Oscar-winning movie star Tom Hanks has enjoyed many a big moment, but for a devoted Texan fan, the part he played in her engagement was the biggest and most memorable.
San Antonio native Nikki Young – an actress as well as the entertainment director for Morgan's Wonderland – is getting married, thanks to her idol Hanks and enterprising boyfriend Ryan McFarling.
"In all the years that I have dreamed of meeting Tom Hanks, never in my wildest dreams did I ever think it would come like this, in the most magical way – as a co-star in our love story," Young, who's having a hard time coming down from cloud nine, said.
Her dream moment happened Saturday at the Texas Book Festival in Austin, where the actor spoke to hundreds of listeners about his new book Uncommon Type: Some Stories. It happened at the end of the Q&A portion of Hank's talk.
The planning, however, started several days before, according to McFarling.
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The 39-year-old maintenance director at Morgan's Wonderland and Young, 43, have been dating a year, but have known each other longer. So McFarling was well aware of her adoration for Hanks.
That began with his early '80s sitcom, Bosom Buddies, she said.
From there, her "mad crush" grew throughout his film career – from Bachelor Party to Splash to Big to Forrest Gump and, most recently, Sully.
Young even has a "shrine" to Hanks in her home, "an area in my room full of interesting Tom Hanks memorabilia", she said.
However, in all the decades of adoring him from afar, she never had the chance to meet him – until Saturday.
Learning he was coming to Austin for the book festival, she was desperate to attend.
Though tickets were no longer available, Young didn't give up. Noticing that Texas Capital Bank was a sponsor, she remembered that the dad of one of her Morgan's Academy theatre arts students was an officer there.
The connection ended up getting her and McFarling not only into the festival, but V.I.P. passes.
Then it was McFarling's turn to get to work. He secretly arranged to meet one of the Austin bank executives in San Antonio, and showing him the engagement ring he had designed for Young, asked if it were possible to incorporate Hanks into his marriage proposal.
"He thought it was a very cool idea," McFarling said. In short, arrangements were made. He alerted both his and Young's folks of his plan before the two headed to Austin.
"Ryan seemed so nervous," Young recalled. "I thought it was because I was nervous about finally being in the presence of Tom Hanks. We even got front row seats. I, of course, was enamoured by every word and breath that came from his lips."
When the Q&A started, and she realised Hanks was reading questions from pieces of paper submitted by the audience, she felt disappointed. "I was pouting at first," she said. "But then he came to the last question."
Young was startled to hear her boyfriend's name and then hers.
Hanks first informed the crowd he was tired of taking their questions and wanted to ask one himself.
The actor then pulled out a piece of paper. He read that a man in the audience, Ryan McFarling, had a question for a woman named Nikki Young. The question: "Nikki, will you marry me?"
The couple was invited to the stage, McFarling got down on one knee and gave Young the ring.
"It was an emotional blur," she said of the moment, but she remembers "kissing Ryan and having lots of hugs for Tom."
Later, the actor gave her a flower, congratulated the couple and posed for pictures.
McFarling recalled a few more details, however. "Tom put his arm around Nikki's shoulder. He looked at her, at me and the crowd, and said, 'We can all see that this is a very lucky man. We can also see that she could do a little better'.
"It was very funny," McFarling said. He particularly loved Hanks' followup: "He leaned over to me and said, 'Damn, you're one ballsy dude'."
Young said she's still in shock over the lengths McFarling went to create such a glorious memory. "He's so supportive. He's such a good guy."
As for just when the two will tie the knot, that may be awhile, they said. "We have to see what we can afford," she said.
One thing is certain; Hanks will be invited. "Absolutely. I will tweet him," Young said.
"No, he will get a written invitation," McFarling said. "I have no idea how [to get it to him], but we have a little time to figure that out."