Sometime in the middle of November, when the yuletide joy started to kick in like a mug of spiked eggnog, the Sheldon man decided he needed a really Christmasy way to propose to his girlfriend of four years, Ashley Seehusen.
The Sheldon man, with grandparents residing in Storm Lake, had visited Santa's Castle as a child. He called his mom, found out the landmark was still going strong, and began to plot.
With a little covert assistance from Castle Curator Ron Stevenson, Dustin arranged for a Santa suit to be awaiting him at the Castle Saturday night. He and Ashley, and most of their families, would make the trip in for what Ashley thought was just a holiday outing. Midway through the exhibit of holiday merriment, Dustin would excuse himself "to use the restroom" while the others went ahead. He was whisked out of sight for a quick North Pole makeover, and when the "real" Santa, who was in on the plan, excused himself momentarily to check on his reindeer, a suited-up Dustin was quickly snuck onto the throne.
Ashley, who was occupied rounding up the family's children who were along on the adventure, and taking some pictures of the Castle's animation for her father's annual Christmas letter, was waiting in line to assist one of the children to see Santa, none the wiser.
As she was turning to step away, Santa grabbed her hand, climbed out of his chair, got down on one knee, and opened a box with a diamond engagement ring. She gasped, but when Dustin pulled down his beard to reveal a grinning face, she quickly regained composure and said "yes." A kiss, and a quick moment on Santa's lap, followed before the real Mr. Claus was switched back in so the line of eager children could resume.
Afterwards, Dustin said he had been so nervous he could hardly speak. He said he had been forced into a few fibs by the surprise plan. He could hardly keep ring shopping a secret in a small town, so he had told Ashley he was looking for a ring for his mother as a Christmas present, and pretended to be so flustered by the process that he'd said the two had similar size hands and asked her what her own ring finger size was.
Ashley laughed, saying she should have caught on to all the signs of a surprise in the works - especially when her mother had pulled out the photos just that morning of the trip her family had made to Santa's Castle when Ashley was just 3 years old.
Dustin said he can't thank head elf Ron enough for his assistance with the scheme, and added that after all the elaborate planning to pull off the unique engagement moment - he's leaving all the wedding decisions to Ashley.