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Popping the question at California’s state Capitol? Why one man chose this spot to propose

His girlfriend was only a few minutes away — and Jovontue Dorsett was nervous — but everything appeared to be in place.

The rose petals and red carpet were laid out. The music was cued up to the love song that said everything he felt. And the big block letters spelled out what he wanted to ask her.

Where was the ring?

After a few uncertain moments, Dorsett found its box, clutched it in his hand and moved under the white pavilion in Capitol Park. He anxiously swung his arms back and forth and waited for Shelby Ray to arrive.

On Sunday afternoon, Dorsett became the latest capital region resident to mark a special moment in one of Sacramento’s most beautiful spaces. Whether it’s a date, memorial service for a fallen loved one or graduation photos with the Capitol dome in the background, the downtown park is often the site of memorable occasions, both celebratory and solemn.

A proposal isn’t particularly common. Last year, only one person filed a permit to reserve a section of the park to propose, said California Highway Patrol Officer Paul Moos. There was only one submitted in 2022 as well, said Moos, who handles park permits for the agency’s Capitol Protection Section.

The number that actually occurred during that time is likely higher, as people who popped the question might not have filed for the free permit in advance. By comparison, there were 12 reservations for weddings in each of the last two years.

“It’s a great little gem in downtown Sacramento,” Moos said.

Cloudy skies roll over Capitol Park’s World Peace Rose Garden in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, March 3, 2024.
Cloudy skies roll over Capitol Park’s World Peace Rose Garden in downtown Sacramento on Sunday, March 3, 2024.

The park’s origins date back more than 150 years. Since then, its footprint has expanded across several city blocks and includes an array of trees, plants and monuments. One of its most visible markers is the World Peace Rose Garden. It is home to more than 140 varieties of colors and fragrances.

Ray, 31, didn’t have a specific place she wanted to get engaged. But she did have some preferences, including that it happen somewhere in the open and there be flowers nearby.

On a recent day, Dorsett, 36, visited the garden with his sister. The roses weren’t blooming yet, he found out, but he had a backup plan to make sure there would be flowers. Beyond that, he liked that the pavement under the pavilion was shaped like a heart. And it was close to restaurants, which would help with the surprise.

“It kind of just made perfect sense,” he said, days before the proposal.

‘Meant to be together’

Dorsett moved to the Sacramento area from Oakland when he was younger. He went to high school with one of Ray’s sisters, but didn’t know Ray at the time.

The two met later and became friends. When both were single, their relationship developed into something more. They made it official in July 2019.

In the years since, they have endured hardships. There was the truck that slammed into the back of Dorsett’s vehicle. The collision cracked Ray’s ribs and briefly knocked her unconscious. There was also the birth of their son, Justice, who for frantic moments was stuck inside the womb during delivery.

Justice, 2, survived, but the ordeal left the couple shaken. They have one child together and three from previous relationships.

“We’ve been through a lot so for us to be in this situation is a blessing,” Dorsett said. “I feel like we were meant to be together.”

Sunday’s proposal was many months in the making. Dorsett wanted to do something special for Ray, but he just didn’t have the money yet to match his goal.

“If I’m going to put a ring on her finger,” he said, “I want it to be adequate to my love for her.”

Shelby Ray, 31, shows off her engagement ring at Capitol Park’s World Peace Rose Garden on Sunday, March 3, 2024.
Shelby Ray, 31, shows off her engagement ring at Capitol Park’s World Peace Rose Garden on Sunday, March 3, 2024.

So, about a year ago, he took on a second job. During the week, Dorsett works in the pain medicine department at UC Davis Health in Sacramento, checking patients in, reviewing insurance and scheduling appointments.

On Friday and Saturday nights, he started working the door at a bar in downtown Sacramento. To put even more money away, he would donate plasma twice a week.

After more than six months, he had saved the several thousand dollars for the ring he wanted. He bought it in January and stuffed it into a shoebox to hide it from Ray.

Since then, it’s been burning a hole in his mind.

In the days before the proposal, Dorsett wasn’t too worried about how Ray would answer. His concern was with his ability to keep it a secret. Ray works for VSP, the major eye insurance provider. But Dorsett joked that she is like a private investigator, asking question after question at their home near Mather Airport.

He hoped his plan would survive her scrutiny.

Dorsett told Ray that he needed to borrow her vehicle and wanted to meet her for food at a restaurant close to the park on Sunday afternoon. To make sure she went by the rose garden, he arranged for one of Ray’s sisters to give her a ride while he, and other family, went to set up the scene.

Shortly after 4 p.m., Ray came upon the garden. She saw Dorsett, smiled and walked up the red carpet, lined with candles and roses. “Love Someone” by Lukas Graham played in the background.

“You look so handsome,” she said, before they faced each other under the pavilion and held hands. They spoke softly. Then, with his heart beating twice every second, Dorsett dropped to one knee in front of the letters that spelled “MARRY ME.”

He asked her the question. And she said “yes.”

Jovontue Dorsett, 36, proposes to Shelby Ray, 31, at Capitol Park’s World Peace Rose Garden on Sunday, March 3, 2024.
Jovontue Dorsett, 36, proposes to Shelby Ray, 31, at Capitol Park’s World Peace Rose Garden on Sunday, March 3, 2024.
Jovontue Dorsett, 36, and Shelby Ray, 31, kiss after getting engaged at the World Peace Rose Garden in Sacramento’s Capitol Park on Sunday, March 3, 2024.
Jovontue Dorsett, 36, and Shelby Ray, 31, kiss after getting engaged at the World Peace Rose Garden in Sacramento’s Capitol Park on Sunday, March 3, 2024.