. "It was my prom night!"