Puyallup: Sumner

Somber visit to Sumner Cemetery turns into unexpected, joyful surprise for local couple

Marriage proposal at Sumner Cemetery

Joe Barnes got down on one knee at the Sumner Cemetery to proposal to his girlfriend of six years, Kristi Giste. Giste's father passed away in 2011, and her mother passed away last year. Both were put to rest at the Sumner Cemetery. Barnes knew it
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Joe Barnes got down on one knee at the Sumner Cemetery to proposal to his girlfriend of six years, Kristi Giste. Giste's father passed away in 2011, and her mother passed away last year. Both were put to rest at the Sumner Cemetery. Barnes knew it

When Kristi Giste and her boyfriend of six years, Joe Barnes, visited the Sumner Cemetery on a sunny Sunday in October, Giste’s plans were to put flowers on the graves of her parents.

But Barnes had another plan in store.

When Giste turned to leave after placing the flowers, a surprise of a lifetime was waiting for her.

“He always knows that I face a certain way,” Giste said. “I’m cutting (the flowers) and I’m sitting there, talking to him about (them). When I was done, I picked up the stems and the scissors and I turned around and there were 17 people lined up. All our friends were there.”

That’s when Giste saw Barnes down on one knee, a wedding ring in his hand.

“I just kind of enjoyed the moment waiting for her to stand up and turn around,” said Barnes, 49. “I knew she’d be happy everyone was there.”

And more than just friends were there that day, Giste said.

“He knew just how important my parents were,” Giste said. “He wanted them to be a part of it and that just made my day, and of course, I said yes.”

He knew just how important my parents were. He wanted them to be a part of it and that just made my day and of course, I said yes.

Kristi Giste

In 2000, Giste’s father was diagnosed with dementia. That same week, her mother was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.

“I was in my 30s,” Giste said. “I really became their little advocate, and it made me love them even more. Life was really hard for them. Those diseases are not patient in the end.”

In 2011, her father passed away. This October marks the one-year anniversary of her mother’s passing.

“For Kristi, her parents were number one,” Barnes said. “I just barely met her when her father passed. I helped her with her mom for a few years or so.”

Life was hard sometimes, said Giste, taking care of her parents. But for her, it was all worth it.

“I always knew that I had to find someone who would be there because this was my life,” Giste said. “(Barnes) was very patient with (my mom). She thought he was the end all. My family friends said that mom’s wish was for Joe and I to get married.”

Barnes has been married before and has a son and a daughter. For Giste, the proposal was something entirely new.

“I’m just tickled pink,” Giste said. “I’ve never done this before. The cemetery is such a beautiful place. The leaves were perfect that day. The weather was perfect.”

The surprise proposal took some time to plan and coordinate with friends.

“I made a map up on Google and said I wanted everybody to meet over here and we would drive in (at) the opposite side of the cemetery,” Barnes said. “I knew from being there quite a few times that she would have her back turned when everyone showed up. Truthfully, I didn’t know how it was going to turn out but I knew she’d be happy no matter what.”

“My friends were pretty sly about it,” Giste added. “They could be ninjas as far as I know.”

One friend filmed a video and wrote a letter to the editor to The News Tribune about the proposal, noting there “wasn’t a dry eye.”

The proposal is a first for the cemetery, too. Cemetery manager Scott de Carteret says that as far as he knows, something like this has never happened there before.

“Knowing that they did that here was really cool,” de Carteret said. “We work really hard here to make (the cemetery) a beautiful place. Part of our mission is to try to get people here when they don’t need to be, so it’s not just a place of sadness or grief. It’s actually a very peaceful, beautiful place to be.”

Between her friends and her parents, they’re the most important thing to (Giste). She always wanted her parents to see her married, so I just thought it would be appropriate.

Joe Barnes, foreman at Gary Merlino Construction

de Carteret knew Giste from helping to put together her mother’s funeral the year before and made sure to pass along his congratulations to her.

Barnes lives in Buckley and works for Gary Merlino Construction in Seattle. Giste lives in Orting and teaches fourth grade at Woodland Elementary in Puyallup.

While the couple hasn’t set a wedding date yet, they want to honeymoon in Maui. Giste wants to take her mother with her.

“I still have some of my mother’s ashes,” Giste said. “She wanted to be spread in Hana, so we’re going to drive up (there).”

For now, Giste and Barnes have the memory of the proposal to hold onto — and pictures and videos to cherish, too.

“Between her friends and her parents, they’re the most important thing to (Giste),” Barnes said. “She always wanted her parents to see her married, so I just thought it would be appropriate.”

Allison Needles: 253-256-7043, @herald_allison

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