Story by Leslie Linthicum of Journal
We all think we know “South Valley man.” In the newspaper headlines and on TV, he gets stabbed, he gets arrested for drugs and gang fighting, he goes to jail. Sometimes he gets killed.
In a cozy living room off Avenida César Chávez and Goff – in the South Valley – another South Valley man was at work the other day on his own quest to rewrite the story of “South Valley man.”
Lonnie Anderson has been professing his love for Anne Bolger-Witherspoon in creative ways for 19 years now, ever since they marked their first Valentine’s Day as a dating couple by turning his house into a giant board game, handing her two big homemade dice and asking her to play.
Through their years of dating and marriage, and the births of two daughters, he has surprised Anne each Feb. 14 with a big homemade gesture – a private prom, a bouquet of 30-foot flowers, a throne, crown and candy jewels, a poem writ large with 6,440 stones in a dirt lot.
It has all happened in the South Valley, where Anne grew up and where the couple has made their home. And because Anderson is an advertising man by profession, he has accumulated a nice portfolio of news media attention for his efforts.
He has made it so that on at least one day a year “South Valley man” is credited with sprinkling some love and positivity in a corner of the city that suffers from a negative stereotype – if it’s getting any attention at all.
This year, “South Valley man” is spreading the love worldwide.
It wouldn’t be romantic to copy the South Valley man’s Valentine’s Day ideas, but this list of some of his greatest hits might spark some imagination for Friday’s big event.
Over the years, Lonnie Anderson has:
- Made an oversized box of chocolates; each “piece” was a separate cake.
- Created in their home the bar where he met his wife.
- Rented a lighted carousel and had it set up in their front yard.
- Placed “I LOVE ANNE” signs all over town.
- Made a movie about her and had it shown at The Guild.
- Constructed giant boxes of candy hearts.
- Wrote out her favorite poem in rocks in their backyard.
- Constructed a bouquet of 30-foot flowers out of cardboard boxes.
- Drew candy pieces in chalk on the sidewalk at places around town where milestones of their lives occurred.
- Had “I Love Anne” painted in graffiti in the neighborhood where she grew up.
- Made her a throne and a crown, and a declared her Queen for a day.
Anderson got the idea when he was working in Dubai and missing his family: “I want my wife’s name spread around the world. I want people in every country around the entire world to hold up a sign that says ‘I love Anne’ and take a photograph so she knows she’s the most loved woman in the entire world.”
He put the word out on Facebook and the photos poured in – from Red Square in Russia, the Sydney Opera House in Australia, a lake in Denmark, the pyramids in Guatemala. Ireland. Malaysia. Israel. South Africa. Egypt. France. Cuba. Iran. Algeria. Vietnam.
“I think one thing I was surprised at is how small the world is,” Anderson said. “Some of these are photos from a friend of a friend of a friend.”
There are nearly 200 countries in the world, and Anderson has collected photos from about one-fifth of them.
Why would strangers go to the trouble of making a sign professing love for a woman they’ve never met, have their picture taken and send it to the South Valley?
“I think people are so tired of there not being love spread around the world,” Anderson said. In a world roiled in conflict, and the news focused on international violence and turmoil, “It’s a way to show people it’s not only negative stuff coming out of the world.”
And, he said, “I really truly believe that when you’re sincere about something and you have love as the message, how can people not want to participate?”
That the worldwide love movement would revolve around a South Valley girl was a bonus.
“It’s our responsibility to change the way the media perceives us,” Anderson says. “One of my ideas was, what if I just spread love around the entire world and it started right here in the South Valley? And it spread all the way to Russia and the Kremlin, to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, to China and the Great Wall, to all these amazing places around the world. That just shows that great, beautiful, loving things come out of the valley as much as the tough stuff that we see.”
For 19 years, Valentine’s Day has been a surprise sprung on Anne. This year, the effort was on Facebook and the cat got out of the bag, so no surprise will be ruined by putting this on the front page.
Anne is less in love with marketing than Lonnie is and she told me she wouldn’t mind if some of her Valentine’s Day surprises were shared a deux rather than with a newspaper or television audience. But she hasn’t tired of her husband’s big gestures on Feb. 14.
“I can’t imagine it not happening,” she said. If one year Anderson commemorated the day with something simple like a box of chocolates and a kiss, she said, she would worry that something was wrong with him. “It’s just not in his nature.”
It’s not breaking news, but here’s a headline: “South Valley man loves South Valley woman.”