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Saying I do

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Vicky and Mike Barnett of Mountain Falls eat inside the Hi Neighbor Restaurant in Strasburg on Tuesday. The couple, who met online in 2001, met in person at the restaurant for their first date. Each year on April 10, they celebrate their anniversary at the restaurant. — Rich Cooley/Daily

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The Barnetts stand outside the Hi Neighbor, which is halfway between where each of them lived when they met. — Rich Cooley/Daily

Couple who met online going strong after 11 years

By Josette Keelor -- jkeelor@nvdaily.com

STRASBURG -- In March 2001, Mike and Vicky Barnett met online through Yahoo! Personals, and after a month of emails, they arranged to meet in person at the Hi Neighbor restaurant in Strasburg.

"It's funny, because I wouldn't suggest people to meet people that way," Mrs. Barnett said, "but it was just sort of a fluke and it worked out."

According to Barnett, "This was before Match.com or eHarmony. ... I mean Yahoo! was one of the first that were free."

"And really popular then," said his wife. "I had put down a 50-mile radius."

She liked him from his emails and chat sessions, but her daughter warned her about online relationships. Since they'd agreed to meet halfway between where he lived in Frederick County and she lived in Edinburg, she plotted out the likely routes he'd take, along U.S. 11 or Va. 55 into Strasburg, and she told her daughter which roads she would take.

If the date ended badly, she figured, she could escape him on the back roads of Shenandoah County.

"But little did I know, he knows Shenandoah County better than I do," she said, laughing - a fact he denies.

Though her story turned out well, Mrs. Barnett cautions to those thinking of meeting someone they know only through the Internet.

"Read between the lines, you know, what somebody is saying, and more important, print everything that you chat," she said. "... because chatting for a month, [you] won't remember. I was able to see if there was any lies, you know, any inconsistencies that didn't match up."

When asked about the printouts at their 11-year anniversary dinner this week, she told him she burned the pages long ago. She doesn't need them anymore.

The story of their meeting is cataloged through a shadow box collage Barnett made for Mrs. Barnett, who became his bride on May 14, 2005, but the story of their happiness together cannot fit into any scrapbook.

They both were divorced and were looking to meet someone new, they said.

"I think it was just more like online companionship," Mrs. Barnett said.

Every April 10 they return to the Hi Neighbor to celebrate the anniversary of that first face-to-face, and Tuesday was no exception.

"It was a Tuesday like today," Barnett said.

"And we still get our same bacon cheeseburger," his wife said. She orders French fries, and he gets onion rings.

"And she steals my onion rings," he said. For their wedding anniversary, if it falls during the week, they'll usually go out for steak. On weekends, they might order sushi.

"He's a very romantic person," Mrs. Barnett said. "And he pays such attention to detail."

It was while out dancing at the Woodstock Moose Lodge that he proposed, and for their wedding and honeymoon they traveled to Bradenton, Fla., for a beach ceremony on Anna Maria Island, the place where, as a child, Barnett had first seen the ocean.

"We wanted to do something different," he said.

Mrs. Barnett walked down the makeshift aisle to a wedding march played by a greeting card her mother gave her, which she stuck in the sand.

"We had hotel guests that were our witnesses," she said.

"And they had a little party for us after," said her husband. "We didn't even ask them to do that."

They may not have believed anything would come from that fateful initial virtual meeting on March 16, 2001, but the Barnetts look back on that day with fondness.

"This was her ad," Barnett said. Now part of the first collage he made for her, he pointed out other elements in the memory box, including photos they took during that first year.

Using lumber from old chicken coops, Barnett has employed his skills from his woodworking business to fashion shadow box collages for his wife in time for New Year's each year, until 2010 when, he said, he no longer had as much time to devote to the projects.

"They're hanging on our bedroom wall," Mrs. Barnett said, of their Mountain Laurel Home.

For the anniversary of their first meeting, Barnett gives his wife a card he makes by folding computer paper and taping inside a spark plug gap gauge.

"I get that same one every year," Mrs. Barnett said. The card reads "Just a token of my appreciation" and hearkens back to a description his wife wrote about herself on her personals ad -- that she can gap her own spark plugs.

"Of course, you know, you're trying to impress, so you gotta put it all out there," Barnett said. "She was the best thing since sliced bread, according to that ad." And, he said, she still is.

"I stumbled across her ad, and it just hit me," he said. "I mean it was very nicely-worded."

They shared an interest in gardening and musical tastes like country and bluegrass.

When he asked to see pictures of her, Mrs. Barnett sent a collection, including one of herself dressed as a clown.

"You always hear about people who put their picture of five years ago, you know, when people look their best, so I sent him a conglomeration," she said.

"I think you gotta go with a gut feeling," she said.

"We had both met people from Yahoo! Personals," Barnett said, his wife adding, "And some were freaky."

"I guess it's a, kind of a mixed bag," Barnett said.

"The best thing I could say about her is she's the best friend I've ever had."

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