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Finding Love and Fireworks In Cayucos

In 1997, Doug and Diane Pankey were first time visitors to the Annual 4th of July celebration in Cayucos. She had no idea Doug had planned something she would remember for a lifetime.

They had only been a couple for 6 months, but their first date in January proved they had much in common. And while busy in their San Joaquin Valley careers — she a polymer chemist and he a flooring contractor — Doug knew he wanted to marry Diane.

He shared their story and his upcoming plans for a return visit to Cayucos 20 years later. “I found myself falling in love with Diane but I wasn’t sure if she felt the same until Diane’s sister Brenda and best friend Lori spilled the beans that Diane was also in love. To be truthful,” he admitted, “the idea of marriage scared me in the past but felt natural after meeting Diane.”

Once he figured out how he might afford to buy her engagement ring by selling his “prized” jet ski and working extra jobs, he puzzled about how he might pop the question. Diane had graduated from Cal Poly and they regularly visited her parents in Paso Robles, Jerome and Marilyn Dowling.

“They often talked about the great fireworks show in Cayucos” he said. “It seemed logical to me that July 4 should be the day I pop the question, but how? Finally, I came up with the idea of declaring my love for Diane to everyone at the fireworks show that would include her sister, parents and a few close friends by integrating the question into the fireworks show.”

Doug contacted the Cayucos Chamber of Commerce and ran the idea past them. “They loved the idea and referred me to Mark Sylvara of Pyro Spectacular. Mark and I came up with the plan to create multiple 6-foot-tall letters on the end of the pier so that when ignited, it would be visible to all attendees of the show. The letters were created to ignite one at a time and continue to burn until all letters were burning at once revealing my proposal — “Marry Me Diane.”

He admits to being nervous not because he was worried about her answer, but because he wanted the entire plan to go perfectly without Diane being tipped off. His only confidante except the entire Cayucos Chamber of Commerce Board and the staff of Pyro Spectacular, was her sister, Brenda. He described his biggest challenge, “Just before they were ready to ignite the sign, a guy decided to stand directly in front of Diane. I asked him to move so Diane could see the display. At first, he was reluctant to move but I remember ‘persuading him’ in short order. At the time, Diane was kneeling on the beach and wasn’t really paying attention to the fireworks. Finally, I picked her up and said, ‘Look at that!’ pointing to the pier. As the letters ignited, it started to sink in.”

“Everyone on the beach was going crazy and cheering as the question was revealed,” he recalled. “I also remember the look in Diane’s face as she turned around to look at me to see if the display was for her. I was down and one knee with the ring and said ‘Well…will you?’ And she said ‘Yes!’”

Today the couple lives in Ripon, Calif., (near Modesto), where Diane has been a real estate appraiser since 1998 and Doug has “had many job changes all in the real estate field…currently realtor and real estate investor.” They have two children, Daniel, 16, a “computer whiz who is on the Ripon High golf team and already has a few colleges lined up” and Kayla, their busy 7th grader who “cheers for the Ripon Chiefs, plays soccer, softball and has multiple hobbies.”

The family will return to celebrate during the 2017 Cayucos Independence Day festivities with both their parents and siblings. Doug contacted Bill Shea, currently serving on the Cayucos Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, and discovered Mark Sylvara and Pyro Spectacular is still providing the fireworks off the Cayucos Pier.

“It will be 20-years ago this July 4th when I asked the love of my life, Diane Dowling, to marry me at the Grand Finale of the Cayucos show in 1997,” said Doug. “Twenty years and two kids later, I have not been back to Cayucos Beach, but thought it would be pretty cool to re-celebrate that moment 20 years later.”

Doug is not sure exactly what the surprise will be during the fireworks finale. You’ll just have to be there to see, and make your own family memories during the Cayucos 4th Celebration. For details check out the Cayucos Lions Club website: www.e-clubhouse.org, Cayucos Lioness Club, www.cayucoslioness.org, and the Cayucos Chamber of Commerce www.cayucoschamber.com.

Freelance writer, columnist and author of “Colonel Baker’s Field: An American Pioneer Story,” Judy Salamacha’s Then & Now column is a regular feature of Simply Clear Marketing & Media. Contact her at: judysalamacha@gmail.com or (805) 801-1422 with story ideas.

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