“We all have a story… they may not be international bestsellers like those found in the pages of a Nicholas Sparks novel or gross millions at the box office accompanied by popcorn, soda and Junior Mints… and yet we all have them. Somewhere between the bookends of “once upon a time” and “the end” is where our story lives. Though prone to base our favorite cinematic experiences and classic paperback tales on how a story ends, often times we forget how sweet the beginning is. Chance encounters, unfortunate incidents, risk taking and just plain fate can lead us to the best story we will ever know… our story.” – Natalie Mae Rhaesa
A Chance Encounter: Natalie McCurry, then 21, and one of her high school friends, Marsha, were excited to have the responsibility of providing their favorite Christian band “The Newsboys” with lunch at their Westland concert venue, Full Gospel Temple church in the fall of 1992. John Rhaesa, then 24, was put in charge of transporting the band members from their hotel to the concert venue where a mutual friend casually introduced the two, they met and life went on. Natalie revealed that several years after they were married she was looking through a photo album from this event and there was John standing right behind her. Someone told John that Natalie worked at JCPenney at the Westland Mall location. He would go there from time to time hoping to run into her. Though she did work at the mall, she did not work at JCPenney. She worked at Lerner New York across from Hudson’s at the time.
The same mutual friend who introduced the two a year earlier, knew Natalie had studied graphic design in college and was looking for an internship and possibly a permanent position. The friend was able to get her an interview at The Wayne Eagle where John happened to work as Art Director. She was interviewed by Sean Rhaesa, the Production Manager, who also happened to be John’s younger brother. When John saw that Natalie had come in to be interviewed for a job with Eagle Graphics, he told his brother “You have to hire that girl!” She started working there in the fall of 1993.
An Unfortunate Incident: Natalie spent lots of time processing photos in the dark room, many days she was in the dark room for several hours. On one such day in the spring of 1994 she was processing photos for a booklet Eagle Graphics produced annually for the Belleville Strawberry Festival. After working 6 plus hours in the dark room, she finally emerged with a fresh batch of photos to wax and paste up on tabloid grids. As she approached her light table she began to experience tunnel vision and then she passed out. She fell to the floor, but not before breaking her right collarbone on one of the drawers someone forgot to push in. While she was out, John had gone to gather cold cloths to place on her forehead and wrists in hopes to revive her. When she finally opened her eyes, she was looking directly into John’s eyes. John and Natalie still joke to this day that she ’literally’ fell for him.
After spending several hours in the hospital, she went home to convalesce. John dropped by to deliver her paycheck and flowers from the company. They talked for awhile on this first visit. He gave her his phone number and said to her “if you need anything, just call me”. Her boyfriend stopped by to bring her flowers and a teddy bear while John was visiting her. John didn’t think much of it since he knew Natalie had brothers and just assumed he was one of them. When John left, Natalie’s boyfriend turned to her and said “he doesn’t know who I am, does he?”
Several weeks would pass and John and Natalie would go on long walks and talk for hours when he came to visit her. Since her injury kept her from doing her keylining job, she worked the switchboard for The Wayne Eagle answering and transferring calls. John would stop by and invite her to his softball games and Christian concerts. She wouldn’t accept any of his invitations.
They ate lunch together at the office almost everyday. “I used to work my schedule around the time she would eat lunch so I could have lunch with her,” John said. She says he was a big help when she needed someone to quiz her on her Art History Class note cards. One day at lunch, John said, “Are you going to go out with me or what?” He said if she didn’t go out with him on Friday, that would be the last time he would ask her. She agreed to go out with him-with stipulations. One was that they could not go further than an hour away.
Taking a Risk: When Friday arrived, she dressed up wearing a dress and heels even though she still had to wear the brace for her broken collarbone. “I wore a jacket over my sundress so the brace wouldn’t show,” Natalie said. He arrived, wearing a suit. He took her out of the country, well just to Windsor, Canada where they dined at The Riverfront restaurant. After dinner, they walked along the waterfront talking and holding hands. They sat on a park bench and drank sparkling juice from plastic champagne flutes. They snacked on packages of cheese and crackers…. “the ones with the red plastic stick to apply the cheese,” Natalie recalls. John took notice that she would eat those cracker packs and yogurt almost everyday at lunch.
Their second date was also their first movie together, “Forest Gump” also the name she gave to the first teddy bear John purchased for her. After dating for about 6 weeks, Natalie and her mother were heading to the hospital for Natalie to have a CT scan to see why she had passed out. Natalie said just for fun, they stopped in a bridal shop in Dearborn and she tried on wedding gowns. “Even though it was just for fun, I fell in love with the first one I tried on…..I guess you could say I said ‘Yes to the Dress,’ she laughs “Because that was the dress I wore on our wedding day.”
Two weeks later, Trisha Yearwood was performing at the Michigan State Fair. John knew she was a huge fan and thought it would be a fun date. However, the morning of the concert John told Natalie that he did not want to talk about marriage (a subject that came up on those long walks and telephone conversations). This did not make Natalie happy, she was pretty upset over it, but then she thought “I like Trisha Yearwood, so I might as well still go so I can see her in concert.” John showed up at her parent’s house to pick her up, it was Saturday, September 3, 1994. The ride to the fairgrounds was slightly awkward. They sat in the bleachers eating cotton candy while waiting for Trisha Yearwood to perform. When she sang one of her hit songs “She’s in Love With the Boy,” John made a band out of the cotton candy twist tie and put it on her ring finger.
After the concert, John told Natalie that he needed to stop by his church and pick up something to copy for the church youth group. He asked Natalie, “Do you want to go in with me?” She said she would go with him. The church was dark, no one was around, he led her past the main sanctuary and to the church’s tiny chapel. The doors to the chapel were open, and the chapel was lit with candles and the aisle was lined with rose petals that led to the altar. Celine Dion’s “When I Fall in Love” was playing softly in the background… this song would later be performed at their wedding ceremony. Upon the altar lay two white roses with a princess cut diamond ring holding the two stems together. It was there at the altar of the chapel that John asked her to marry him. She said yes. John was asked earlier by the pastor if he could leave a few rose petals on the alter in the main sanctuary if Natalie said yes … she still has those rose petals to this day. This past fall John took Natalie to Las Vegas to see Celine Dion in concert at Caesars Palace to celebrate their 21st wedding anniversary.
One week prior to the engagement, John had tried to get Natalie out of the house (she lived with her parents) by encouraging her to go get ice cream for everyone. He wanted to ask her dad for her hand in marriage and was looking for an opportunity to do so. So when the day came, while John was proposing to Natalie, her mother was trying to break it to her father that she thought John could be “the one.” Her dad replied, “I’ve already seen the ring.” Not only was this the day they would get engaged, it was also Natalie’s mother’s birthday.
They married on Saturday, June 3, 1995, at Clarenceville United Methodist Church in Livonia. The honeymoon was spent in Toronto, Canada where they travelled by train and stayed at the Royal York Hotel. They attended The Phantom of the Opera at the Pantages Theater, the tickets were a wedding gift from Natalie’s big sister. Because the couple worked together, their boss teased that two people from the same department could not take vacation at the same time.
They moved into their current home here in Wayne in the spring of 1996 one week before their first wedding anniversary. They continued to work together and shared an office at The Wayne Eagle until the fall of 2002. At the time of their departure, John had been there 15 years; Natalie had been there 9 years. John began working in Wayne in 1986 at the Wayne Arby’s, then in 1987, his senior year, he began working for the The Associated Newspapers (The Wayne Eagle). He is currently serving his 6th year on the Wayne City Council.
Just Plain Fate: The couple quit their jobs on the Friday before Sweetest Day, October 2002. To make ends meet, John worked in a friend’s print shop and Natalie cleaned houses. An Eagle Graphics customer found out they left the company and contacted them about doing his “Shopper Stopper” Guide, the couple agreed that they would do the work but all they had was one home computer. When a friend at their church discovered that they were in need of a second computer, he purchased that computer for them. Soon after, a local print shop contacted the couple to do work for them as well. Then another inquiry for work from Lois Van Stipdonk, the Wayne Library Director (at the time), to see if they would be interested in producing the library’s newsletters. JoNa Graphics was born….Jo from John and Na from Natalie. Here they are 15 years later still offering quality products to their customers.
John and Natalie had to sustain themselves with their independent work. John also had several DJ gigs. John would comment that if he ever had his own paper, he would direct mail it to everyone in the city. He thought that advertisers would get more value from their ads if every household received the paper in their mailbox. They hired the teenager who cut their grass to dress up like a paper boy and pass out the first edition of The Wayne Dispatch at the unveiling of the State Wayne mural in November 2008. They were also excited to submit their first float to the Wayne Holiday parade…where they took home a trophy for “Santa’s Favorite.” Their paper focuses on positive news.
While contemplating whether or not they could gather enough positive news each month to produce the paper, John had faith that good news was out there and people needed to read about positive things. It was 2008 and markets were crashing, people were losing their homes, even longstanding newspapers were closing their doors and turning to the internet to inform their readers. “Watching our first edition roll off the press was very emotional….happiness, pride and fear…I had that tiny moment when you ask yourself ‘are we really doing this?’ Natalie said. “Here we are celebrating our 100th edition of the paper, and we never missed a single edition along the way, and there is still an abundance of positive news to report” John said.
While the goal has been to spread positive news to the readers, John says there is some news that still has to be told, whether it is positive or not, the community still needs to be informed of what is taking place around them. “Dealing with difficult circumstances like those surrounding the Jennings family, whose 9 year old daughter Alissa’s Make-A-Wish was to see the Jonas Brothers in concert…but due to her brain tumor and timing of treatment, could not be fulfilled…local business owners came together to make her wish come true…she passed just a few months after.” John said. “The Frank’s Furniture explosion was such an unimaginable event to cover, you could feel a cloud of sadness above our city for weeks” John said. “But then again the residents and business owners showed their support, helping to raise funds for the families whose family members parished in the aftermath” he stated.
When October 2017 rolls around, the Rhaesa’s will have been working independently for 15 years. They will also celebrate their 22nd wedding anniversary in June and the 9th anniversary of The Wayne Dispatch in November. “The paper gives us an avenue to help people“ Natalie said. “It’s been an interesting journey, learning more about the people in our community, sharing their stories and experiences. It has definitely had an impact on both John and myself.”